Editors had hoped to find an elegant Chinese poem to grace the cover of a special issue, focusing on China, of the MaxPlanckForschung journal, but instead of poetry they ran a text effectively proclaiming "Hot Housewives in action!" on the front of the third-quarter edition. Their "enchanting and coquettish performance" was highly recommended....Chinese is a tonal language, which means words sounding the same can often have very different meanings depending on how they are spoken? Mark Liberman says:
The Max Planck Institute was quick to acknowledge its error explaining that it had consulted a German sinologist prior to publication of the text. "To our sincere regret ... it has now emerged that the text contains deeper levels of meaning, which are not immediately accessible to a non-native speaker," the institute said in an apology. "By publishing this text we did in no way intend to cause any offence or embarrassment to our Chinese readers."...
Chinese is a tonal language, which means words sounding the same can often have very different meanings depending on how they are spoken.
I guess this is true, if you add an appropriate qualification: "Chinese is a tonal language, which means words sounding the same (to people who don't pay attention to tone) can often have very different meanings depending on how they are spoken"....I think the writer of the newspaper article was trying to provide cover for the Institute -- for whatever reason. But his attempt at empathy was inane. A better approach would have been something about ancient, admirable poetry that really is about sexy dancers. If you're inclined toward empathy, that is.
But what's really puzzling about this sentence is not its misleading way of describing lexical tone, but rather the implication that Chinese tone is somehow relevant to MPI's unfortunate choice of cover art. Remember that the editors of the Max Planck Forshung apparently couldn't read Chinese, and their expert advisor, asked to find a typical bit of Chinese text to put on the cover, apparently subverted their intent by choosing a strip club ad. However, the fact that Chinese is a tone language is completely irrelevant to all this — exactly the same thing could have happened with material in Japanese, or Korean, or Hindi, or Arabic. For that matter, it could have happened with Hungarian or Swahili or another language written with the Latin alphabet — all that's required is some written material that the editors can't read.
(More about tattoo foolery at the Liberman link.)