Shanghai moves against English-only signage, ads

The official Shanghai Language Works Commission has been keeping busy. In addition to ordering severe restrictions on the use of the language native to most people in the area, yesterday it decreed that beginning next month all companies, stores, and entertainment venues in Shanghai must include Chinese characters on their signs and in their notices and advertisements.

The regulation is aimed primarily against English-only signage.

What’s not clear, though, is if the rules declare what the Chinese characters must say or how much space must be given to them. Can the English be much larger? Can there be a full page of copy in English but just, say, the address in Chinese characters?

Those who violate the rule will be warned and told to fix the problem immediately. Repeat offenders will have their names added to a black-list published in local media outlets, but they face no fines or jail terms, according to the rule.

“Foreign-language-only signboards will probably hamper people’s understanding and deliberately set up communication barriers for most Chinese,” said Sun Xiaoxian, an official with the language works commission.

Many entertainment facilities that target foreign consumers have never set up Chinese signs, and others deliberately use English only to demonstrate they are the so-called “high-class” places, Sun said.

Only 15 of the 39 signs for businesses in front of the Shanghai Center, an office and hotel complex on Nanjing Road W., have Chinese characters on them.

Of 14 bars and restaurants along Tongren Road, only Blue Frog has a Chinese name — Lan Wa — on its sign.

A manager at Blue Angel, a bar next door to Blue Frog, said he had never heard of the new regulation.

“Most of our customers are foreigners, so we don’t need to worry that they cannot recognize the English signs,” said the manager who refused to disclose her name.

Many bars in the city don’t even have Chinese menus, according to Sun.

Blue Angel only added Chinese to its menu a few months ago, the manager said.

The language commission officials said they conduct regular spot checks beginning next month to ensure the regulation is being followed.

English only signs outlawed, Shanghai Daily, February 24, 2006

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