Paul Kei Matsuda

The price of language appropriation

Here is an interesting article about the appropriation of an Asian language by European scientists.

Science journal mistakenly uses flyer for Macau brothel to illustrate report on China

A respected research institute wanted Chinese classical texts to adorn its journal, something beautiful and elegant, to illustrate a special report on China. Instead, it got a racy flyer extolling the lusty details of stripping housewives in a brothel.

The author, Clifford Coonan, quotes some of the reader comments posted on

On, a foreigner-baiting website set up after a commentator on the US broadcaster made anti-Chinese comments following the crackdown in Tibet in March, the reaction was mostly "evil fun". One wrote, "Next time, please find a smart Chinese graduate to check your translation", and another said they should try writing "I am illiterate".

I like how this article highlights the need to consult language experts. But I thought this Beijing-based author of this article could also have used some help from an expert when he wrote:

Chinese is a tonal language, which means words sounding the same can often have very different meanings depending on how they are spoken.

No, the point is that the words don’t sound the same to people who understand the language, though they may sound the same to those who don’t understand a tone language.

(With thanks to Jeff Harling who forwarded the link to this article.)



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Last update: January 6, 2008