Project Change Word: City of Yan'an

Building Violations, Yan'an, China

May 2006

 

To ensure revolutionary public signs in the City of Yan'an have appropriate English translations, an encyclopedic record of these signs identifying historical sites are collected. Each sign is provided with a new English translation, either to replace incorrect English, or to create new ones. The proposal book is submitted to Yan'an local authorities for implementation consideration.

In years of traveling around the world working extensively in the translation process, I have witnessed and experienced the inadequacies and insufficiencies of translating words into another language. The meaning of the original text can be misunderstood, the syntax may be wrong. There are misspellings, typos, or nonsensical words resulting from the final text-preparer’s lack of knowledge of the language, which make the mistakes even more glaring, bizarre and laughable. 

English has become the unofficial language of our global community. And China is eagerly at the forefront of international encounters and exchanges. Yet the opening and widening of communication have also opened doors to the misinterpretation and misunderstanding inherent in communication and language.

 

This project, meant as a form of community service, gives us an opportunity to discuss this margin of error and its implications, especially in the city of Yan’an. It was here, nearly 70 years ago, where New China’s political structure was first set up and diplomatic relations were established with the world. And perhaps starting with Yan’an, a city of new beginnings, we can work our way through other Chinese cities to put an end to this “Chinglish” that is universally mocked.

© 2019 Jennifer Wen Ma

Jennifer Wen Ma

Littlemeat Productions

New York, NY

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