Home > Language, Translation > Pull = Latin America

Pull = Latin America

Victor Mair, a professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania, is also a regular contributor to the Language Log blog. A recurring theme in his posts is his unraveling of the possible sequence of events leading to a particularly bizarre occurrence of Chinglish, especially as found in printed English translations of Chinese on signs.

Today’s example, the first in a Mair post in some time, is as good as they come. Look closely at the sign above and you’ll see the English words Latin America on the hotel shower door.

What in the world is going on here? One big Chinese character and all those Roman letters beneath it:

Latin
America

All right, let’s go through this methodically. La 拉 simply means “pull,” and that is what the sign is telling the person who is about to enter the shower. If you want to get into the shower, PULL the door. Simple enough.

So how did the injunction to “Latin America” come into the picture? Some oaf who was charged with making the sign managed to find lā 拉 in their dictionary and must have been overwhelmed by the plethora of English glosses: pull, drag, draw, haul, help out, implicate, play (a stringed instrument), chat, a verbal suffix, and so forth. Bewildered, they would have spotted near the end of the entry for lā 拉 that it is also an abbreviation for Lāměi 拉美, which is in turn a short form of Lādīng měizhōu 拉丁美洲, which means “Latin America”.

Why didn’t the oaf choose the first and simplest definition, “pull”? I suppose that they thought that the English (Roman letter) part of the sign is for foreigners, so it might be smart (!!) to use the only obviously foreign definition in the dictionary: Latin America. That’s the best defense I can give on behalf of the individual who made this sign. Actually, it’s not really a defense, merely one possible explanation for this mind-boggling choice. I suppose it’s also possible that they didn’t understand any of the English glosses, and simply felt that the longest one must be the most informative.

Be sure to look at past Mair posts on Chinglish. They are always fascinating. For instance, here’s another one.

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Categories: Language, Translation
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