Before starting to talk about this question. Let me ask myself first.
Why am I in this trend too?
我的拉丁文纹身。Carpe Diem。我其实也可以纹 及时行乐 还是 活在当下。但是我的母语是中文，当我看见正体汉字的时候并不会有特别赏心悦目的感觉。
My Latin quote tattoo. Carpe Diem. In fact, I could also tattoo Chinese characters "及时行乐" or "活在当下", the meaning of which is very close to Carpe diem. But my mother tongue is Chinese, so when I look at normal Chinese characters, I don't really have that particular feeling of queer excitement.
I suppose non-native Chinese speakers find it cool to look at Chinese characters. Because they may not only care about the meanings of those characters, but also see them as patterns. These cool square hieroglyphics are filled with Chinese mysterious historical peculiarities. That is why this Italian girl chose to have Chinese characters in her tattoos, I assume.
Just like this client from Germany. When he found me for a tattoo, he already had a Chinese character tattooed on his arm: "不(No)".
He told me that this tattoo was made when he was in Germany. He was fascinated by the shape of the "不" and didn't understand the meaning of the word.
The tattoo artist told him that the word means "one of a kind"(perhaps, it is because the character looks like a man wearing bamboo hat, I don't know).
And when he came to China two years ago with the tattoo, his Chinese friends told him that "不" just means "No", nothing special at all.
He told me when he realized that he tattooed such a word, he was about to break down. But the tattoo was with him already for two years. And he is a Chinese culture lover; plus he is fascinated by the shape of "不". He didn't want to remove his tattoo, neither was he looking forward for a tattoo cover.
Now there's this "不怕(no fear)" tattoo.
Through this example, we can guess why a non Chinese native speaker would want to get Chinese characters tattooed.
Probably he sees Chinese characters as beautiful patterns, like those distorted totems and unintelligible decorative lines.
The Chinese characters are not only pictographic, but also mysterious and distant.
I don't know whether he knows the deep meaning hidden in the literal Chinese characters. Hmm.. I don't think he really understood at that time, but I can't say that he completely didn't understand, or maybe he doesn't need to understand cause for him they are just some patterns.
However, some clients have decided to tattoo text on them instead, but asked to tattoo it not in their mother tongue.
That day, the girl from Italy found me and wanted a tattoo that could reflect that "love choke in the throat".
I would like to commence by suggesting that a tattoo of a tiny heart on the throat could be it. Cause I thought graphics are the easiest to recognize after all. But she didn't agree with it, she hoped that could be in a human language.
First of all, we tried "L'Amore" for a while, but she said that Italian characters could not reach the feeling which she wanted.
Since we were in China, we came to decide that must be "爱".
She fell in love with the design at the first sight and decided to put the Chinese character on her throat.
So why did she refuse to tattoo her native language and chose an less familiar language instead?
In fact, there is a scientific explanation:
For words that we do not know, our brain will automatically treat them as graphic, which is the cognitive mechanism of brain function.
In the eyes of people who are not familiar with Chinese language, Chinese characters may be seen as some neat mysterious patterns.
She was surprised by China's culture, and was happy that we could find a beautiful character which matched her tattoo require. So why not tattoo it?
This Fujian girl usually prefers simplified Chinese characters. But in the tattoo "阿門(amen)", she still tends to use traditional characters instead of "阿门". She also wrote her favorite lyrics in English.
In China, although, English is fairly popular, almost every school has an English course, and each letter should be understood by Chinese people.
But, after all, English is not our mother tongue. When we see English words which are not very familiar, we still can feel the strangeness.
Let me illustrate with a simple example. Many design companies in China require the product description on the package in both Chinese and English. It is said that it is because it feels more international and looks fancy.
Such way of design is indeed more capable to ignite the desire of Chinese buyers, despite the fact that most of the Chinese buyers do not read English on the package. Why?
If you are Chinese and see a package with simple and clear Chinese characters, you probably would not feel any sense of design, or would even get a bit bored looking at it.
But if we add some English letters on the bottom, you might find it interesting.
When there were just Chinese characters, the essence for Chinese native is to make the original character meaning of the text itself only. When these English characters were added, it looked like decorated by some familiar curves for Chinese natives on the first sight, resulting in a sense of design.
(That is probably also why 我是纹身师gogo looks cool, coz' it is in both Chinese and English(^_^))
With the same reason, why normal Chinese characters not cooler than calligraphy Chinese characters?
On the left is normal Chinese character “马”, and on the right side is traditional Chinese calligraphy “馬”.
Is this a more visual "馬" and does it look more interesting?
The calligraphy characters are in serif fonts, have less feeling of a character but a more modified picture. Its essence is to carry on the artistic part of the text, thus produce a kind of feeling of well designed work.
Just like the tattoo above, this American client loves Chinese calligraphy and his zodiac is a horse, then he decided that he want a calligraphy "馬".
Calligraphy brush style font and a picture of a horse have been modified in this tattoo design to carry out the picture graph feeling, at the same time weakening the feeling of the character as language. Now that character looks more like the content itself.
He was very satisfied with the tattoo because it looked more artistic compared to normal Chinese character "马".
We can not overlook that, Chinese characters if seen as patterns do have meanings.
Let me continue to expand on the topic.
Not just unfamiliar language, if you try to deform the text, it will also look designed, which is the further applied to the above principles.
Same way of displaying, this one looks more artistic just because the "A" was replaced by "4".
The harder to recognize the characters, the more our brain thinks it is advanced.
We always see TATTOO signs on the street and get bored of it.
But if you change it into "T4TTOO", you'll find it interesting, for our brain recognizing "T4TTOO" is slower than recognizing "TATTOO"; the brain has to make more micro efforts.
I have encountered some clients, many of them feel that cursive words looks better than traditional words. So when they want to get an English lettering tattoo, most of them choose those cursive letters which is a little bit more difficult to identify than the normal font.
Analyzing the perspectives of cognitive psychology, the main reasons for the phenomenon are these:
The non native language character form does not correspond with the representation of the native mental lexicon, does not match with the brain's cognitive schema. In a relatively short period of time, extraction and activation is relatively difficult, the longer time required.
A simple, native font form as a schema has formed certain cognitive structure in the brain, when we saw the native font, the brain will turn on vocabulary recognition mode, restoring the lexical representation of the word from memory, rather than imagining representation.
In the process of selecting tattoo fonts, when the client saw the content with the cursive style, her brain started to compare the cursive font as a picture to the basic font as a vocabulary, thus completing the information from the input to the storage and output of the process.
This process plays a pivotal role in choosing tattoo fonts. Because native language fonts have been stored as lexical representations by our brains, other language characters are scheduled to be images of our brains. Of course, since it needs to be tattooed on the body, clients always feel that images are better than words.
To tell the truth, these characters are kinda difficult to identify, but this Shanghainese girl really liked this font merely because it is harder to identify. She told me that it looks like a pretty curve.
Some non Chinese speakers love to get tattoos in Chinese, because as far as they are concerned, they cannot read Chinese. When they look at the characters, the process of character recognition is very slow, so their brains like to think of that pattern is as advanced as a vocabulary.
First of all, as a comment in
In the modern pursuit for beautiful text tattoos, very few clients like to get it done in regular font of their native language. Because in their brain, all these foreign language fonts and cursive fonts have been already defined as more advanced vocabulary.
Just like in the comments of @warrenvee's article. We would love to help tattoo lovers solve tattoo problems or even meet up for tattoo with conditions.
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