The Truth About Lishes

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“It’s like there is a comma implied in there, somewhere,” a friend of mine wrote on Facebook, once. “Not only coffee, beef cheese drink.”

You know, stick in a comma to imply a connection where one really, really shouldn’t exist. Of course, the idea of a drink made out of beef and cheese is beyond revolting. The above photo was one of the sillier instances of Chinglish I have seen in Changzhou. And, since I have a long work history as a college English teacher, I can’t help myself. I have to take pictures, which sometimes makes some of my Chinese friends a little nervous. After all, they are proud and patriotic. They can rest assured of a few things.

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Beef Cheese Drink is now gone for good. This sign was at the front of Future City shopping center and near the Zhonglou Injoy Plaza. For a time, the sign lingered, but it became even more of non-sequitor. The shop below briefly became a small ice cream parlor — which just heightened the absurdity of the marquee saying Beef Cheese Drink. Why sell ice cream and keep the meat reference from the previous lease holder? I was reminded recently, however, that the Chinese are not the only people to garble the English language. Americans have plenty of experience doing it in their own country.

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The sign says NOT SOAR DID

The above photo was taken in a Walmart stock room in Freehold, New Jersey. What the guy meant was “not sorted.” It was the yearly inventory, and the pallet of boxes was a hodge podge of things yet to be sifted, organized, and counted. The thing about that retail chain is that they will hire anybody with a pulse and a lack of a criminal record. That includes angry, bitter, and extremely disgruntled college writing teachers desperately trying to make money to pay a mortgage they were seriously behind on (me!). In a very multicultural state like New Jersey, that also means they employ a number of recently and not-so-recently arrived immigrants. Some of them can barely speak or write English. That includes people from the Middle East and Latin America, but also people from Eastern Europe, Russia, and many other places.

It’s easy to make the mistake of plugging English vocab into your native grammar and get nonsense. English speaking expats likely do that in their early studies of Chinese. I know of this language problem from when I worked as a writing tutor; I had to help ESL students find and correct patterns of error in their essays.

The truth is that Chinglish is just one of many lishes in the world. Some of them, like Singaporean Singlish, actually evolve into something that sound like languages / dialects of their own. But, over in the USA, and New Jersey in particular, I have seen and heard Spanglish (Spanish), Pinglish (Polish), Russlish (Russian), and more.  I did not create these words. The speakers of those languages have used them to describe their own facility with English. Many of them are self aware enough to laugh at their own mistakes. Because, you know, “Not only coffee, beef cheese drink” does sound a bit funny.

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