Does Anyone Here Speak Chinglish

Wherever you glance in Shanghai, you enter a tortured linguistic realm where the laws of English grammar and spelling are miraculously inverted. You may at first be confused by a sign that says 'Be Seated Defecate', but it's actually just a way of saying that the loo you are about to use is not a squat version. 'Deformed Man Toilet' may sound like something from the David Lynch cutting-room floor, but it's merely a toilet for the disabled. By now you may have cottoned on that a 'Disabled Elevator' does not mean the lift is broken. 'The Green Grass is Afraid of Your Foot' is simply a somewhat roundabout way of saying 'Keep off the Grass'. Upstanding Shanghai speakers of Chinglish are regularly reminded 'Don't Expectoration Everywhere. Don't Attaint Public Property. Don't Destroy Virescence. Don't Random Through Street. Don't Say Four-letter Word.' Welcome to the bizarre and compelling world of Chinglish.

A shop sign had the gall to advertise itself as 'OC SLOOT YTUAEB & GNISSERDRIAH', which at first glance resembles some kind of outlandish code. Reading from right to left exposes the true gist, although the lettering is not mirror-writing as each letter faces the right way, but in a reverse sequence. The McDonald's at Shanghai's Hongqiao Airport offers some priceless advice: 'A tender remind from the police: Please use the crook under the table to ensure the safety of your belongs'. You may as well hand your valuables away, it seems.

It's all part of a growing linguistic empire, and with a potential 1.3 billion speakers, it's a force to be reckoned with. It won't be long before you have a small armoury of Chinglish phrases of your own. Before you know it, you'll know without thinking that'Be Careful not to be Stolen'is a warning against thieves; that'Shoplifters will be Fined 10 Times' means that shoplifting is not a good idea in China; that'Do Not Stroke the Works' (generally found in museums) means 'No Touching'and that'Slip Carefully' means the floor could be wet.

The days of Chinglish in Shanghai could, however, be numbered. In their bid to turn Shanghai into a truly sophisticated city, the authorities have dispatched an anti-Chinglish task force to crack down on deviant signage in the run up to the 2010 World Expo. They have, however, to contend with supporters of Chinglish who see it as an English patois in its own right and worthy of protection. Zhejiang-born author Guo Xiaolu took it all a stage further by writing her marvellous A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers (2007; Chatto & Windus) entirely in Chinglish. So there go you.

the Shanghainese dialect. For an introduction to the Mandarin dialect, refer to the Language chapter at the end of this book.

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