Kingsoft on Chips

05 Aug 2005

I don’t think I’ve ever written about it before, but it’s such a valuable resource that I really should. Every student of Chinese (intermediate or higher) should be aware of the Kingsoft Online Dictionary.

The dictionary itself is not that special… If you put in an English word, it returns some possible Chinese translations. If you put in a Chinese word (in characters), it returns possible English translations, which are linked to those words’ Chinese definitions. Naturally, it is completely Chinese user-oriented, so there is no pinyin or notes explaining the differences between the Chinese words. I pretty much never use that dictionary.

What I do use often is the 短句 (“Short Sentences”) function. You can either enter a word in the dictionary first and then click on 短句, or you can click on 短句 and then enter a word.

For example, recently I encountered the word 芯片 at the video game store. I could tell by context that it meant “chip” (as in “computer chip”). The shop’s PS2’s came installed with a mod chip (直读芯片 or 米赛亚芯片) as well as an “anti-frying” chip (防烧芯片).

Later I wanted to explore the word 芯片 a bit more, so I looked it up with Kingsoft’s 短句 function. It returned 10 sentences using the word 芯片. The simplest sentence was first:

> 芯片是计算机中最贵重的部分。

> The chip is the most valuable part in the computer.

The most complex sentence was last:

> 硅元素与计算机的关系如此密切以至于大多数人可能更容易将它与加利福尼亚的硅谷而不是元素周期表联系起来。但是随着高速运算超越芯片和机器的局限将试管、承物玻璃片、溶液甚至脱氧核糖核酸(DNA)等生物化学和遗传学工具包括在内,这种想法可能很快就要做出根本性的修正了。

> The element silicon is so closely identified with computers that most people would be likely to associate it more readily with California’s high – tech valley than with the periodic table.But such thinking may soon have to be radically revised,as high – speed computation moves beyond chips and machines to include the tools of biochemistry and genetics:test tubes,slides,solutions,even DNA. [punctuation/spacing errors theirs]

Definitely a useful tool, but I should note that Kingsoft is very much a fallible source of information. I’ve been using its products for almost five years, and sometimes it comes up with some bizarre meanings/translations. Example: when I put “chip” into the 短句 function, these two were at the end of the list:

> What carpenter,such chip.

> 什么木匠,出什么活。

> Such carpenter,such chip.

> 什么木匠出什么活。

What’s going on here? Possibilities:

– Kingsoft is more down with the latest slang than me.
– Kingsoft has some seriously outdated expressions in its database.
– Kingsoft has taken upon itself to be a creative force in the evolution of the English language.

I’m not sure which it is.

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. John, I agree with you that Jinshan’s sentence creator function could be useful, since often the best way to learn a word is to see it in context… but I think in general Jinshan has a lot of wacky English definitions and can be quite misleading. One of the better online dicts Ive found is at run by China Unicom (I think) at http://www.165net.com– this one contains a lot of definitions for chengyu and multi-character phrases that most online dicts seem to lack. No online Chinese dictionary is perfect however–this one has no individual character pinyin. What Im thinking is, wouldn’t a wiki-type Chinese-English dictionary be cool? Has anyone seen anything like this?

  2. http://www.giga-usa.com lists this proverb: “A carpenter is known by his chips” (the Dutch version of the proverb is a bit clearer in meaning though: “The worst the carpenter, the more the chips”). I would guess that “such carpenter, such chip” is somehow derrived from this. The chinese itself makes sense, meaning something like “The better the carpenter, the better the carpentry”, but word-for-word it glosses as “whatever carpenter does whatever work”. Somehow this has been back-translated using the chinese grammar pattern yet still employing the word “chip” from the original proberb, producing the powerful and evokative pseudo-english masterpiece, “such carpenter, such chip”.

    The 10 short sentences that the Kingsoft online dictionary of screw-ups returned for “chip” also includes one:

    “Owing to being that the electronic component is formed,and not wearing,and whether not to have the method does his having be used,and so wholesaler can sell very easily old the chip like being sold the new chip.”

    Once again, the english is clearly a bad translation, and the chinese makes more sense. The meaning is something like: Because it is constructed from electronic components, which do not exhibit the signs of wear and tear nor lend themselves to any method of testing whether they have been used or not, a wholesaler can very easily resell used products as if they were new.

    In compiling this corpus (of sentence pairs), Kingsoft was obviously not very strict in ensuring accuracy. This is just so typical of english learning material in China. Since most consumers are unable to tell the difference between good and bad english, there is no pressure on the publishers to ensure accuracy. However, chinese consumers (and the compilers of the corpus too, assuming they are chinese too) can tell whether the chinese sentences are accurate or not, which works in John’s favour since he only cares about the chinese.

    I’ve never seen this Kingsoft service before, but I sometimes search for chinese words or phrases on google or baidu to see the context they are used in.

  3. “wouldn’t a wiki-type Chinese-English dictionary be cool? Has anyone seen anything like this?”

    Have you visited Adsotrans or NewsinChinese?

    http://www.adsotrans.com
    http://www.newsinchinese.com

    Our dictionary is currently up to around 143,000 entries, many marked with semantic and ontological tags. It contains space for example sentences and detailed discussions on word usage. We can always add additional functionality. A rough but functional dictionary interface is online at:

    http://www.adsotrans.com/adso/unidict.pl?word=&show_flag=on&search_english=&show_english=on&show_examples=on&search_flag=SLANG&show_pinyin=on&search_pinyin=&show_definition=on

    Users can edit/add/delete entries in real time, with changes reviewed monthly for quality control purposes. The Adsotrans software designed around the database and offers a variety of annotation options, as well as a free translation service. Anyone capable of installing Apache can set up their own translation engine. The grammar parser is not as good as commercial services like Systran yet, but its quite common for the database to pick out proper nouns that those systems miss (施瓦辛格), and produce more intelligible output in areas where users have added content.

    Data entry is the hardest part of putting together this sort of service. We could use all the help we can get, so if anyone would like to take on a bit of community service and improve their Chinese at the same time, please drop by. 🙂

    Oh, and the dictionary and software are open source and available free of charge for non-commercial use. Anyone interested in using it please just send me an email for the latest version.

    Cheers,

    –david

  4. Todd,

    That’s very clever. Your example from Kingsoft’s chip sentences metaphorically illustrates your point about Kingsoft’s efforts (or the lack thereof) in ensuring their English accuracy:

    ….electronic components, which do not exhibit the signs of wear and tear nor lend themselves to any method of testing whether they have been used or not, a wholesaler can very easily resell used products as if they were new.

    ….so typical of english learning material in China. Since most consumers are unable to tell the difference between good and bad english, there is no pressure on the publishers to ensure accuracy.

    I would urge that, in constructing a wiki-type translation/dictionary service, the entry authors must also work extra hard to produce Chinese translations that are genuine and reflect the accurate meaning (and spirit) of the corresponding English words and/or sentences. This merely is a suggestion, not meant to be my comment or analysis on any such existing sites/services.

  5. Haha, very clever of you to notice that Gin, because I certainly didn’t.

    I think anyone who has used bilingual dictionaries knows that some dictionaries are better than others, or that different dictionaries have different advantages and disadvantages. Accuracy is obviously among these factors, along with notes on usage, helpful example sentences, definitions of fixed phrases, etc.

  6. Extremely interesting discussion (for us geeks who dig grammar). All I wanted to say is that http://www.newsinchinese.com is definitely one of the most interesting and advanced functional/translational sites I’ve ever come across. There is an interesting, if linguistically unrelated, article in wikipedia discussing the future of hyperweb. It’s not quite the same concept but, apparently, close enough to trigger the connection in my head. Thanks, and enjoy. http://wired-vig.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,66382,00.html?tw=wn_tophead_2:

  7. Good,I agree with you .I am a chinese.I will send your comments to kingsoft.

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