When using any kind of translation helper – dictionary, Babel Fish or Google Translate – remember that if you don’t know the target language, you should always have a native speaker take a look at the final product. Otherwise, your results might be as flamboyantly incompetent as those in this shop window, which I passed not long ago in midtown Manhattan.
To attract foreign tourists, the store’s owners have tried to translate “Welcome” into a variety of languages. But in almost every case, they chose something inapt. Here they are, starting at the top left:
Welcome (English): OK, this is right.
Empfang (German): Nope. This is “welcome” in the sense of a reception, like “they received a fine welcome,” or the reception area in a hotel. It can’t be used to greet people. That would be Willkommen.
accueil (French): Nope. This means “reception” or “greeting”. They want bienvenue.
boas-vindas (Portuguese): Nope. Boas-vindas is a noun used the phrase dar as boas-vindas, “to give a welcome”. But they want bem-vindo.
прием, (priyom) (Russian): Nope. This is another noun meaning “reception” or “receiving” or sometimes “welcome”, but Russians say dobro pozhalovat’ to welcome people.
yookoso (Japanese): Yes! Finally one correct, although store and restaurant owners would probably prefer irashaimase.
歡迎 (huan ying) (Chinese): Two in a row correct. (And besides Johnson’s own typos, we were wrong in initially writing that the sign mixed traditional and simplified Characters.)
bienvenida (Spanish): Partial credit. Bienvenida would be appropriate to welcome a single woman. Bienvenido or bienvenidos is more neutral, since the masculine adjectives are also traditionally gender-neutral for mixed groups.
welkom (Dutch): On a roll, and finally unambigously correct! This is what an actual Dutch person would say.
acceptus (Latin): Nope. Passing Romans will recognise this as a past participle meaning “accepted” or “welcome”, but this was not used a greeting in Latin. They might want salve.
καλωσορίζω (kalosorizo) (Greek): Nope. Johnson’s Greek is paltry, so a friend, Coulter George of the University of Virginia, pitched in: “The problem with καλωσορίζω (apart from orthography – it should be written as two words) is that it would literally mean ‘I arrive well’. The proper form καλώς ορίσατε is a past tense ‘You arrived well!’, or more idiomatically, ‘How nice that you’ve come!’”
мэндчилгээ (mendchilgee) (Mongolian): Mongolian! I admire the effort to attract New York’s many Mongolian tourists, but this doesn’t seem to be quite right either, according to online phrasebooks and dictionaries for Mongolian. We must confess, though, that Johnson’s Mongolian is worse than paltry. Any readers who can help, please do.
mottakelse (Norwegian): Nope. Once again, they have found the word for “reception” or “welcome area”, but not the greeting in Norwegian, which is velkommen.
Besides the odd language selection (Mongolian and Latin, but no Italian or Arabic), what’s striking is the common use of the wrong part of speech: a verb phrase here, a noun there. But on a shop sign, “welcome” is not an adjective (“you are a welcome guest”), a noun (“please accept my welcome”) or a verb (“I welcome you”.) it is an interjection. If you’re looking up something you don’t know in a bilingual dictionary, in other words, you improve your chances by at least trying to find the right part of speech.
For this advice, you’re mendchilgee in advance.