Wednesday, April 23, 2008

CJKE Crazy


The link above features a nice example of bad translation captured by However, as an amateur typographer with experience with asian fonts, I also recognised a second phenomenon: the seemingly random use of normal/bolded characters at the bottom for the Chinese translation. (And, for the curious, they didn't do a great job translating into Chinese either; apparently they did a second machine-translation, using the shoddy English as the new source.)

So what's the deal with the seemingly random bits of bolded text? Is it placed for emphasis, to help with the visual balance of clutter, given the relative high density of ink per line of text? Sadly, no. These fine toilet chaps, who couldn't bother finding adequate translators, also couldn't be bothered to find an adequate CJK/Unicode font. You see, the characters that are bolded, are in fact consistent with the kanji used at the top for the japanese font. The other characters, however, are some other default font that could accomodate the simplified characters not found in Japanese dictionaries (and therefore, Japanese fonts). In short, they used a simple word processor like MS Word, which, when given a character outside the font in use, would replace it with the default language font instead. For MS Word 2003, this was often MS Mincho, or MS Gothic. As for the new Vista, I have no idea how well it handles such cases.

Most people probably wouldn't care, and the Chinese-capable would probably just raise an eyebrow before proceeding. But the typographers and designers, familiar with the issues and hurdles of asian computing, would weep at such public display of ignorancce and machine abuse.

It makes sense on the one hand -- Why should a Japanese font incorporate all those glyphs from Simplified Chinese when it would rarely be used? But on the other hand, in this age of cliches and the oft-repeated word of globalisation, it might be prudent to create typefaces that are a bit more inclusive than just one language.

For the curious, what the message is *trying* to say is something closer to: "Because the stalls here are not stocked with toilet paper, customers are advised to purchase toilet paper for use [from this machine]". A bit clumsy as a translation, but i think it incorporates enough of the key words for the casual reader to see where they went wrong. Obviously, a natural translation would do a much better job than attempting to remain faithful to the original Japanese text.

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