Saturday, February 11, 2006

Grapefruits, penises and pigs, oh my!

No 'buoi' please, we're Vietnamese

HANOI (Reuters) - What do a Vietnamese grapefruit seller and a gender activist have in common?

Both have had applications to register Web site addresses rejected by authorities because the names contained words which could lead people to believe they were pornographic sites.

The fruit seller was tripped up by the tonal Vietnamese language, in which 'buoi' can mean either a grapefruit or slang for penis.

State-run Vietnam Television said late on Friday that the gender activist had wanted his Web site to be called sex.com.vn, which the country's Internet domain control body rejected. Pornography is banned in the Communist-ruled country.

Sites containing 'lon', which can mean either 'pigs' or 'vagina' depending on the tone, and 'xxx' are also not allowed, the television said.

I'm posting this text from Reuters as a joke, but any Vietnamese reader would tell you that the situation is not that simple. «'Buoi' can mean either a grapefruit or slang for penis» says Reuters. Well, actually, no. 'Buoi' doesn't mean anything in Vietnamese. A grapefruit is «bưởi» and a penis is ... uh.. look, all you need to know is: it's not spelled «buoi». Same thing with pigs and vaginas: not only are the tones different, the spelling is completely different. The real problem is that the domain registration system is based on the Latin alphabet and therefore cannot accomodate languages like Vietnamese that use a modified romanized system of writing.

But I've got to admit, learning to recognize and reproduce accurately the different tones is not an easy task for people used to non tonal languages. During the Vietnamese/American war in the 60s, the national TV station in Saigon used to broadcast a show hosted by American «advisers» who would laboriously read the daily news in Vietnamese. The show was very successful, if only for its comical value, because once in a while, the poor anchormen would use the wrong tones, with hilarious results, of the pigs = vaginas variety. I remember one of their most frequent mistakes was to pronounce «quân» neutral tone (troops, soldiers, etc.) as «quần» third tone (pants), so they would announce that the pants did this, the pants did that, we're expecting more pants next month, etc. And hilarity would ensue in Vietnamese households.


3 comments:

Nebu Pookins said...

URLs (the address of websites) actually support unicode, so you COULD actually register a website with Vietnamese characters. The problem is that a lot of users are unable to type in unicode characters and thus would be unable to directly go to the site (they might have to resort to finding a site with a latin-url which links to the desired site instead).

Buddhist with an attitude said...

Thanks for the information Nebu. I didn't know that.

Down And Out Of Sài Gòn said...

Thanks for the note about your post. I referred to it on my site. (Think of this as a trackback post.)