Misuse and Abuse of Language

Even as a native speaker, I recognize what a messed-up langauge English is.  Because of that, I have a lot of sympathy for non-native speakers.  When I really need a laugh, I’ll stop by Engrish.com to see some of the ways in which the English language has suffered at the hands of non-native speakers, particularly in Japan and China.  One lesson I draw from all this, though, is that one shouldn’t use a language if you don’t really know what you’re doing.

This gets me to wondering about people who cross the line from innocent mistakes – of course a non-native might easily write “corn poops” instead of “corn pops” on a breakfast cereal sign – to intentionally disregarding a language, using it more for decorative purposes rather than for communicating.  I’ve written before about the dangers of getting a tattoo in a language you don’t understand.  What about those who choose to use language for interior design but obviously don’t understand it?

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Case in point, the “pan Asian” restaurant RockSugar at the Century City mall in Los Angeles.  Owned by the Cheesecake Factory chain, the entry to the restaurant is decked out with Buddha statues (which, if you really want to get to the heart of the matter, are objects of veneration, not decorative items to place by the front door) and “exotic” looking Thai script.  The Thai phrases appear in odd places, vertically along some of the outside walls (note that Thai isn’t written vertically), in random phrases on their website, and in the entry vestibule, pictured below.

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Wow, looks exotic, huh?  Boy, I bet I’m about to get some authentic Oriental food here… maybe I can get a slice of green tea cheesecake afterwards.

Rock Sugar Translation

Putting aside the fact that these are nonsense phrases, much like some of the entries at Engrish.com, they are also written in some absurd out-of-order combination of font sizes that makes it harder to follow in Thai than it is in the English translation, above.

I understand the fascination with other cultures and who wouldn’t want to open a restaurant featuring a mish-mash of Asian cuisines?  But perhaps in doing so we could use a little bit of cultural awareness and sensitivity in the process of designing the interior of the restaurant?  Is that too much to ask?