My brother went to China recently and found this sign. You’ve probably seen something similar – Asian translations into English typically go awry. Something I hadn’t thought about before taking this Visual Literacy class is how the English translation completely changes the intent of the sign. The symbol on the sign clearly shows a warning which I would interpret as “Slipping Hazard.” However, the English translation changes the context of the sign from warning someone so they can avoid the hazard to announcing a foregone conclusion, but couching it as an invitation. All that’s lacking is “Please” to make the invitation complete.
That got me thinking about the lack of universality in signs. I can’t think of a sign that every single human on the planet would be able to interpret similarly. One could argue that some iconic signs are universal, but they still require context in order to be interpreted. For example, the sign showing a symbol of a dog on a lead would only mean “you can walk your dog here” to people who know what dogs are and that people keep them as pets and walk them. Anyone not familiar with dogs wouldn’t understand.