Japlish – Version 1

This is the text of a speech I delivered to Mosman Toastmasters in 1989.  I was coached after this speech by Peter Fortune, a contest-winning Toastmaster, and produced a revised version of the same speech which I delivered at an Area Speech Contest
While Japan opens its trading doors to the West and we are penetrating the Japanese markets, little attention has been focused on intelligent communication.

As a result, two distinct dialects have developed, causing havoc to businessmen and tourists alike from both countries.

These two dialects are called JAPLISH and ENGANESE or Japanese English and English Japanese and were created through unprofessional translating. A good example of Japlish was found on a menu in Tokyo – SMOKED SERMON – well, reasonably obvious, but how about finishing your meal with ROGUE FART CHEESE AND CLACKERS?

Direct translation of English into Japanese is not only incorrect but can have disastrous effects. For example, the director of a company wishing to sell pure fruit juices had stated in English that he had a passion to do business. Translated into Japanese in other words ENGANESE, it read “I am sexually on heat and ready to do business”.

A name card of a prominent Australian businessman literally reads IN THE HEAT OF THE WHITSUNDAYS LEISURE CENTRE and has been translated to read in ENGANESE, SEXUAL ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE.

On similar lines, another advertisement reads for the YOUNG AT HEAT and NOW BABY I’M FEELING COOL AND HARD BOILED.

But since we all speak English I would like to spend more time on JAPLISH, as this is the language we would encounter as a tourist in Japan.

I have been to Japan twice now, and on my first trip, I wanted to buy some T-shirts with Japanese writing for souvenirs. In four weeks, I only found three such shirts. What I didn’t know is that what the Japanese really like to wear on their chests is English because English is a status symbol in Japan. The most popular slogans are names of American universitues or baseball teams.

Many of these English slogans are dictionary translations. My wife has a jumper with the slogan BASEBALL FOR HEALTHY – Healthy what? Sports clothes often include the word SWEAT in their message. Obviously Japanese associate sweat with good healthy exercise and not the odour of an old gym sock found at the bottom of your sports bag.

Still on the subject of sweat, a popular Japanese after-sports drink which can be purchased in cans has the appealing name of POCARI SWEAT. Products are often give English Names – can you imagine shopping V for disposable nappies and discovering the brand name of MY PEE?

Signs can also be confusing – English signs are not common in Japan except for place names. Well meaning translators can only cause more confusion than clarification – for example, the sign about a ticket window which read WICKET. Occasionally, teachers who really know English are employed to word these signs – however. . .not ALL of the signs!

A popular writer on Japan noticed a neon sign over a very elegant shop in Tokyo saying LADIES OUTFATTERS. Thinking it was a mistake of the sign writer, he noticed as he approached the shop, a smaller sign with the words LADIES CAN HAVE FITS UPSTAIRS.

Another example of a bad sign was found in that place we need every day – the toilet. Now the traditional toilet in Japan must have been designed by a gymnast or a devotee of yoga …. or maybe a Zen priest?

The bowl is on floor level, and one has to squat down in a very precarious position and make every effort not to fall in. The flush handle is to your side and the Instructions? Well, read the Sign!  There, plain to see was the message PLEASE USE YOUR FOOT TO HANDLE THE COCK. As humorous as this may seem, the embarrassment and loss of credibility have disastrous effects.

Ladies and Gentlemen, what I hoped to achieve tonight was to alert you to the dangers of bad language translations using Japanese as an example. The moral of the story is that when you are sick, you should see a doctor and if you want effective communication in another language, you should get professional help for your translations.

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