Engrish refers to the grammatically incorrect variation of English often found in Asian countries, but can be found anywhere. While the term may refer to spoken English, it is more often used to describe written English, for which problems are easier to identify and publicize. Engrish has been found on anything from poorly translated signs, menus, and instruction manuals to bizarrely worded advertisements and strange t-shirt slogans. Usage of the term ranges from the humorous to the slightly pejorative. Country-specific terms, such as Japlish or Janglish for Japan and Chinglish for China also exist, although they are usually considered more derogatory.
The term originates from the fact that Japanese and a few other East Asian languages do not have separate sounds for R and L or B and V. In Japanese the R sound is pronounced as an alveolar lateral flap, articulated with the tongue flapped against the hard palate behind the front teeth, so that it sounds like a Spanish soft R. Because Japanese does not have a separate equivalent for the English L, native Japanese speakers not fluent in English often mispronounce English words containing the letter L. While the term mocks the accent, it is used mainly without malice in reference to humorous misuses, puns, and double entendres within written English, not difficulties in pronunciation.
Although many Japanese people are educated in English, the lack of native English speakers means that the education in spoken English is deficient and that there is little incentive to practice speaking the language outside school. Because secondary schools in Japan place heavy emphasis on preparing students for university entrance exams, English classes in junior high and high schools focus more heavily on grammar and vocabulary, which are tested on the entrance exams, to the virtual exclusion of oral communication practice.
Engrish is usually accidental, but sometimes its use is deliberate. Foreign branding, for example, serves the same purpose it does in the West: exotic embellishment. For the same reasons that a Chinese character tattoo seems "exotic" to many in the West, Asians may appreciate English words or gibberish for its aesthetic appeal alone; straight lines, frequent symmetry, and the unembellished curves of Latinate letters may all appeal to (perhaps more) Asian senses of aesthetics and balance.
A rather surprising but actually innocent use of English as a visual device is the use of the word “FUCK” in capital letters, most frequently in Japanese advertising and clothing. The appeal of this particular word is that there are two angular letters on the outside of the word, and two rounded letters on the inside, therefore very balanced
Some idiosyncratic usages of English among a community that is largely bilingual (Spanglish, Yinglish, Franglais, Chinglish) have names with more neutral connotations, and are applied largely to people whose skills in English are more on par with those of the society in general.
Notable examples of Engrish
Engrish in video games
Some video games are particularly noteworthy for poor Japanese-to-English translations, resulting in memorable Engrish phrases. Naturally, as gaming technology progressed and the mainstream appeal of gaming grew, larger budgets became available for the development of games. The hiring of more professional translators and the use of better translation and quality control methods has resulted in the near eradication of the unintentional appearance of Engrish in later games.
The phrase "All your base are belong to us," from the Sega Mega Drive/Sega Genesis video game Zero Wing, is easily the most well known example of Engrish in video games; it spawned an Internet phenomenon and has an internationally strong fad fanbase.
The video game Samurai Shodown 4, for instance, used the word "Victoly" instead of "Victory" at a duel's conclusion. SNK is so well known for the poorly translated phrases in many of their games that sometimes video game Engrish is referred to as SNK-glish. Some other well-known examples of this are "To push start only 1 player button", "Go next", "Congraturations" and "Entry your name" from Blast Off, "I feel asleep" and "The truck have started to move" from the NES version of Metal Gear, and "A winner is you!" from the NES game Pro Wrestling.
In the credits of Phantasy Star Online for the Sega Dreamcast, a dedication is made "to every hunters of PSO." In the American version of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, the hero Ike says "Move out for the target area" when instructing allies to move to a certain point, some examples of less-poorly-translated Engrish.
In both the credits and printed media (instruction booklets, etc.) of the NES Mega Man games, Mega Man's creator, Dr. Light frequently had his name switched from Dr. Right to Dr. Light and back. Also Dr. Wily, Mega Man's nemesis was called Dr. Wiley in some titles. Later editions of Mega Man 2 for NES (and also Mega Man II for the Game Boy) rename Robot Master Crash Man (known for wearing a crash helmet with an upturned visor) as Clash Man, causing some level of dispute between fans of the game series.
In the first Legend of Zelda game for the NES, there are many well known English phrases such as "Master using it and you can have this", whose approximate meaning was "Once you have shown sufficient proficiency with the sword, you may have this particular sword that is in front of me".
Examples in the Final Fantasy series
The 1991 SNES game Final Fantasy IV (released in America as Final Fantasy 2), contains numerous Engrish lines due to poor translation. Perhaps the most well known one is when the wizard Tellah, in a fit of rage against the bard Edward, shouts "you spoony Bard!". However, though often considered an improper translation, "spoony" actually means "Enamored in a silly or sentimental way" or "Feebly sentimental; gushy" and is arguably appropriate for the situation in which it was used. Other lines include "The Road to Mt. Hobbs is being blocked by a thick ice", "Wow you noble looking", and "You are Cecil, I've heard of your feat". Some lines in the game also have extremely poorly constructed sentences that run together in a bizarre fashion. When the white wizard Rosa recovers from her illness, she tells the hero Cecil, "I am alright. And I am a White Wizard. I won't bother you".
The 1997 American release of Final Fantasy VII contained several Engrish mistakes. During the first boss battle, a “hint” was translated incorrectly as “Attack when the tail is up!” instead of “Don't attack when the tail is up!”. When Cloud first visits the slums near Aeris's house, she tells him “This guy are sick.” when talking about a man living in a pipe. The first time Cloud visits Kalm town and asks the citizens if they saw a man in a black cape, one person says, “Listen to me! Just now, some guy in a black cloak goes walked east towards that grassy field”. Later, between rounds at the Battle Arena, the computer asks the player if they would like to go on to the next stage. The option to go on was “Off course!” instead of “Of course!”, and the option to quit fighting is “No, way!”. When the Sneak Attack materia was triggered, the in-battle message which appeared said, “(name) was cought by surprise.” Also, at one point, it is remarked to Elena in a debate, "You are a Turks." The game also contained several mis-romanizations of English words, such as "Knowlespole", instead of north pole. Most of these errors were subsequently corrected in the PC port of the game.
In the 1998 English release of Final Fantasy Tactics, many translations were failed, from names to spells. The most commonly looked at are examples such as the Breath attacks, cast primarily by Dragons in the game, being mistranslated as Bracelet. (Ice Bracelet, Bolt Bracelet, etc.) Furthermore, there were actually names that were mistranslated, including Rudvich, the weapons smuggler that chapter three strongly involves, should actually be Ludwig. A more prominent example is Weigraf, the popular nemisis of Ramza, was actually meant to be Wiglaf, a character from Beowulf. Also, at one point in the story, Ramza shouts to the wounded Weigraf, "No! Wiegraf!! Don’t open that!!" which more than likely should have been "Don't use that!!"
Engrish in popular media
Engrish in its original sense of unintentional mistranslation is periodically found in translated live action Asian film and television and occasionally in translated Japanese anime. However, it is more often used intentionally in English language productions as a parody of the concept, or of the linguistic differences that give rise to Engrish. In some instances, racist overtones, though unintentional, may be apparent.
Examples in animated television and film
The wartime Donald Duck cartoon, Commando Duck, the caricatures of the Japanese Army speak in Engrish, such as “Hello, please,” and later, “Must always be shooting rope in the center of the middle, just like Lone Ranger!”
Japanese anime can also feature examples of Engrish which, over time, become distanced from their original intended meaning. In Dragon Ball, for instance, the character of Bulma (Buruma) was intended to be Bloomers or panties (her father's name is Mr. Briefs, in the sequel Dragon Ball Z, her son would be called Trunks, and later in Dragon Ball GT she would have a daughter named Bra); later, however, there are occasions when her name is clearly spelled "B-U-L-M-A".
Engrish has been featured in several episodes of the American animated series South Park. In episode 801, titled Good Times with Weapons, the main characters "play ninja" accompanied by a ridiculous song, sung in Japanese by Trey Parker, one of the show's creators, that featured the chorus “Let's Fighting Love”. The song is most likely a reference to Engrish found in some J-Pop songs featured in a large number of Japanese anime. The episode Mecha-Streisand features a Japanese TV announcer, who sings the Godzilla theme song in Engrish. The episode featuring Chinpokomon also employed Japanese characters using Engrish. And Tuong Lu Kim, the Asian owner of the local Chinese restaurant City Wok, pronounces "City" as "Shitty."
The animated comedy Drawn Together features a character named Ling-Ling (a parody of the Pokémon character, Pikachu) who is an Asian of unspecified nationality. Ling-Ling's speech consists mainly of Japanese-sounding gibberish, while his subtitles contain almost exclusively Engrish. A joke directly referencing Engrish occurs in the episode "Super Nanny": when Ling-Ling takes an eye exam, he says "R" for every letter on the eye chart even though every letter on the chart is actually the letter L.
Examples in live action television
In the Monty Python episode, "The Cycling Tour," the main character tells a Chinese man posing as a British Consul that he is on a bicycle tour of Northern Cornwall, to which the "consul" replies, "Ah! Colonworol!" An entire sketch built around the concept is "Erizabeth L," in which a Japanese con artist (played by Terry Jones) posing as Italian film director Luchino Visconti forces the cast of a period drama he is filming into speaking their lines with an exaggerated "Japanesque" accent and chides them when they slip into standard English pronunciation.
Benny Hill episodes have an Engrish speaking character called Chow Mein; his mangled English phrases baffle his interviewer: “How rubbery, evlybloody's crapping!”
On The Tonight Show, Jay Leno frequently shows poorly translated instructions from Asian products as part of the "Headlines" segment.
On the classic Seinfeld episode "The Chinese Woman", Jerry's girlfriend, who goes by the name Donna Chang despite not actually being Chinese, uses the word "ridicurous" in a conversation.
On Chappelle's Show Season 3 Episode 2 in the controversial skit "Racial Pixies", an Asian "dressed" Chappelle was sitting on MTV "vjay" LaLa's shoulder telling the Asian man in the skit to say "Hewro RaRa" instead of "Hello LaLa". In the end, the Asian man says "Hello Gorgeous" to LaLa and Chappelle commits Hara Kiri and dies in LaLa's clevage.
Examples in live action film
An early example of modern Engrish was seen in the 1983 comedy A Christmas Story, when waiters at a Chinese restaurant attempt to sing "Deck the Halls" to restaurant patrons.
Another movie example is the "Supplies/Surprise" gag from the movie UHF.
Still another movie example is the character of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, in the 2005 puppet movie Team America: World Police, by the creators of South Park. In the movie, Kim Jong-Il (actually a marionette) always pronounces "L"'s as "R"'s, and even sings a feature song, "I'm So Ronery" (a mispronunciation of "I'm So Lonely").
A significant plot point of the film-noir movie Chinatown involves a Japanese man telling Jack Nicholson's character that something is "Bad for glass."
Another popular example is in Lethal Weapon 4, when Mel Gibson's character is speaking to Uncle Benny, a Chinese resturant owner/ Triad member. He asks Uncle Benny for some "flied lice" to which Benny responds "It's fried rice, you plick!". (The joke being that Benny corrects the flied lice part, but then deliberately mispronounces "prick".)
Engrish can also refer to the Japanese pronunciation of English loanwords or a Japanese dialect with a number of English loanwords. Because Japanese has only five vowels, and few consonant clusters, English loanwords are often pronounced in a manner that sounds unusual and even humorous to English speakers. For example, in spoken Japanese, guitarist Eric Clapton becomes Erikku Kuraputon, Australia becomes Osutoraria, and "McDonald's" becomes Makudonarudo, which is often further abbreviated to Makudo or Makku.
Japanese uses over 600 imported English words in common speech, sometimes in abbreviated form. Examples are hankachi for "handkerchief", foku for "fork", teburu for "table", puroresu for "pro wrestling", and so on.
The more outlandish and humorous the pronunciation change is, the more likely it is to be considered Engrish. Even fairly logical English loanwords in Japanese will often sound foreign and unintelligible to an English speaker, such as the use of chizu for "cheese" when taking a photograph. These pronunciation changes are linguistically systematic and are completely unrelated to the speaker's intelligence.
Engrish was once a frequent occurrence in consumer electronics product manuals, with phrases such as "to make speed up find up out document", but it is less frequent today. Another source of poor translation is unchecked machine translation, such as that from the Babelfish service or Google Language Tools. Engrish is often created by translating a phrase using the Babelfish service or Google Language Tools to translate something into Japanese, then copying and pasting the Japanese text and translating it back into English.
Chinglish, a portmanteau of the words Chinese and English, is a term used to describe poor or 'broken' English employed by native Chinese speakers. Chinglish is usually found in written form. Famous examples include "no q" as a response to "thank you" (often sinicized in Mandarin Chinese as ?Q - san q) and ok lah. (The second example is both Chinglish and Singlish.)
Spanglish, a portmanteau of the words Spanish and English, is a name used to refer to a range of language-contact phenomena, primarily in the speech of the Hispanic population of the United States, which is exposed to both Spanish and English.
These phenomena are a product of close border contacts or large bilingual communities, such as along the United States-Mexico border and throughout Southern California, northern New Mexico, Texas, Florida (especially Miami), Puerto Rico, and in New York City. It is also quite common in Panama, where the 96-year (1903-1999) U.S. control of the Panama Canal has influenced many aspects of society (especially among the former residents of the Panama Canal Zone, commonly referred to as "Zonians").
A "Spanglish" also arose in the speech of Gibraltar, known as Llanito. Spanglish is sometimes known by a regional name; for example, within Texas it may be called "Tex-Mex" (as distinct from the regional cuisine by the same name).
Denglisch is a portmanteau of the words Deutsch and Englisch. It is also referred to as Germish, which is a portmanteau of German and English. It describes a language based on German grammar that includes a jumble of English and pseudo-English idioms, or vice versa.
Used in all German-speaking countries, Denglisch owes its existence in part to the cultural predominance of English language pop music, to the international computer slang, and to the use of English as the lingua franca of politics, business, and science.
Because of discrepancies in their pronunciation, syntax, grammar and word use, imported English words must adapt to the German language, or German language patterns must adapt to English usage.
Franglais, a portmanteau made by mixing the words français ("French") and anglais ("English"), is a slang term for types of speech, although the word has different overtones in the English and French languages.
Konglish is the use of English words (or words derived from English words) in a Korean context or a Korean dialect mixed with English loanwords. It also includes the use of words that are perceived to be English, but are in fact not English words. These could be words that have a different meaning in Konglish than they have in English, words that merely look or sound English, or words that are a mixture of Korean and English. Koreans usually use the word exclusively in the latter sense. In South Korea, the term Konglish is used to refer to a variety of English spoken with a Korean accent.
Singlish, a portmanteau of the words Singaporean and English, is the English-based creole spoken colloquially in Singapore. It is very similar to Manglish, spoken in neighbouring Malaysia. As a distinct creole it is arguably not broken English, since it has its own rules. Using English as a base, it draws from a variety of vocabularies and grammar, including the Chinese dialect Hokkien and Malay.
This often makes it difficult for speakers of other English dialects to understand. The main difficulties in understanding are Singlish's unique slang and syntax, which are more pronounced in informal speech.
The Singaporean government has launched a "Good English" campaign to persuade the Singaporeans to use proper English, which often took the form of poster advertisements.
List of dialects of the English language