Saturday, October 02, 2004

Dynamic Korea, Friendly Seoul

One of the amusing things to observe while traveling in Asia is the use of the English language. I don't mean those whose second (or third) language is English, but official government and business documents that have presumably gone through a professional interpreter.

Let's take the greeting above that welcomes visitors to Incheon airport. There is really nothing wrong with the phrase, and the meaning is perfectly understandable. What makes this banner and a lot of Asian English interesting is the word pairings and phrases that a native English speaker would not normally put together. It's these little word combos that make these signs amusing since maybe these word pairing should be used by native speakers (My favorite is the use of "let's" in Japan with a noun - for example "Let's coffee!").

There is, in fact, an entire web site called Engrish.com dedicated to these observations in Japan, where they are much more common, probably because businesses there try to use English much more than other Asian countries.

Sometimes the use of English is just plain wrong, which points to how hard the English language really is - a fact lost on most native speakers. For example, a friend and I saw someone in Japan wearing a t-shirt that said "I am Bisexual" We got the nerve to ask him if he knew what his shirt meant:

"Yes! Bi means two. Sexy means (he flexed his arms). So bisexual means twice as sexy!"

We looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders. "You're right!" we said. Bi really does mean two, so this does seem to be a reasonable translation of the word. We saw no need to burst his bubble.

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