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CO2 Is Very Very Too Much

“What is global warming?”

The state of global warming politics has finally reached kitsch. Take a look at the video below, a snippet from the game show Super Center ABC (瞎拼ABC; or craze for English genius).

Pairs of contestants consisting of a reader and a guesser each have five minutes or so to guess as many phrases as they can. A phrase in Chinese and its English translation is presented to the reader (and audience). The reader is allowed to speak only English, the guesser must convey the Chinese phrase, not the English. The reader is of course not allowed to read the English phrase, but must paraphrase it.

The reader can use any means to reveal the phrase. The most frequent technique is to describe single characters by means of analogy, pop culture reference, or pictorially; then the reader must stitch the characters back together, which, because of the way the Chinese language is structured, can mean something entirely different than each individual character (word). Got it?

The reader here is Makiyo, a Japanese woman fluent in Chinese and Japanese, and, as you will see, not so fluent in English. The discussion of global warming, actually the “greenhouse effect”, begins at 2:22.

A rough transcription of what Makiyo said:

Summer is a very very hot-o. And winter very very too col. And-a CO2 is very very too much…And Earth-a is dead. Earth-a, it’s dead…very very soon…Coming-u soon.

Laughter and applause! Celebration! The Earth it’s dead very very soon. Not to worry—next phrase, please. Was it a coincidence that it was “Keep calm and you will not feel the heat too much”?

Even though each person in this show has assimilated the notion that there is very very too much CO2, and that this fact must have apocalyptic consequences, this video is bad news for environmentalists. It shows that their best, most potent message has been absorbed, but reduced to a game show laugh line. You can’t sink lower than that. A contestant asking to buy a vowel in the phrase “Catastrophic flooding” cannot be far off.

It’s hard to imagine how environmentalists will recover from this. What scary scenario can top the imminent end of the world? If that can’t frighten and motivate people, nothing can.

ABCs

It is inconceivable that a show like this would ever become popular in the States. It relies on most of its viewers having at least passing knowledge of a foreign language, which is not so, here. Perhaps Spanish would work, but it’s doubtful: too many people are fluent in both, or fluent in only one. French might go over in England.

Then again, these languages are too close to English to be the source of any fun. It’s the radical distance Chinese has from English, and the reader’s bare competence of that later language that provide the spark and humor. If the reader and guesser were both masters of English and Chinese, the best the show could do would be to reach pedantry: it would resemble a PBS educational program designed by over-earnest adults for the betterment of children.

The criticism, sure to be offered by some, that Americans are just too stupid, linguistically speaking, to enjoy such a show will be misplaced. It is not so that we are too stupid to learn new languages. That we do not often do so is because we operate under a handicap not present in other countries. We suffer the misfortune of not needing, or not often requiring, a second language.

How many native English speakers have had an experience similar to this, such as I often had in Japan? Me asking the clerk (in Japanese), “How much is this?” The clerk answering (in English) “A thousand yen.” Me (in Japanese), “How many are in the package?” The clerk answering (in English) “Two hundred. It’s written here.”

Or this, in Taiwan. Me (in Chinese), “I want some duck tongue.” Clerk (in English), “You like this? You eat this?” Me (in Chinese), “I love it. It’s very delicious.” Clerk (in English), “How much?” Me (in Chinese), “Just a little. Thank you.” Clerk (in English), “You are welcome.”

See what I mean? We poor Americans are at a tremendous disadvantage.

Incidentally, this episode best demonstrates the screwy methods that are often used to arrive at an answer. This features the line (again, around 2:22), “If I don’t left me, you can die!

7 thoughts on “CO2 Is Very Very Too Much Leave a comment

  1. Happy fun! So you like happy duck tongue? I like happy pizza, happy burger, happy taco and happy steak. Or so West Coast Asian entrepreneurs have all assumed in the past.
    On a more serious note, the Spanish-English mix would also be much more difficult to pull off in the US due to the literacy contrast. That’s the elephant in the room impacting most of our ESL classes. Would work well in the UK, though, so watch for it next on BBC.

  2. GW has long since passed into pop culture. Examples abound. The Minnesota gig on Mann; the
    hilarious British video on Global Noise making as the source of earthquakes. Ridicule is the worst enemy of the self righteous, as Soviet era humor proved. AGW is losing, and the advocates sense it, making them act more and more bizarre. Cognitive dissonance at work.

  3. The local international TV station has a Japanese channel which I sometimes watch. I can’t understand the Japanese, but they sure have some good looking women on the programs.

    I used to live in Berlin. I traveled all over Germany and spoke enough German to get where I wanted to go, find a place to stay and order a meal. BTW,after learning some German, I had no problem learning Austrian. When I was in Luxembourg I was told the average Luxembourg citizen speaks five languages, Luxembourgian (?), French, German, English, and another.

  4. The two videos are hilarious. Thank you, Mr. Briggs. I shall send them to my Taiwanese friends.

    One of the screwy methods used in both videos is simply”sounds-like” method one would use when playing Pictionary. For example, “one cut 44” (1 minus 44) is -43, the Mandarin pronunciation of -43 sounds just like the Mandarin translation of Mount Fuji. Which is amusingly clever. I wouldn’t be able to come up with this clue right on the spot.

    Of course, if one doesn’t know the answer to “1 minus 44”, then the clue would be of no use.

  5. You’re right. AGW is finished because it has gone into pop culture. Nothing is worse than ridicule, and there is much of it now. The Minessota gig on Mann; Al Gore’s penguins; the Brit video spoof on global noisiness, all point to AGW’s demise. And to hammer home the point, the advocates become crazier, shriller, and look more like losers all the time (10:10 “No Pressure”).

    It’s over.

  6. Matt,

    I often make the point to people who lament the lack of bilingualism in the US that if you don’t look at Europe, much of the world is monolingual. Also, monolingualism is rather high in English-speaking countries because, for better or for worse, most English speakers will never need to learn another language thanks to English being the lingua franca of international business, science, and communication.

    Japanese often do shows that show off how bad their English is. Here’s a great example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vv62SN9P008

    Along those lines, I suspect that monolingualism is almost as high in Japan as it is in the US. Outside of a passing familiarity with borrowed words (“butter,” “game,” “suit,” etc.) most Japanese are pretty much monolingual. Especially once you leave Tokyo or Kyoto.

    I think a lot of Americans who travel abroad are shocked at how good English is amongst those they meet. I argue that since most people are visiting big famous cities, it’s no wonder that they experience great English. Leave the big cities of most places, and English goes to almost zero.

  7. We just got back from 3 weeks in France which were wonderful in all regards except maybe cost – especially in Paris. Took trains, borrowed canal boat at Moissac, and drove all over northern French countryside.

    I have yet to convince SWMBO that if you check the beer price at three restaurants in a neighborhood and find a range from 6.5E to 7.5E, you are very unlikely to find a 4E beer anywhere nearby.

    We had been told by “many here” in US that everyone speaks English there. Not so, certainly not in the smaller towns which we visited. How could “many here” be so wrong?

    Simple.

    They took a tour and were shielded from the locals by the tour people.

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