The Jobs of the Future

One great trick that 200+ years of Anglo-American hegemony has pulled has been to entrench the English language as the global lingua franca. It’s not just that people need to learn English in order to communicate with Anglophones, everyone relies on English to communicate with each other. A Korean jet talking to an air traffic controller in Bangkok will do it in English. A Finnish businessman talking about a deal with a firm in Lisbon will speak English. And at any major international gateway you’ll see signs up in one or two local languages and, of course, English. But as James Fallows observes, the English is often not quite right:


Literally, the Chinese could be rendered as: “Traveler, halt!” Or, to sound less Teutonic, “Travelers, stop!” But if you’d asked a native speaker you’d probably just end up with the simple “No entry.”

My reaction to this and innumerable similar signs in China has become sympathy rather than anything else (frustration, mirth, etc). All the fiddling with computerized translation programs, all the paging through English textbooks, all of whatever other effort came up with “The traveler halts,” for a result whose oddities could so easily have been avoided. Oh well. The airport itself is nice. Other topics shortly.

The interesting thing is that you don’t need to speak Chinese at all to fix this sign. You only need to be a native English-speaker who’s familiar with airports. I would rewrite this as “Do Not Enter.” And there are tons of examples of this sort of thing all over the world in both official signage and corporate advertising. And it seems to me that after the total collapse American journalism’s economic foundations, this will be a lucrative line of work for US-based writers — we can travel the world and fix everyone’s signs.