Sunday, July 8, 2007

New: Campaign!

Sometimes things are truly broken and need to be fixed. Sometimes things don't really matter that much, but people choose to fix them anyway. In the latter case, the opportunity is open for a good old fashioned campaign!

The way I figure it, campaigns have a storied history of much ado about nothing, but for some reason stay popular. Since we're not going to band together to solve (or even rationally discuss) the problems of climate change, world poverty (unless you call doing what George Clooney or Bono says 'solving'), growing ethnic conflict, and the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, we may as well target things that mildly annoy us. With this spirit of self-righteous vigor, I officially announce my campaign against redundant multi-lingual cognate signage!

This is not an attack on multi-lingual signage per se; it is important that public instructions function for the public that they are intended for. Furthermore, it is better to be inclusive, as anything which merits saying must have enough value to be heard (at least so we'd hope . . .). Rather, this campaign is against signs which might, in the interest of universal accessibility, blatantly and egregiously disregard human intellect. Specifically, if a sign repeats in a second or third language a word so close to the original that it actually hurts your mental development, I ask you to campaign against it. What methods of campaigning should you engage in? Be creative! Perhaps a smug chortle, or a disrespectful "p'shaw" would accomplish the goal. Carry around a sharpie for offenders whose scale and isolation lend themselves to mocking graffiti. In some cases, you might find it necessary to chain yourself to the infractious signage with an equally redundant sign (for ironic purposes) stating your complaint hung about your neck. After all, no campaign is successful until the attention it draws completely overshoots the legitimacy of the complaint.

An important (importante) note regarding this campaign is the rule by which we judge which signage is helpful, and which signage is actually destroying your brain. Signs, by nature, are made available to prevent you from having to think. Telling you which way to the bathroom is handy in an airport when people don't have time to get inside the airport designer's head and deduce where he might have thought ideal bathroom locations might be. Even more, the sign on the huge industrial machine that says "don't press this button unless you intend to spill thousands of gallons of acid into the river which serves as chief source of drinking water for greater Philadelphia" serves as an extra reminder to the machine's operator, even if he has been operating the machine for twenty-five-odd years and knows full well every last in and out of the machine. In the latter case, there is less evil done, as even a thousand years of exposure to such signage would not outdo the horrors of one mistake.

This is not true of all signs, however. When we become trained to be dependent upon signage, we forfeit that part of our conscious that is constantly exploring. By assuming that there will be signs to tell us the right way to go, or thing to do, we cease to consider which way would make the most sense, or even allow new inputs to change what we had previously set out to accomplish. In the case of multi-lingual signage, the effort that it may take to interpret a word that is off by only a few characters will certainly flex parts of your brain in beneficial ways, even if it is done subconsciously.

Where do we draw the line for the case of translation? Clearly, the huge machine should be labeled in Spanish as well, but the sign that directs one how to mount toilet paper need not say "IMPORTANT/IMPORTANTE." When does a sign encourage you to think, and when does it bug you? The choice is yours! Sure a structured approach could probably find a rule based on the degree of similarity between two words might make a sign easily translated or not, but this is a campaign, and if we actually accomplished our goal, we'd have nothing left to be angry about! Reason and discourse have no place here. Sharpies out!

1 comment:

Sue Gillespie said...

You would have liked a sign I saw on the motel-clogged highway-esque road near Colonial Williamsburg. As we walked along passing Econo-Lodge, Traveler's Inn, Hampton Inn,
Comfort Inn, and every other possible chain hotel/motel possible, there appeared a small blue government posted sign, with an arrow pointing down a small cross street. the information? "Lodging"