Another Chinese vs English sign test
Remember the question Sima brought up about how much surface area was needed to communicate equivalent amounts in Chinese vs English?
Looking back through that article and the comments, I’d conclude the following:
- For unpearly prose at any rate, the surface area needed is probably about the same between the two languages.
- It still might be the case that non-prose signs (e.g. a sign with succinct phrases or just a word or two) could be shorter in Chinese than English
- “Native readers” of Language A can read Language A from a greater distance than they can a non-native Language B (whether A = Chinese or A = English)
All this came to mind at the Xiamen Botanical Gardens (also mentioned here) when I saw the sign below*:
More accurately, the surface area questions came to mind after I had read the service quality objectives, contemplated my level of satisfaction with the Xiamen botanical garden (>90%?), and pondered whether I should make a complaint (what if I was #2 out of 150,000?). Hey, I couldn’t help it — the sign’s practically begging you to ruin some bureaucrat’s day by mucking up his stats.
But since my parents and I had just been awed by the most extensive and exquisite cactus garden any of us had seen anywhere, I didn’t have the heart to do anything mean. And then I looked at the sign again: man, that English really dominates, doesn’t it?
Then again, maybe the English domination of this sign actually makes sense in light of the observations from Sima’s post. First, maybe the Chinese font is smaller than the English because of observation (3) — that is, the sign’s designers, presumably native readers of Chinese, felt like the smaller hanzi jumped out at them quite clearly even though, to my eye, the font is pretty small. Second, perhaps the English phrasing is longer not just due to poor translation but also because of observations (1) and (2) — that phrases, not prose, lend themselves to needing less space in Chinese.
Or, maybe it’s just bad design.
*Intentionally small — click for full-size version