Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Foreigners speak funny English! NYT

Warning: I cannot prove the part below about the movie poster. You'll have to take my word for it until I can, or just assume me crazy. If anyone else remembers it, or knows a link to the poster, I'd appreciate it if you let me know.

Ahahaha. This is so funny. I knew we were overdue for an article in a major US newspaper about the hilarious and funny English non-native speakers in East Asia use. Oh, ha, ha! LOL! Yee Haw! (I liked photo number 10 the best as it shows that even the most basic rules of photography---hold the camera still when you take a shot and use an adequate shutter speed---no longer apply to photos published by the Times.)

I guess that it is a symbol of Japan's dwindling influence (how can little to no influence dwindle?) in the world that it was not a target this time of the talented multilingual geniuses at the NYT. Of course it's all innocent, because yesterday the Times published a piece on Shanghai try to untangle "Chinglish" or some such thing. I shan't bother to link.

There was a US movie called Black Rain when I was in college. It starred Michael Douglas as your stereotypical corrupt NYC cop and his partner who came to Japan (the perfect country of the future back then) and got all involved in a culture clash. The rough, corrupt, screw-all-the-laws-and-rules ways of Americans meet the polite, rule/duty bound, alien and inscrutable Japanese. The opening scene over Osaka (never been to Osaka, but I doubt that it appears so otherworldly from an aircraft) set the stage for the rest of the bizarre movie. In the happy ending however, the surviving American departed Japan a little more introspective and maybe even a bit less corrupt, while we were left to ponder just how corrupt the American had made his Japanese partner.

Some movie posters at a local Pullman, Washington video store had Black Rain written in both English and katakana.* How international! Unfortunately, they had written the katakana backwards so that it actually read kurabu nurei(?)---or perhaps nurei kurabu? Don't remember exactly as I did not take a picture. Bahaha. Ain't it funny how those English-speakers mangle Asian languages?

*They were not locally made---I am pretty sure they were supplied by the studio.
I can find no examples online either.

**Edited: 1126pm

I have continued to search for the poster on the Internet, but as of yet have not found it. Really, I am not that crazy yet. My wife remembers it too. However, we could both be crazy.


  1. While there are ample evidences out there of westerner's casual mangling of Asian languages and scripts (at least, Japanese usually do not tattoo Engrish on their skin), this sounds like a really strange mistake... Wouldn't the kana be also mirrored, in addition to being backwards? (a common error when kanji gets passed through a couple steps of desktop-publishing process at the hand of kanji-illiterate people)

    Could it not be rather that the kana were written in the old right-to-left style which can be used for short words and "headers" (my understanding is that they are virtually being written *vertically* right-to-left, except the height only covers one character). I have never seen it done with katakana, but definitely seen it for hiragana in the past (admittedly, for shorter words).

    All that being said: native English mocking or even condescendingly addressing the English shortcoming of Asian natives is nothing new, but will definitely turn interesting, if Chinese businessmen ever start demanding that their counterparts start adapting to *their* idioms.

  2. I wish I had a copy of that poster. Of course, I don't know how the error happened, but my impression was that they simply did not know what they were doing. As I recall, it the katakana was written just above the English "Black Rain." It was not mirrored, I am certain of that. It was simply written backwards.

    My wife remembers it too, proving that either I am not crazy or that we both are. Had I a copy, it might even be worth something.

    Anyway, I fail to get the humor of making fun of people who are not native speakers. It is simply childish. The funny thing is that some non-native speakers go on to speak more "correctly" than native speakers. I had a Japanese professor who who knew grammar better than most of his American students. Demanded it too. Quite embarrassing to write a paper on Japanese politics and get it back all covered in red for grammar errors.

  3. Anonymous7:21 AM

    Do you know the website It highlights the misuse of Chinese characters in Western countries.

  4. Thanks for that. Quite interesting. Wonder if the NYT will publish an article on that...I'll send them an e-mail with the link. Wouldn't hold my breath though as it is probably "not newsworthy."

  5. D: yes... well, let's be honest: Engrish can be funny (it gets old quickly though)... but only in so far as it juxtaposes nonsensical or plain offensive words together. Pointing out grammar mistakes in somebody else's practice (native or not), is usually considered kind of a dick move...

    About Anonymous' link: funny, I had just linked to it in my comment above (though you had to know it was there and click on the word 'tattoo' to get somewhere). Definitely the best antidote to any feeling of linguistic superiority one might have...

  6. Sorry, I just saw your link.

    It can be funny sometimes, I think it goes a little further in these repeating newspaper articles about it. As you mentioned above, it tends to focus mainly on Asian mistakes in English---not that Japanese don't poke fun at Western mistakes in Japanese though I haven't seen it in major newspaper articles. Only on TV and in person..

  7. By the way, I added credit in the latest post to you too for that link. Thanks.