McDonald’s Used Automated Translation of Hmong Language

The billboards displayed in St. Paul, Minnesota touted the restaurant chain’s breakfast offerings in the Hmong language. But native speakers said the ad slogan’s incorrect syntax renders it nonsensical.

Back in 2012, McDonald’s Corporation apologized for a pair of St. Paul billboards whose Hmong language text has been faulted for its mangled language translation.

Members of St. Paul’s Hmong community said the wording is careless and has a messy run-on sentence. The sign says, “Yuavtxhawbpabraukojsawv yuavntxivzograukoj mus.” Loosely translated, it means, “Coffee gets you up, breakfast gets you going.”

Thai Lee, a local doctor, said that the text is “missing key breaks in the language” and “as it stands right now, it doesn’t make sense at all.”

McDonald’s issued the following statement:

“We strive to reach our guests in relevant ways including the use of in-language messaging. While it was our intention to create a special message for our Hmong population in Minnesota, we now realize that an error was made in the translation.” according to Gregg Miskiel, marketing director of McDonald’s Midwest Region.

“It was not our intention to offend anyone and we apologize for the error,” Miskiel added. “We are working with our local advertising agency to correct these billboards and will re-post next week.”

Hmong is a dialect which is spoken by the Hmong people of China, northern Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos. With more than 64,000 people of Hmong descent, the Twin Cities have the highest concentration of Hmong-Americans in the United States.

The billboards are believed to be the first time McDonald’s has ever advertised in Hmong in the United States.

Would you be more or less likely to patronize a retailer who unknowingly mistranslated a billboard in your native language?  Would you feel the same if they quickly acknowledged the error and promptly corrected it? Let us know what you think.

Coverage of this event appears in a 2012 article from the Pioneer Press titled “St. Paul: McDonald’s apologizes for mistranslated Hmong language billboards.”


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