‘Greek’ on Pioneer Generation Package, wrong Lau Pa Sat translation, and a recollection of the ‘Hungarian Ghost Festival’

While the Tamil words for Lau and Pa are correct on the signboard, the word Sat has been translated into Sani, which means Saturday in Tamil. The word, however, can also be used to curse people in Tamil.

Such a negative meaning may rile some people, Mr Samikannu Sithambaram, president of the Singapore Tamil Teachers’ Union, told The Straits Times. He said that the mistake could have come about because the translators thought that Sat in Lau Pa Sat stood for the short form of Saturday.

“Some people, especially if they are not local, won’t know what Lau Pa Sat is. They should have really done their homework,” he said.

Mr Sithambaram added that there have been other instances where Tamil translation had failed. Most recently, he said that seniors received letters on the Pioneer Generation Package “in Greek” because the Tamil font was not supported.

Previously, Tamil signs at Gardens By The Bay were also almost all wrong, until the errors were pointed out and corrected, he said.

Some readers like Teo Soh Lung also pointed out why Malay was not seen on the Lau Pa Sat signboard. A survey around Singapore would lead one to see that indeed, Malay is usually left out despite it being the National Language, with Japanese and sometimes Korean being displayed prominently instead. While tourist service was probably the main focus of these STB signboards, it is telling the lack of priority given to our national languages and other native languages.

And it is not just Tamil, a minority language, that runs into such errors. Chinese, the language of the majority in Singapore – and in recent years, so emphasized, at least on lip service, by the govt – also met grave errors, with our Seventh Month “Hungry Ghost Festival” being translated as “Hungarian Ghost Festival” in Chinese. Apparently, then, only the Chinese-language media gave a big hoo-ha to the gross incident involving our tourist brochures; the English-language media tried to save the PAP some face and ‘minimise damage,’ and therefore the only English reference we could find after a Google search is this one which is a translation of a Wanbao article.


China’s media reporting on the STB’s “Hungarian Ghost festival” translation gaffe, apparently by incompetent translators in Singapore who are from China themselves.

It seems we need better language proficiency here in Singapore.


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