Use of English letters/words in Asian languages

I was at an Asian Grocer’s a few days ago and idly picked up a Chinese language newspaper to flick through while in the queue and some of the ads got me wondering.

For the most part they were in Chinese, but next to the pictures of the product and the price and various statements in Chinese that I took to be the usual advertising puffery or promotion of the product, there’d invariably be something in English like “So Easy For Use” or “Most Popular In Stock” or something like that.

Overlooking the Engrish aspects of it all, I’ve often wondered how Chinese people would try and parse English letters/words if they can’t speak English? I mean, if I was reading an English newspaper and suddenly there was a sentence in Chinese, I just couldn’t make head nor tail of it- it’s gibberish to my non-Chinese speaking eyes, basically.

Now, I realise that most Chinese people in English-speaking countries can read/understand some English, but you have to wonder: If the publication is in Chinese, why has it got random English phrases in it, and how do their (one presumes non-English speaking readership) understand or try and read them?

Oh look, a foreign advertisement caught your non-chinese eye. Isn’t that interesting. :wink:

[edit] Meant to add more than that:

I think this is it. You might be surprised how many English loanwords there are in foreign languages. I hear English phrases pop up all the time in conversations between my Vietnamese and Thai friends. The explanation given is that often there just isn’t a good equivalent to the phrase they are looking for, and since certain phrases (best value!) are fairly common in their collective vocabs, they benefit from being able to dip in to the English phrase once in a while.

I know it’s really common in Japanese: to the point where it can be gratuitous. (TVTropes link)

That makes sense in a spoken context, but in a written context- such as a newspaper, text on a screen etc, why would the English phrase be written in English letters and not the local script?

I mean, for example, in English we’d write Hong Kong and not 香港 (yes, I know Hong Kong is the “English” name as well)- we don’t use the native characters to render the name. So why is it done with English words in some foreign scripts, I wonder?

It’s for the same reason that people who can’t read Chinese get Chinese tattoos. They think it is cool, sophisticated or exotic.

In southwest China, at least, there wasn’t a lot of English crossover. Young people probably took some English in college, but most people over thirty probably don’t know more than an exaggerated “hello” and “bye bye.” Even celebrity names and English locations were usually only known by their Chinese translations. It’d be hit or miss if someone would be able to sound out roman characters. Of course on the coasts and certainly in Hong Kong there is a lot more knowledge of English.

There is a big push to get more people to learn English, and English is considered hip and modern. Chinese clothing stores are full of completely non-sensical “Chinglish” tee shirts that may be anything from random words, stuff clopped straight from random internet sites, etc. Now and then there are some winners- I’ve got a great shirt that declares in huge letters “Romeo Fuck Juliet.”

Anyway, nobody really cares what the shirts say- I taught English student who spoke pretty well, and they’d always be surprised when I pointed out if they were wearing a particularly bizarre tee shirt. People generally just think the English letters look cool and don’t worry about what it means.

Heh, this reminded me of this classic Chinglish sign. There is a lot of bad English out there, but I think this is definitely one of the more memorable ones.

In Korea, it’s very hard to buy a T-shirt that has Korean writing on it. The same way that T-shirts with Asian writing on them are very popular in Western countries, the opposite is true. This English use also adds to the exclusiveness of the product. People will look at the ad, see the English and think “ooh, this must be an international product.”

Mind you, the use of English in Asia-Pacific is absolutely cringeworthy. Companies hardly ever check their spelling/grammar properly.

My English Institute got posters made to advertise a Summer Camp. All these signs were put up beside busy roads. I walked by one and on it, grammar was spelled “grammer.” :smack: Needless to say, we weren’t asked to proofread it.

English words are common in Thai. Many Thais don’t even realize that some are even English. When they appear in Thai writing, they are spelled phonetically using the Thai alphabet.

This isn’t in the same class as Waffle’s but seems worth noting. When I was in Japan in 1998, I saw a van a half a block away that had MU in large letters on the back. I was curious and went closer to where I could read the smaller characters that were there and discovered that the model was called “Mysterious Utility”. Mysterious indeed.


Similarly, even the Japanese-language versions of video games always seem to use English (in Latin characters) for menu items like HEALTH and CREDITS, 1UP and so on. And even domestic Asian electronics that are not intended for Western markets invariably seem to have the logos, model names etc in the Latin alphabet. I’ve always found this puzzling.

Related to this, languages such as Greek and Russian which use non-Latin alphabets often seem to use Latin characters to spell out the names of foreign people and companies.

E.g. this Greek newspaper article uses Latin characters for Microsoft, Firefox, Windows and lots of other names. Imagine if an English article suddenly broke into the Greek alphabet to talk about a Greek organisation? It would never happen.

Back a long time ago (i.e., 100-200 years ago), when a classical education was both expected and taken seriously by more educated people, you could indeed have Greek quotations in the Greek alphabet in ordinary English prose.

Yes, actually that did cross my mind when I wrote that post. I recall reading a few old books that had characters casually throwing in quotes from Homer in Greek letters.

That, in a nutshell.

Here in Thailand, if you pick a random magazine (fashion, gossip, travelling, whatever), chances are that all the article titles will invariably be in English while the rest of the writing is in Thai.