Tuesday, October 21, 2008


In what is just another episode of a long-running series, today I was once again forced to deal with medical professionals. That's usually bad enough - doctors routinely make the top of my shit list with nurses right behind. What made it worse is that instead of going to my usual place, a rather friendly clinic in a convenient location situated next to a lovely park especially beautiful this time of year, I had to drag myself over to this butt-ugly God-forsaken communist-era hospital complex on the outskirts of town. Long story short, I wasted about three hours, didn't even get to see the doctor and most likely caught something along the way. Not a good day, if you catch my drift. All would have been lost, had I not stumbled across this while I wandered the halls:

Bilingual (Slovak-English) and trilingual (Slovak-English-German) signs are not unusual in Bratislava - in fact, the aforementioned rather friendly clinic employs them routinely, considering the large number of foreign residents and Austrians who either live here or come here to get high-quality medical care (especially dental) at a very low cost. But this is the first time I've seen the ubiquitous (in hospitals and clinics, that is) "Don't knock" sign translated into Chinese. Why did this particular immunology clinic put up this sign, I don't know. Bratislava does have a relatively large Chinese community, yet somehow I doubt its members are particularly susceptible to alergies and autoimmune diseases, considering that this was the only door with a sign in Chinese.

Be that as it may, I naturally had to check if the Chinese was legit. Of the five characters 请不要敲门, I only recognized the negative particle 不 . The rest was supplied by various dictionaries:

  • 请 [qǐng] = to ask, to invite, please
  • 不 [bù] = (negative prefix), not, no
  • 要 [yào] = important, to want, FUT AUX, may, must, OR
  • 要 [yāo] = demand, ask, request, coerce
  • 敲 [qiāo] = knock, to strike, to knock (at a door), to hit
  • 门 [mén] = gate, door

Seeing as I get about 4000 hits when googling the phrase in quotes and Google Translate provides this very phrase as the translation of "Please don't knock", I suspect it's indeed proper Chinese. Please don't hesitate to correct me if I'm wrong. That would certainly be interesting, just consider Engrish. With China playing an ever increasing economic and political role on the global stage, Chinese is bound to increase in importance and stature and will inevitably be used by people as clueless about it as the authors of the many Engrish texts are about English. Is it possible that I have just witnessed the birth of Hanyish or perhaps Zhongwenish?


Anonymous said...

it's correct chinese.

Anonymous said...

Looks correct to me, too. I didn't know the "knock" part, but búyào, literally "not want", is the imperative "don't", compare Latin noli. It also makes sense that "knock" doesn't occur alone but requires an object, and the logical one at that.

(I have spelled out the tone sandhi. takes on the second tone if it comes in front of another fourth tone.)

Judging from the fact that you didn't find búyào on your own, you seem to have consulted a zìdiǎn, a character "dictionary" that explains individual characters which may or may not even ever occur alone, as opposed to a cídiǎn, an actual dictionary that explains actual words.

bulbul said...

Thanks a lot, David. I knew about the tone sandhi, but not about the different types of dictionaries. I actually used both a zìdiǎn and a cídiǎn, but was probably too lazy / too distracted to look and/or scroll down :)

Anonymous said...

Well, maybe the ambulance personnel figured their patients may be more proficient with Chinese, it being bound to increase in importance and stature and all, as many of them ([im]patients that, and not just at this ambulance) have apparent problems understanding these pleas in Slovak, or even in the Latin alphabet, disqualifying both English and German as usable options in this case.

[Captain Obvious strikes again, to save the world from the humor- and/or- frustration-from-peoples-arrogance-understanding- impaired]

bulbul said...

I see, so basically this is the outcome of opting for the purely statistical approach: 1.2 billion speakers of Chinese vs. 5.6 million for Slovak, that's a no brainer :)

Anonymous said...

Yup, and sorry for that false friend: clinic personnel. Shame on me for posting that on this blog.

Anonymous said...

Now that I had a whole night and morning to ponder about it (:-)), I rather think they chose Chinese because people are familiar enough with the script to recognize it is indeed Chinese, and they hoped the oddity of its appearance could make the readers realize they can read the original text just fine. In other words, the Chinese message was that they do understand the message.

محمد إدريس said...

Pseudo-Chinese is different from pseudo-English, because while the latter is English that does not make sense, it is still English, whereas the former can be something that does not exist in any Chinese language at all, neither in terms of meaning nor in terms of orthography. It will be just a picture.

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