Unnatural by design

I’m flying over the pacific ocean right now but a little bit of language caught my eye. Here’s a picture of the menu for this flight, in three languages: English, Japanese, Chinese.


What caught my eye is the line “served with ご一緒に 配,” meant to be read as part of “Beef in BBQ sauce… served with Pepsi…”. The Chinese 配 (pèi) is fine here, meaning “with,” but the Japanese “ご一緒に” (goissho-ni) seemed awkward to me.

The issue is that this adverbial meaning “together” normally comes after the “what it’s with” in an order like (1) (glossed in (2)):

A B-と       ご一緒に
A B-and/with together

In other words, where English and Chinese both would say “A with B”, it is most natural in Japanese to say the equivalent of “A B with (together)”.1 This is the reason why it seems unnatural to have anything between the “Beef in BBQ sauce…” line and “Pepsi…” line.

Looking at the rest of the menu, it’s clear that this isn’t a case where a native speaker wasn’t involved with the writing of the menu—the rest of the Japanese is perfect. The Japanese modifier was inserted there just for the sake of parallel design, to the detriment of the text’s naturalness. When have you seen design conflict with the structure of your language?

  1. This can be generalized to a certain extent by noting that English and Chinese are both [[head-initial]] (aka “right branching”) languages, while Japanese is strongly [[head-final]] (aka “left branching”).