Language gaffes: Two event organisers apologise

(Left image) The Chinese word for "read" (third character from left) was wrong, and a word that means "to show disrespect" was used instead during the Speak Mandarin Campaign. In the NDP case, there were typographical errors in the Tamil translation
(Left image) The Chinese word for "read" (third character from left) was wrong, and a word that means "to show disrespect" was used instead during the Speak Mandarin Campaign. In the NDP case, there were typographical errors in the Tamil translation of the theme #OneNationTogether.PHOTOS: CHEW SENG KIM, MINISTRY OF DEFENCE

Speak Mandarin Campaign and NDP organisers apologise for linguistic errors

One embarrassing mistake was in the use of the wrong Chinese character in a rostrum sign, and the other, Tamil typographic errors in pamphlets.

Yesterday the organisers of both the Speak Mandarin Campaign and the National Day Parade (NDP) 2017 apologised for their linguistic errors.

In a gaffe at Monday's launch of the Speak Mandarin Campaign, instead of using the Chinese character for "read", the character for "to show disrespect" was used on a sign that featured prominently.

The campaign organisers, in a statement posted on Facebook yesterday, said they regretted the "erroneous rendering" of the character.

"We sincerely apologise for the gravity of this oversight, and will take steps to address this," they added.

Both the characters sound the same when spoken. In written Chinese, the two characters look similar, but have a unique element that changes the meaning of each.

The sign was meant to show four characters to signify the fundamentals of learning languages - listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Only the rostrum display used the wrong character, The Straits Times understands. The error was not repeated in any of the campaign's other promotional material.

 
  • Language slip-ups in recent years

  • MARCH

    The Speak Mandarin Campaign drew flak for posting a video where a group of words, known as classifiers, was incorrectly used.

  • DECEMBER 2015

    Tan Kah Kee MRT station was mistranslated to read "paan kah kee" in Tamil.

  • AUGUST 2015

    The Singaporeans First (SingFirst) party's campaign slogan in Tamil text, which did not form any known Tamil words, was circulated online.

  • NOVEMBER 2014

    A picture of the Lau Pa Sat (old market, in Hokkien) signboard made the rounds on the Internet. The Tamil transliterations for Lau and Pa were correct, though the word Sat was translated to Sani, which means Saturday in Tamil, and can also be used to curse people.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, the guest of honour, who co-launched the event from the rostrum, said in her speech that a good grasp of Mandarin is key to understanding and appreciating the unique Singapore Chinese culture.

"You cannot excuse it," Chinese Calligraphy Society of Singapore president Tan Siah Kwee, 69, told The Straits Times. Since the characters were typed out, he did not know "how the campaign was so careless".

In the NDP case, there were typographical errors in the Tamil translation of the theme #OneNationTogether, printed on the NDP publicity pamphlets given to Primary 5 pupils from 162 schools before they attended the NDP's National Education (NE) shows .

The translation was supposed to read as "Let's come together as one nation". But in that translation, some letters were in the wrong places, while others were missing, making the words unintelligible.

In a statement, the NDP 2017 Executive Committee said it "sincerely apologises for typographical errors". It added that souvenir booklets with the correct Tamil translation were later handed out during the NE shows on July 2 and 8, and will be done at this Saturday's NE show too.

The mistake prompted an MP to file a parliamentary question yesterday. Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) told ST that he first heard of the incorrect pamphlets from his constituency's Tamil-speaking residents, before later confirming this with the chairman of the Tamil Language Council.

His question asks the Minister for Communications and Information whether there were errors in the Tamil translation for NDP material, as well as the steps that will be taken to ensure such mistakes do not happen again.

Industrial relations officer Jagathishwaran Rajo, 30, first came across the errors about a week and a half ago, and said he had brought it up with his MP, Mr Liang Eng Hwa, during a Meet-the-People Session on July 3. He said he was not surprised by the errors, as he had encountered many Tamil mistranslations in both the public and private sectors."My intention is not to blame anyone. I just want people to be more careful in the future about translation."

NDP 2017 Executive Committee chairman Melvin Ong Yoke Lam said: "Such typographical errors are avoidable and should not have happened. We apologise to all Singaporeans for our oversight, in particular to our Tamil community, for the unhappiness this error has caused."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2017, with the headline 'Language gaffes: Two event organisers say sorry'. Print Edition | Subscribe