Tag: translation


20

Mar 2014

Don’t Let the Air In

I saw this sign on the door of the AllSet Learning office building that leads out to the patio:

IMG_2999

Here’s a closeup:

IMG_3001

It reads:

> 请大家去阳台后
随手关门
以免雾霾进入楼层

Translation:

> Please, everyone, when going out on the balcony
close the door behind you
to prevent smog from entering the building

A young Chinese guy (presumably the one who put up the sign) came by our office to call our attention to the sign and ask for our cooperation. It was a little awkward because our window was open at the time (oops).

It’s weird… there’s a very traditional Chinese belief in a need for “fresh air” (even in the depths of winter). This air pollution problem is now quite visibly butting heads with that belief.


04

Mar 2014

Translation Challenges: Roof Repair

I recently spotted this sign on the stairs leading to the roof of the AllSet Learning office building:

Caution

Here’s the Chinese text:

> 屋顶检修中暂停使用谢谢

Literally, that’s:

> rooftop / examine and repair / in the middle of,
temporarily stop / use; usage,
thank you!

The translation offered:

> The roof is during maintenance. Stop using temporarily. Thank you!

The translation, while not great, is understandable. What stood out to me, though, were two issues frequently encountered in Chinese signs which can give translators a hard time:

1. Use of after a verb
2. Signage etiquette

First let’s look at the first part: 屋顶检修中. The translator was on the right track with “during” for , and in adding “to be” into the English (its absence in Chinese is key to the difficulty of the translation), and also in converting the Chinese 检修 verb to a noun form for the English. But it still came out weird, because the translation demands a certain amount of linguistic flexibility with the concept behind . It’s hard to come up with a stock translation for this that’s going to work in most cases. “During,” “in the middle of,” “in progress,” “underway,” “undergoing,” “in the midst of,” “currently” are all possibilities, but they’re certainly not easy for a non-native speaker to choose between, and not all are prepositions or prepositional phrases, either.

For the second part, 暂停使用, although the English is correct, it doesn’t contain the necessary degree of politeness we expect and demand from our signage in the English-speaking world. Chinese signs, while formal, just don’t feel as polite, and everyone is cool with that.

I have to give the translator props for converting the Chinese commas into periods in English, though. The Chinese “legal run-on” sentence being translated into an (unacceptable) run-on sentence in English is one of the most common mistakes made by beginner Chinese-English translators.

Anyway, a better translation would be something like:

> The rooftop is currently undergoing repairs. Please do not use it at this time. Thank you!

Obviously, that can be polished more.

It’s easy to laugh at bad Engrish, but in this case there’s nothing funny, and difficulties translating from Chinese to English (that go beyond simple word choice) can be indicative of difficulties that learners of Chinese will face with Chinese.


25

Feb 2014

Frozen’s “Let It Go” in Chinese Dialects

I was a little late to the party, but I finally saw Disney’s Frozen recently, and was very impressed. Later I did a bit of searching for different language versions of the movie’s hit song, “Let It Go,” and aside from discovering an impressive 25 language mashup version of the song, I also made another interesting find: Chinese dialect (/fangyan/topolect) versions of the song!

Of the videos included below, only the English, Mandarin, and Cantonese audio versions are official Disney productions. The others are fan creations, and as such, vary widely in quality. Some are translations of the original, while others are spoofs (恶搞) or partial spoofs. I’ve got them roughly in order of quality below (the worst at the bottom), so don’t say I didn’t warn you! (Links go to Chinese video sites (with ads); embedded videos are Disney’s official audio versions with fan-added subtitles from YouTube.)

I’m no expert on any of these dialects/fangyan, so if anyone has any corrections to make, please leave a comment.

[Side note: it was kind of weird adding “-ese” or “-nese” to some of those place names, so I used a hyphen to make it clearer which places the dialects/fangan came from.]

13

Dec 2013

Chinese Pwns Shakespeare?

I discovered this little gem of translation magic in my WeChat feed the other day under the title 中文远比英文美 (“Chinese is far more beautiful than English”). The poem quoted below is widely attributed to Shakespeare online, so the attribution is reasonable. (More on that later.)

Qu Yuan Pwns Shakespeare?

I’ve tried to maintain a 4-line structure to make comparisons easier, but in a few cases it was inappropriate to break the Chinese poem structures, so I left them as is, since the 4-part structure is obvious anyway.

Original English Poem

> You say that you love rain, but you open your umbrella when it rains.
You say that you love the sun, but you find a shadow spot when the sun shines.
You say that you love the wind, but you close your windows when wind blows.
This is why I am afraid–you say that you love me too.
― William Shakespeare

普通版 (“Normal” Version)

This is the “normal” version, a straight translation of the English above into modern Chinese. (This is also the second most accessible version if you want to try reading the Chinese.)

> 你说你爱雨,但当细雨飘洒时你却撑开了伞;
你说你爱太阳,但当它当空时你却看见了阳光下的暗影;
你说你爱风,但当它轻拂时你却紧紧地关上了自己的窗子;
你说你也爱我,而我却为此烦忧。

文艺版 (“Artsy” Version)

文艺 literally means “literature and arts,” but these days it’s often closely associated with the phrase 文艺青年, a young person who pursues artistic beauty (especially of the literary nature), but may often come across pretentious to normal people.

You’ll immediately notice how difficult the following translation is compared to the first one; it’s chock-full of hard words.

> 你说烟雨微芒,兰亭远望;后来轻揽婆娑,深遮霓裳。
你说春光烂漫,绿袖红香;后来内掩西楼,静立卿旁。
你说软风轻拂,醉卧思量;后来紧掩门窗,漫帐成殇。
你说情丝柔肠,如何相忘;我却眼波微转,兀自成霜。

诗经版 (“Book of Songs” Version)

This one is written in the style of the 诗经, the “Classic of Poetry,” AKA “The Book of Songs.”

You’ll notice a dramatic reduction in length, plus a classical style.

> 子言慕雨,启伞避之。
子言好阳,寻荫拒之。
子言喜风,阖户离之。
子言偕老,吾所畏之。

离骚版 (“Departing in Sorrow” Version)

离骚, also known as “Departing in Sorrow,” is a famous Chinese poem from the Warring States period, written by 屈原, the poet commemorated by China’s “Dragon Boat Festival.”

> 君乐雨兮启伞枝,君乐昼兮林蔽日,
君乐风兮栏帐起,君乐吾兮吾心噬。

七言绝句版

七言绝句 is a Tang Dynasty poem structure using seven characters in 4 “sentences.”

> 恋雨却怕绣衣湿,喜日偏向树下倚。
欲风总把绮窗关,叫奴如何心付伊。

吴语版 (Wu Version)

吴语 is a “topolect” of Chinese; it’s the family that Shanghainese belongs to.

Shanghainese friends tell me that this version is a little forced and not very poetic (it doesn’t do Shanghainese justice). Seems like it just got tacked on later after a 文艺青年 did the other versions.

> 弄刚欢喜落雨,落雨了么搞布洋塞;
欢喜塔漾么又谱捏色;
欢喜西剥风么又要丫起来;
弄刚欢喜唔么,搓色唔霉头。

女汉子版 (“Strong Woman” Version)

女汉子 is difficult to translate, but 汉子 normally refers to a man. So 女汉子 refers to a “manly” woman, or more appropriately a “strong woman,” the type that takes no crap from nobody. “你有本事” (literally, “[if] you have the ability”) lends an air of direct challenge to the whole thing, kind of a “what are you gonna do about it?” feel.

This one, like the 吴语 version above, also seems tacked on, since the phrase 女汉子 is trendy these days.

> 你有本事爱雨天,你有本事别打伞啊!
你有本事爱阳光,你有本事别乘凉啊!!
你有本事爱吹风,你有本事别关窗啊!!!
你有本事说爱我,你有本事捡肥皂啊!!!!

七律压轴版

七律压轴 is an 8-line poem format, 7-characters per line. (I don’t know much about this, and my Googling didn’t turn up any definitive results, so if anyone wants to help out in the comments, feel free!)

> 江南三月雨微茫,
罗伞叠烟湿幽香。
夏日微醺正可人,
却傍佳木趁荫凉。
霜风清和更初霁,
轻蹙蛾眉锁朱窗。
怜卿一片相思意,
犹恐流年拆鸳鸯。

The Original Original Poem (in Turkish)

OK, so here’s the thing… That “original” English poem was not by Shakespeare, and it’s actually a translation into English from Turkish. There’s a reason it doesn’t see too “Shakespearean” (especially in word choice). Below is the original word choice:

> Yağmuru seviyorum diyorsun, yağmur yağınca şemsiyeni açıyorsun…
Güneşi seviyorum diyorsun, güneş açınca gölgeye kaçıyorsun…
Rüzgarı seviyorum diyorsun, rüzgar çıkınca pencereni kapatıyorsun…
İşte,bunun için korkuyorum; Beni de sevdiğini söylüyorsun…

Source: http://www.turkishclass.com/poem_136

Conclusion

This little experiment certainly doesn’t prove any superiority or “pwnage,” and the English translation was clearly chosen because it matches existing Chinese poem forms, but… Chinese is still pretty awesome.


08

Oct 2013

The (Chinese) Alcohol for (Chinese) Alcoholics

Here’s another one for the “I can’t believe they named the product that” file (see also “Cat Crap Coffee“). This one has more of a cultural differences angle, with a little bit of translation difficulty thrown in for good measure.

There’s a brand of Chinese rice wine called 酒鬼酒. Here’s a picture of it:

酒鬼酒

in Chinese, while often translated as “wine,” more generally means “alcohol.” Traditionally, it’s some kind of grain alcohol, like 白酒 (Chinese “white wine“).

A person who routinely drinks to excess is called a 酒鬼 in Chinese, which literally means “alcohol demon” or “alcohol devil” or “alcohol ghost,” depending on how you want to translate . It sounds pretty negative, but in fact, in Chinese culture this type of alcohol abuse is not nearly so stigmatized. Although the police forces of many regions in China have begun cracking down on drunk driving in recent years, alcoholism in China is not as closely linked in the public consciousness to vehicular manslaughter, domestic violence, child abuse, and the host of other evils as it often is in the west. In fact, regular heavy drinking is closely linked to some of China’s greatest poets, most famously 李白 (Li Bai).

Here’s 李白 getting his drink on:

Li Bai drinking

So it’s more in the spirit of historical drunken poetry (as opposed to inebriated abusiveness) that this brand of Chinese rice wine is called 酒鬼酒.

Translating the brand name into English is a new challenge in itself, though. If you simply translate 酒鬼 as “alcoholic” and as “alcohol,” you get “Alcoholic Alcohol,” which sounds like it means “Alcohol that Contains Alcohol,” which is just plain dumb. In fact, you can’t use the word “alcoholic” as a modifier at all for that reason, so if you don’t want to ditch the noun “alcoholic” altogether you have to say something like “Alcohol for Alcoholics,” which sounds like some kind of horrible demented “charity” to my American ears.

So what else can you do? “Booze for Boozers” and “Wino Wine” are ridiculous. “Drunk Spirits”? I’m curious what a creative translator can come up with. (Pete? Brendan?)

Anyway, 酒鬼酒 is a real company in China, and has its own Baidu Baike page (in Chinese, obviously), and is also listed on Wikipedia under “unflavored baijiu.”


19

Sep 2013

Cat Crap Coffee

OK, so you’ve heard of kopi luwak, right? Just in case you haven’t, here’s some Wikipedia for you:

civet-cat-coffee

> Kopi luwak, or civet coffee, refers to the beans of coffee berries once they have been eaten and excreted by the Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus). The name is also used for marketing brewed coffee made from the beans.

Given the process by which this coffee is created, it’s not too surprising that we elect to refer to it in English by a foreign name–kopi luwak–rather than actually giving it a descriptive name. I mean, you can’t just call it “cat crap coffee,” charming as the alliteration may be, right? Well, you can in Chinese.

The Chinese name is 猫屎咖啡, literally, “cat crap coffee.” If you want to be a little cruder, the translation “cat shit coffee” is no less accurate.

What kind of blows my mind is that a coffee shop in the business of trying to sell this product (and it’s kind of expensive coffee) just straight up calls it 猫屎咖啡 (“cat crap coffee”). Don’t strain yourself too much with the marketing effort, right?

You can ask your Chinese friends if they’ve heard of 猫屎咖啡, and probably most of them have. What you won’t hear is them saying things like, “isn’t it weird that we just call it ‘cat shit coffee?'” Well, I have to hand it to the Chinese for calling a spade a spade.

But what I find even crazier is that there’s now a coffee chain expanding to multiple locations in Shanghai that goes by the very name “猫屎咖啡.” So some entrepreneur heard of this coffee, liked it, and decided he wanted the word “shit” in both his main product’s name as well as the name of his very business. Now that’s bold. Sassy, even.

猫屎咖啡

The English name for the Chinese chain is, notably, “Kafelaku Coffee.”

Looks like there’s some backlash forming around this particular strain of coffee in the UK. I can’t imagine it’ll faze the Chinese market, though!


09

Jul 2013

Meaningful Chinese Transliterations (for fun!)

One of the big headaches about learning Chinese is the relative dearth of cognates and loanwords. None of that “car” is “carro” stuff you get when you start learning Spanish. In fact, when you do learn words that were transliterated into English from Chinese (like 麦克风 for “microphone”), the result is often bizarre and a lot harder to learn than if it had been “more Chinese” (keep in mind that you also have to learn all the tones of the word transliterated into Chinese). Kind of a downer.

It seems to me that the Chinese aren’t too crazy about these transliterations either. When they can, they’ll do things like use the Chinese word 苹果 (“apple”) for the American company “Apple” rather than resorting to transliteration. But for foreigners’ names, foreign country names, foreign company names, foreign brand names, and foreign product names, you do get stuck with an awful lot of transliterations into Chinese.

Recently I came across this list of English words (probably taken from a list of vocabulary words for some horrible standardized test) that have been transliterated into Chinese in a humorous way. That is to say, the Chinese characters chosen, rather than being random or “standard transliteration characters,” were chosen for their meanings. I’ve added pinyin tooltips to the transliterations, and also English translations of the transliterations.

agoni

– pregnant (怀孕): 扑来个男的 (“throw a man on me”)
– ambulance (救护车): 俺不能死 (“I can’t die”)
– ponderous (肥胖的): 胖得要死 (“ridiculously fat”)
– pest (害虫): 拍死它 (“squash it”)
– ambition (雄心): 俺必胜 (“I must win”)
– agony (痛苦): 爱过你 (“having loved you”)
– hermit (隐士): 何处觅他 (“wherever can I seek him?”)
– strong (强壮): 死壮 (“damn strapping”)
– abyss (深渊): 额必死 (“I must die”)
– admire (羡慕): 额的妈呀 (“mama mia”)
– flee (逃跑): 飞离 (“fly away by plane”)
– gauche (粗鲁的): 狗屎 (“dog crap”)
– morbid (病态): 毛病 (“mental issues”)
– putrid (腐烂): 飘臭 (“wafting stench”)
– obtuse (愚笨): 我不吐死 (“I’m not going to puke to death”)
– lynch (私刑处死): 凌迟 (“kill by dismemberment”)
– tantrum (脾气发作): 太蠢 (“too stupid”)
– bachelor (学士/单身汉): 白痴了 (“turned dumb”)
– temper (脾气): 太泼 (“too unreasonable”)
– addict (上瘾): 爱得嗑它 (“love to the point of cracking it in your teeth”)
– economy (经济): 依靠农民 (“rely on the peasants”)
– ail (疼痛): 哎哟 (“Owww”)
– coffin (棺材): 靠坟 (“leaning on the grave”)
– appall (惊骇): 我跑 (“I’m gonna run”)


02

Jul 2013

The Foreign Feel of a Chinese Transliteration

Foreign words, like “Minnesota” or “Kobe Bryant” or “Carrefour” often get “translated” into Chinese in a way that uses the original sounds of the words and tries to represent those in Chinese (thus, using Chinese characters). This process is called transliteration, or sometimes transcription (音译, which breaks down character by character into “sound translation” in Chinese). Thus, the three examples above become “Mingnisuda” (明尼苏达), “Kebi Bulai’ente” (科比·布莱恩特), and “Jialefu” (家乐福) in Chinese.

jieke

These foreign names can be quite a pain for learners to remember, because the pronunciation is “off,” and they’re often quite long, plus the worst part: you have to remember all the tones for those “nonsense characters!”

But are they really nonsense characters? That depends. A carefully transliterated name will make some sort of sense in Chinese. This is almost always done with company and brand names, and is the case with Carrefour (家乐福) above; the three characters chosen mean “home,” “joy,” and “happiness,” respectively. For place names, though, the characters are a bit less lovingly selected. So Minnesota (明尼苏达) got: “bright,” “Buddhist nun,” “Suzhou,” “arrive.” Pretty random. Same goes for “Kobe Bryant” (科比·布莱恩特) in Chinese.

So a typical learner of Chinese wants to know: what’s my name in Chinese? And that’s where the tumble down the foreign name transliteration rabbit hole begins. You see, most English names already have standard translations in Chinese. So “John” is 约翰, “Mary” is 玛丽, “Richard” is 理查德, etc. Clearly, these are all transliterations; the sounds are approximated in Chinese, but not the meanings.

From the moment I first heard “约翰” (“John” in Chinese), I hated it. It didn’t sound like “John” at all! There wasn’t even a “zh” or a “j” sound in the whole name. (It does sound quite similar to “Johann,” though; I think I had early European missionaries to thank for the “standard” transliteration of my name.)

After examining the characters, there were two main things I didn’t like about 约翰:

1. The characters 约翰 didn’t make much sense (OK, they make a little sense, from a “Gospel of John” missionary perspective)
2. “Yuēhàn” just sounded weird to me, and unlike most Chinese names

These two features define most foreign names transliterated into Chinese. In fact, oftentimes the characters really are nonsensical; they’re chosen systematically from a fixed list of characters used in transliterations. This list even has its own Wikipedia page: Transcription into Chinese characters.

Looking over the list, I can’t help but feel that certain specific characters are more “foreign” (used especially often in foreigners’ names, and not so often in Chinese names), while others are more “Chinese” (equally likely to appear in Chinese names). For example, and are both common in Chinese names. and … not quite so much.

Thus, over time, as you hear more and more combinations of these “transliteration characters” (杰克, 汉克, 路易, etc.), you start to get a feel for when a “Chinese name” sounds foreign, especially compared to the growing list of authentic Chinese people’s names you’re compiling in your memory. In fact, a computer program could actually run through big long lists of transliterated foreign names and original Chinese names, and by comparing the character distributions in the two lists, assign “Chineseness” and “foreignness” values to each character, allowing for fairly accurate prediction of what “Chinese” names would sound the most foreign. You could probably increase accuracy by taking note of the position of the characters in a word, and certain repeated character sequences (like 斯坦).

But this is what your brain does unconsciously as you learn more and more names. This is how we develop a sense for when a Chinese name feels foreign.

The ironic part of all this for me personally is that after rejecting 约翰 as my Chinese name, I later settled on 潘吉. Both of those characters are in thetranscription table! (Ah, but 潘吉 is actually much more Chinese, even if a bit boring. So 潘吉 is my official Chinese name, although these days I usually just go by John.)

Rose's Revelation


01

Apr 2013

School’s out for April Fool’s Day

It’s April Fool’s Day (愚人节), and I don’t have anything special, but I just thought I’d share this cute photo I saw online:

IMG_1464

Here’s the original text:

> 放学了好开心

> 老胡快走~

> 好的~

> 我收拾一下书包

Here’s the text with punctuation (and pinyin tooltips added):

> 放学了,好开心!老胡,快走!

> 好的。我收拾一下书包。

And the translation:

> School’s out. I’m so happy! Lao Hu, hurry up!

> OK. Just packing up my book bag.

Have a good April Fool’s Day, 童鞋们 (that’s cutesy talk for 同学们).


17

Jan 2013

Chinese Emotions for which There Are No English Words

A friend pointed me to this article: Emotions For Which There Are No English Words. A nice intersection of some of my favorite topics: semantics, translation, psychology, and infographics. You’ll need to go to the site for the full infographic (it’s zoomable), but here are the Chinese words that make an appearance:

Some Emotions For Which There Are No English Words

The Chinese words are:

> 心疼: The feeling somewhere between sympathy and empathy, to feel the suffering of loved ones.

Literally, “heart aches.” This one isn’t too hard to understand.

> 加油: A form of encouragement as if you are fighting along with the person, backing them up.

Literally, “add oil.” It does take a little bit of time to get used to how when you say “加油!” you’re actually putting yourself on the same team as the enouragee, somehow. (Similar deal with Japanese 頑張って.)

> 忐忑: A mixture of feeling uneasy and worried, as if you can feel your own heart beat.

(That one is also kind of famous for its characters… good ideogrammatic fun.)

> 纠结: Worried, feeling uneasy, don’t know what to do.

纠结 probably gets my vote for “newest super useful slang word that you won’t find in a textbook,” but it’s not just a word-fad that’s going away anytime soon.

I really like this next Japanese choice. It’s once of my favorite Japanese words:

> 懐かしい: Missing something. The sense of longing, being nostalgic for something, someone, or somewhere.

The weird thing about the word 懐かしい is how often it’s used as a complete sentence, usually as an exclamation. When you’re not used to the word, and you see someone confronted with something dear but forgotten from childhood, and then they bust out with “nostalgic!” it seems very odd at first. It’s like one word to say, “oh wow, that really takes me back.”

Just thinking about using 懐かしい is kind of 懐かしい for me. (I do miss Japanese!)


29

Nov 2012

Japanese Fortune Cookies in China

As most of us in China know, fortune cookies are not a Chinese thing. They’re an American thing. ChinesePod just recently did a lesson on American Chinese Food, and user he2xu4 linked to this TED talk which gives more detail on the issue: Jennifer 8. Lee hunts for General Tso. (ChinesePod also once did a lesson on the fact that you can’t get fortune cookies in China.)

The thing is, it looks like now you can get fortune cookies in China. I took this photo in my local Carrefour supermarket:

Chinese Fortune Cookies!

OK, so it was in the “imported foods” section (they seem to be from Japan), but the packaging is in simplified Chinese. They come in two flavors: “cream” and “chocolate.” It says on the package: 装密语签语饼干, which means something like “Secret-containing Fortune Cookies.”

Probably the best thing about these fortune cookies, though, is that they feature Pac-Man. The Japanese may have had the invention of fortune cookies stolen by the Chinese in the United States, but at least as they introduce fortune cookies to mainland China they’re sneaking Japan’s home-grown video game icon into the mix!


13

Apr 2012

The Perils of “This Week” and “Next Week”

Sometimes Chinese seems to warp the fabric of space-time. It’s true; culture can warp our perception of reality with Sapir-Whorfian aplomb. I exaggerate, though; I’m talking about interpretations of the phrase “this week.”

At the crux of the matter is the fact that the Western American week starts on Sunday (星期天), whereas the Chinese week starts on Monday (星期一). Most of the time this causes no problems… Unless you’re trying to make plans for the next 7 days on a Sunday. This is such a simple matter; it shouldn’t be so confusing. But if you forget that this discrepancy exists, misunderstandings abound. It’s embarrassing, but I admit: even after all this time in China, if I’m careless in my thinking, I still make this mistake occasionally. (The key is that one doesn’t often make plans for the coming week on a Sunday.)

Here are some diagrams to make the issue clearer:

Understanding "next week" in English

Understanding "next week" in Chinese

So, in the examples above, if I say “这个星期三” on a Sunday, thinking I’m referring to the coming Wednesday (May 9th), I’m actually referring to the past Wednesday (May 2nd).

OK, now here’s the annoying part (for us native speakers of American English): the Chinese way is more logical. Here’s how it works:

1. If you refer to any day of last week (even if it’s yesterday, technically), you use 上个.

2. If you refer to any day of this week (Monday through Sunday, even days already past), you use 这个. It just means, strictly, “of this week.” No ambiguity.

3. If you refer to any day of next week (even if it’s tomorrow, technically), you use 下个.

As long as you remember that the week starts on Monday and not Sunday, it’s all very consistent and logical. The reason this is confusing to non-native speakers like me is that the system that we use in American English is kind of a mess. I hear that many British speakers follow rules that are basically the same as the Chinese ones, but I know from experience that the system used in the USA is much more muddled (examples here, here, and here).

OK, it’s not actually that hard. I’m not trying to add a new item to “Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard.” But it’s a pretty bewildering experience when it happens to you the first time. The joys of intercultural exchange!

Update: In the original post I said “Western” when I should have said “American.” Apologies for the inaccuracies. The point of the post still holds true (particularly for us Americans).


24

Feb 2012

Translations of Butterfly (Linguistic Differences)

Via John Biesnecker:

Linguistic Differences (butterfly)

Sorry, I can’t credit the original author because I don’t know it. I added the Chinese translation into the mix (蝴蝶).

This is especially hilarious to me personally because I know very little German, but I actually learned the German word “schmetterling” long ago by chance, and found the word enormously amusing. Guess I’m not the only one!


16

Aug 2011

The Three De Song

Learners of Chinese confront the “de triple threat” of Chinese structural particles pretty early on. You see, there are three different characters to write what sounds exactly the same to the ear. The three characters are 的, 得, and 地, each pronounced “de” (neutral tone) when serving as a structural particle.

If you’re just trying to improve your listening and speaking, you don’t really need to worry about this issue. If you’re working on your writing, however, you’re going to want to get it straight. I found the following (simplified) approach helpful:

  1. …的 + Noun
  2. Verb + 得…
  3. …地 + Verb

OK, yes, it leaves out a lot of special cases, and the aforementioned “Verb” in “Verb + 得” can also be an adjective. But they’re nice rules of thumb if you’re looking for something a bit simpler.

But here’s the interesting thing: because the issue of the three de’s is one concerning writing and not speaking, Chinese native speakers themselves have to learn these rules, and can sometimes get tripped up. Some people who don’t need to write for a living might even just “opt out” of the whole issue and use 的 exclusively.

But because Chinese children have to learn to use the proper “de” in school, there is actually a children’s song about the three de’s! [source]

> 《的地得》 儿歌

> 左边白,右边勺,名词跟在后面跑。
美丽的花儿绽笑脸,青青的草儿弯下腰,
清清的河水向东流,蓝蓝的天上白云飘,
暖暖的风儿轻轻吹,绿绿的树叶把头摇,
小小的鱼儿水中游,红红的太阳当空照,

> 左边土,右边也,地字站在动词前,
认真地做操不马虎,专心地上课不大意,

大声地朗读不害羞,从容地走路不着急,
痛快地玩耍来放松,用心地思考解难题,
勤奋地学习要积极,辛勤地劳动花力气,

> 左边两人就使得,形容词前要用得,
兔子兔子跑得快,乌龟乌龟爬得慢,
青青竹子长得快,参天大树长得慢,
清晨锻炼起得早,加班加点睡得晚,
欢乐时光过得快,考试题目出得难。

I find the explanation of 得 a bit suspect. It “comes before adjectives”? Kinda misleading (but then again, so is “after verbs”).

I tried to find an online video of this song, and instead found a very similar but different song also about the three de’s:

The amusing thing about this video is that in at least one place, the subtitles get the “de” wrong. (Can you find it?)


03

Aug 2011

What can save this country?

In the wake of China’s recent bullet train disaster, I came across this poll on 开心网 (kaixin001.com):

What can save this country?

Transcription:

拿什么来拯救我们的国家? (最多可选5项)

  • 自由
  • 关爱
  • 文化
  • 勤勉
  • 责任
  • 法制
  • 经济
  • 信仰
  • 信任
  • 教育
  • 改革
  • 武器
  • 科技
  • 公平
  • 秩序
  • 第七感
  • 正义
  • 资源环境
  • 生命
  • 没希望 不想救了

Translation:

What can save our country? (choose no more than 5)

  • freedom
  • love
  • culture
  • diligence
  • responsibility
  • law
  • economics
  • faith
  • education
  • reform
  • weapons
  • technology
  • fairness
  • order
  • the 7th sense
  • justice
  • natural resources
  • life
  • there’s no hope; don’t want to save it

In case you missed it in the original image, 73% of respondents (over 5000 in total), most of whom are young people, chose the final answer.

It’s not an easy time to be Chinese.


27

Jul 2011

Thoughts on an American Job Applicant on Chinese TV

非你莫属 Screenshot

I’ve mentioned before that I occasionally indulge in the Chinese dating show 非诚勿扰. There’s another one of these reality TV-type Chinese shows that I watch from time to time called 非你莫属 (English name: “Only You”). On this show, each entrant is a job applicant given a chance to explain the type of job he’s looking for and interview with a panel of 12 bosses right there on camera. If all goes well, the bosses make offers to the applicant, and details of salary are discussed right on the show. Finally, the applicant is given a chance to accept the final offers or decline them and leave the stage.

This show is appealing for a number of reasons. There is quite a range of applicants, from young kids with no experience, to senior citizens, to the destitute and desperate, to the physically abnormal. Quite a few of the applicants just plain don’t have much to offer. The “bosses,” who are on the show to promote their own companies, can also say some interesting things. Perhaps one of the most compelling aspects to me is seeing what kind of job offers are made on the show, and what salaries the applicants will accept.

After watching this show for a while, I was surprised to see recently that there was a young American applicant. Unlike 非诚勿扰 (the dating show), which has had quite a few foreigners on the show, I’d never seen it on this show. The applicant was a 25-year-old white American male named Nathan (Chinese name: 尚德). Having lived in Beijing for a while, Nathan spoke pretty solid Chinese, and had no major issues communicating on the show. But the bosses’ reactions to Nathan were not quite what I expected.

非你莫属 Screenshot

Before I go on, some links are in order:

* A Sohu TV link to the video (the segment discussed here is 01:06-16:05)
* A Google Docs link to the Chinese transcript (01:06-16:05)

(more…)


21

Jul 2011

United Verses

My friend Tom (mentioned once before here) has put together a really cool event which he’s calling “United Verses” (译站 in Chinese). The concept is basically a bilingual poetry reading event. Each Chinese poet will read his poems in Chinese, and then an English-speaking partner poet will read English translations of them. That English-speaking poet will later read his own poems, and his partner poet will read the Chinese translations.

United Verses (译站)

This is a really cool cross-cultural activity, and I applaud Tom for putting it together. It took a lot of work to coordinate translators behind the scenes, because the poets themselves aren’t usually the translators. Additional translators are needed, both native Chinese speakers and native English speakers.

I participated as a translator myself (as did one of my AllSet Learning clients), and I found it a really interesting and rewarding experience. Not only do you get to discuss the meaning behind the poem with the original poet, but then you also get to discuss your translation into English with an English-speaking poet. This isn’t just basic off-the-cuff translation, and the resulting translations are quite solid.

Unfortunately I won’t be able to be at the event myself, because I’ll be out of town. I leave you with a photo of “my poet,” 叶青, a very interesting Shanghainese man, pictured here in his study.

Ye Qing (叶青), poet

Finally, the event details in plain text:

> United Verses (译站)

> July 23rd, Saturday 7pm (event starts around 8pm, but seats are limited)

> at Anar: 129 Xingfu Lu, near Fahuazhen Lu (幸福路129号,近法华镇路)


14

Jun 2011

On Reducing TMD Syntactic Ambiguity

TMD

One of our teachers at AllSet Learning introduced a hilarious Chinese article to me on the grammatical usage of the phrase 他妈的 (often abbreviated as “TMD”). The most appropriate translation of 他妈的 in English is usually “fucking” (in the emphatic sense), so if that offends you, stop reading now.

The origin of this article is unclear to me, but it dates back to at least 2009 (here’s a copy). Anyway, I found the article both funny and instructional, so I’ve translated it below. This is the kind of thing that has tons of translation options, though, so suggestions for more skillful translations are always welcome!


The grammatically correct use of “TMD” (“fucking”)

In this article, I will offer some simple explanations and examples regarding this expression.

  1. Consider the following sentence:

    今年的考题跟课后题一样

    This year’s test questions were the same as the exercise questions.

    There’s ambiguity here: are we saying that that the questions on the test were really the same as the exercise questions, or are we just metaphorically stating that the test questions simply resembled the exercise questions? At this time, “fucking” becomes useful. We can insert “fucking” into this sentence to make the distinction:

    今年的考题跟课后题他妈的一样

    “This year’s test questions were the fucking same as the exercise questions.” (indicating identical to the exercise questions)

    今年的考题跟他妈的课后题一样

    “This year’s test questions were the same as the fucking exercise questions.” (suggesting that the test questions were too simple)

  2. There are many similar cases, for example:

    [Translator’s note: I don’t think there’s any way to preserve this ambiguity in English translation, so I’m forced to translate it twice in English.]

    这个解释不清楚

    “This explanation is unclear.” / “This cannot be explained clearly.”

    There are two meanings here: that the explanation itself is not lucid, or that the matter is difficult to explain. However, once we add “fucking,” the ambiguity immediately disappears:

    这个解释他妈的不清楚

    “This explanation is fucking unclear.” (the explanation itself is not helpful)

    这个他妈的解释不清楚

    “This cannot be fucking explained clearly.” (the issue is difficult to explain)

  3. Another example:

    没有一次看完

    “Didn’t finish reading it once.” / “Didn’t finish reading it all at once.”

    This sentence has two meanings: did not finish reading it a single time, or didn’t finish reading it all at once. If we insert “fucking” in different positions, the ambiguity can also be removed:

    没有他妈的一次看完

    “Didn’t fucking finish reading it all at once” (didn’t finish reading it all in one go)

    没有一次他妈的看完

    “Didn’t finish reading it fucking once”

    (simply has not ever finished reading it)

Therefore, our fucking conclusion is that we should advocate the fucking inclusion of “fucking,” which can fucking assist in the clarity of fucking sentence structure, reduce fucking syntactic ambiguity, and make possible obstacle-free fucking communication.


31

May 2011

12 Angry (Chinese) Men

12-Angry-Men

As a result of a rather whimsical decision made by my wife, I found myself at the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre for the first time last Saturday, attending a Chinese language version of the classic play Twelve Angry Men. I enjoyed it way more than I expected to.

To begin with, I was surprised by how “Chinese” the story seemed. The part about there being no air conditioning and the fan not working, and one of the guys wanting to be done with jury duty in time for a ball game (it was baseball originally, I believe), and the murder weapon being a knife rather than a gun–all just seemed to work well in the setting of Chinese society. It wasn’t until towards the end, when one of the characters started talking about how the jury’s deliberation was their duty as part of a “democratic society” and that “democracy made their country great” that the illusion sort of fell apart.

This isn’t to say that I think that modern day China is equivalent to the 1954 America in which the original story was set, but it’s interesting to me that it worked so well in this case.

I should also mention that the legal system of mainland China doesn’t make use of juries, so the “illusion” that it could be a mainland Chinese story was never very convincing to begin with. It did make for a good show, though.

I brushed up a little on my legal vocab before the play (ChinesePod has a fair amount), but it turned out that I didn’t need a whole lot. Some of the more difficult key vocabulary from the play:

贫民窟: slum
陪审团: jury
陪审员: juror
证词: testimony
合理的怀疑: reasonable doubt

Finally, a note on the title. This version of the play was simply titled 12个人 (12 People), but the previous movie version was called 十二怒汉 (12 Enraged Men). The classic version of that film is on Tudou under that title.


26

Mar 2011

More Machine Translation Menu Fun

OK, I know, it’s been done before, and it’s just so easy. There are many menus in China with bad (and often hilarious) English translations. But even after all these years, this one stood out to me because (1) it is otherwise an extremely high quality menu, and (2) the errors are of a somewhat bizarre nature, rather than centering on horribly inappropriate mistranslations of the character [more on that here and here].

Anyway, here are some samples (apologies for the quality!):

Roast pork bag

Where pathology and cuisine meet:

Carrots for the corn from what virus

Have make any bacteria

Halogen? (Another meaning of )

Spiced halogen three

A bunch of them have really weird endings (I think the machine translated names have been truncated):

Pomelo the smell of

Bouquet steamed fish when

It smell of cooking rice stuffed with

Member of the bamboo and

'd better meat with a te

This last one is my favorite, because it comes across almost poetic:

Taken meat dishes broken string beans

> taken meat
dishes broken
string beans

Indeed.

You can find more of the menu here.


Update:

In case you’re interested, the restaurant is called 炖品世家, or “Aristocratic Family of Soup.” (Oh yes, this is clearly a restaurant that has some fun with the English language!) The restaurant is in Shanghai, near the intersection of Kangding Road and Wanhangdu Road (康定路万航渡路). A photo:

Aristocratic Family of Soup

Also, a big thanks to Will, who introduced this resturant to me and provide the above photo and address.