An illegal translation

Via a recent Failblog post, our attention is drawn to a very bizarre sign in Czech:

Bilingual Czech-English sign forbidding... translating
Bilingual Czech-English sign prohibiting... translating

What is most puzzling about this sign is that it is not an example of what we’ve seen in the past, a translation error: Zákaz tlumočení does indeed mean “translating [interpreting] prohibited”. Apparently, and without explanation, the sign’s injunction doesn’t apply to the sign itself  — how else would it have been possible to make the sign without the act of translation?

According to the comments in the Failblog thread, the most likely explanation is that at this particular spots, noisy tours for tourists are unwelcome. Except if the tour guide speaks Czech.

Bilingualism FAIL.

Is it futile to blog a phenomenon already noted by BoingBoing and Language Log? Probably, but does it matter?

As reported by the BBC, Swansea council neglected one of the basic principles of multilingual publishing: employ competent proofreaders for each of the languages you’re publishing in. Even if you have an in-house translation service, as is the case of Swansea council.

When officials asked for the Welsh translation of a road sign, they thought the reply was what they needed. Unfortunately, the e-mail response to Swansea council said in Welsh: “I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated”.

The English's fine, the Welsh is an out-of-office reply
The English's fine, the Welsh's an out-of-office reply

The only similar example I’ve recently seen was the Chinese dining hall (located on the Beijing-Taiyuan expressway) that was advertised as “Translate server error” on a billboard.

The Chinese read "dining hall"
The Chinese reads "dining hall"

Here in the West, we like to make fun at the sometimes misguided Chinese efforts to adopt English in public signage alongside with the local language. And face it, they are funny. What we may be forgetting is how easy it is to fall into the same trap if you have similar requirements, as is the case for public officials in bilingual areas, who are likely to have a legal duty to promote languages they may not, themselves, master.