‘Lau Pa Sat’ in Tamil can be used to curse people

From ‘STB to correct Lau Pa Sat and tighten translation process’, 7 Nov 2014, article by Chew Hui Min, ST

The Lau Pa Sat sign which was incorrectly translated has been removed and will be corrected, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said in a statement on Friday. STB also said that it will tighten the process of translating its brown signs, which indicate tourist attractions or landmarks.

“We had notified the operator and they had taken immediate steps to remove the sign and work on correcting the translation,” Ms Ranita Sundramoorthy, director of attractions, dining and retail said in the statement, referring to the erroneous Lau Pa Sat sign.

She added that the board will ensure the new sign is checked by language experts. A photo of the sign, which translated “Sat” as “Sani” or Saturday in Tamil, was being circulated on social networks. The word can have a negative connotation, and can be used to curse people.

Mr Samikannu Sithambaram, president of the Singapore Tamil Teachers’ Union, told The Straits Times on Thursday that the mistake could have come about because the translators thought that “Sat” in Lau Pa Sat was a truncation of “Saturday”.

SAT you, STB

SAT you, STB

Notice that this brown sign has Chinese, Tamil and Japanese on it, but no Malay. Contrast the selection of languages with other tourist attraction ‘brown signs’, such as East Coast Park, which has Malay, Japanese but no Tamil. There are inconsistencies elsewhere. Sri Krishnan Temple has no Malay or Japanese, while Little India has Malay, Chinese, Japanese but not Tamil. The image next to the Lau Pa Sat text doesn’t look like Lau Pa Sat at all, more like the Supreme Court dome. Why didn’t anyone spot this glaring error instead?

According to ST, the Tamil translation for ‘Sat’, or ‘Sani’, is also a reference to ‘Satan’, the only diabolical connection to the Lord of Darkness being that Lau Pa Sat is owned by food court conglomerate Kopitiam. Other Tamil speakers from the ST FB page were quick to clarify that ‘Sani’ refers to the planet ‘Saturn’. This isn’t the first time STB made a mess of their promotional material, summoning the Devil or otherwise. In 2002, the Hungry Ghost Festival was translated in Chinese to ‘HUNGARY Ghost festival’.

I’m not sure if Tamil is notoriously difficult to translate, but getting lost in translation has haunted Tamil linguists for more than a century. In 1940, a slogan on signboards campaigning for people to grow their own vegetables for ‘health and victory’ was read as ‘Unless you grow vegetables we shall lose the war’. Or maybe that was secretly intended to serve as war propaganda to rally Indians into amassing combat rations for our comrades. A Malay song in 1952 titled ‘A yoyo Ramasamy’ riled some Indians because it translated into derogatory lyrics describing labourers who ‘drink toddy and get intoxicated’.  In 1989, a multi-lingual No-smoking sign on a TIBS bus was slammed because it contained a nonsensical Tamil word. You also don’t see Tamil subtitles for English movies on national TV, or hear any of the PMs in the 60-year history of the PAP speak a single full sentence of it during their National Day Rallies. It can be a problem too if you even attempt to anglicise Tamil. Some years back Bread Talk were accused of mocking the race and language by naming one of their creations ‘Naan the Nay’, which probably has the same racial connotations as someone mocking Mandarin with ‘Ching Chong Ching Chong’.

But it’s not just STB who deserves Hell for their laziness in translation. NHB made a more humiliating mistake previously by translating Bras Basah in Chinese to the literal ‘bras’ (undergarments) on their Night Festival website. They soon made a ‘clean breast’ of it and fixed the atrocity. I wonder if STB has a brown sign for Sim Lim Square. Now if that were translated into Satan’s Square because of its reputation of scamming tourists out of their hard earned money and forcing people to get down on their knees and wail to the gods, they wouldn’t be that far off.

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One Response

  1. 巴刹 is already chineseised Malay of Pasar. The Chinese of PRC, Taiwan or others would not have understood what it means. That’s is Singlish, an unique feature to Sg and maybe Penang, Malacca, etc.

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