Let’s read happy: Engrish explored

Melissa Sewell

Ah, Japan. The beautiful country is the source of so many of the things we Westerners enjoy: sushi, karaoke, pokemon, geisha, anime, suicide bombers, brutal efficiency, you get the idea. Similarly, the Japanese have picked up on quite a few Western goodies. The States are seen as the epitome of modern. Thus, to some Japanese, anything Western simply must be cool. From this concept, Engrish was born.

I love NY California.

Engrish defines the humorous misuses, puns and double entendres inadvertently made on the way to translating Japanese into the English language. This usually occurs in advertising and marketing, which is where we get shirts that read, “I love NY California,” action figures dubbed “God Jesus,” and candy bars with names like “Dew Dew Mix” and “Eat me!” The name Engrish comes from a Japanese attempt to utilize a language that is very different from their own. It is common for a native Japanese speaker to transpose the “R” and “L” sounds.

What’s another word for “buy this”?

The use of English becomes more understandable in Japanese advertising when we pay attention to the fact that the country markets more new products than any other. They have simply run out of names and slogans. Also, Japanese writing has said to be creatively limited, as there are only so many fonts that can be used. In English, there are enough fonts to keep advertisers busier than busy people who are busy. In the saturated market, a different language is an exotic embellishment.

All your base are belong to us.

Back in the days of Sega Genesis, a Japanese videogame became infamous, at least on the Internet. Phrases like “All your base are belong to us!” and “Make your time” were endlessly amusing, and quickly became regular quips among the Internet gaming community. The fault: shoddy translation.

Don’t be misled. In Japan, school is no joke. Students are like slaves to their studies and will sometimes commit suicide from the stress. Japanese students can undergo anywhere from six to 10 years of education in the English language. Only, there are few native speakers to practice with. So while the Japanese have a wide vocabulary in English, and are able to translate into it word for word, the grammatical and phonetic structures are vastly different.

Some common errors:

1) Leaving out connecting words or phrases, as in “I feel soda.”

2) Replacing verbs with nouns as in “Let’s videogame.”

3) Using redundant sentences like “Let’s go out with me.”

Translation monkeys

If you try to pass your Spanish class by using babelfish or freetranslation.com, don’t think your professor won’t notice. Unchecked machine translations pay no mind to grammar or verb agreement; they translate word for word. Sadly, some people use these sorts of services and plaster the results on T-shirts and sell them to unknowing consumers.

Most companies do hire native speakers in order to ensure their English slogans are correct. However, some companies do not care to do the extra work.

The words used on clothing aren’t really an attempt to communicate; they are just a design element that attracts Japanese buyers with their modern look. And hey, the people are still buying them, regardless of what message they are unintentionally asserting.

We’re all guilty.

Engrish isn’t strictly a mistake made by the Japanese. Instances of faulty translating can be found in every country, even America.

You know your friend who just got that Chinese character that means “love” tattooed on her lower back? It might just say “vegetable.” The characters are almost identical, and the only ones who can tell the difference are the ones who must inform the tattoo-bearer of a very unfortunate thing.