Tag: translation


Parsing “Xue Xi Qiang Guo” for the Deeper Meaning

21

Nov 2019

Parsing “Xue Xi Qiang Guo” for the Deeper Meaning

A recent topic of conversation among friends in Shanghai is the new app “Xue Xi Qiang Guo.” It’s a news hub for state-sponsored news and commentary, as well as a way to show devotion to the Chinese Communist Party by studying what’s in the app and proving mastery through quizzes. In this way you can get points which can earn you nominal rewards, and it also ties into China’s “social credit” system. (For more info on Xue Xi Qiang Guo, you can check out its official site as well as the Wikipedia’s article.)

What I want to talk about today is the name: 学习强国. If you plug that into Google Translate, Wenlin, or Pleco, you get a similar two-word breakdown: 学习 强国 (xuéxí qiángguó). You’ll note that English news coverage of the app (including Wikipedia) all write the name in pinyin as two words: “Xuexi Qiangguo.”

Xuexi Qiangguo in Google Translate

But this is Chinese, where clear word boundaries are not provided, and that is not the only breakdown. It’s not even the one that occurs first to most native speakers of Chinese.

1. Xuexi Qiangguo

OK, so 学习 is a given. it means “study,” and it’s certainly in keeping with the spirit of the app. No problem there. The word 强国, meaning “powerful country,” however, is not so common. The overall interpretation here seems to be “learn from the powerful country (China),” which seems plausible, but it’s just not what occurs to Chinese users first. So let’s drop the 强国 parsing (which, unfortunately, seems to be the norm in English language coverage of the app) and see what else we can get.

2. Xuexi Qiang Guo

Classical Chinese was remarkably flexible, most words consisting of individual characters that can serve as various parts of speech in different contexts (noun, verb, and adjective fluidity being common). This trend carries over to modern times for certain words, and is one of them. So while used by itself is most often used to mean “strong” in modern Mandarin, in certain contexts, can also mean “strength” or “strengthen.” So from there, we can get the two-word phrase 强 国 (qiáng guó), “strengthen the country.”

Since the word 学习 (meaning “study”) can also be a noun or a verb, you might translate the full app name literally as something like “Studying Strengthens the Country,” “Study Strengthens the Country,” or even “Study to Strengthen the Country.” This interpretation would likely be the official meaning of the name if you asked the CCP.

Breakdown of interpretations of "Xue Xi Qiang Guo"

3. Xue Xi Qiang Guo

There’s one other unofficial, sly interpretation which goes unnoticed by few Chinese these days. The word 学习 can also be broken down into two separate words. Since the first character, , can mean “study” on its own, and the second character, , is also the surname of Xi Jinping (president of China), you can also interpret 学 习 as the phrase “xué Xí,” which means “study Xi” or “learn from Xi.” A quick look at the content of the app shows that this interpretation is, indeed, fully grounded in reality. In fact, some are calling the app the “Little Red Book” of the modern age.

In this parsing, the final meanining of 学 习 强 国 would be “Studying Xi Strengthens the Country.” Since cause-effect relationships are often implied in Mandarin, you could also make that a command: “Study Xi to Strengthen the Country.”

Pretty clever name. It is indeed an age of 学 习 (xué Xí). Now there’s an app for that: Xue Xi Qiang Guo.


Nov. 25, 2019 Update: Dr. Victor Mair shared with me his take on this app, which he wrote on Language Log way back in May of this year. I would have linked to it originally if I had been aware of it: The CCP’s Learning / Learning Xi (Thought) app


13

Nov 2019

The Bagel Gets No Respect in China

I love bagels. So I have to say: the bagel has gotten a bum deal in China. It starts with the name.

sad bagel

The Chinese Name for “Bagel” is 贝果

Now, of course 贝果 (bèiguǒ) is a simple transliteration for the English word “bagel.” But there are good transliterations, and there are bad ones.

In this case, the character means “shell” (like in “shellfish”) and appears in words like 扇贝 (scallop) and 贝壳 (clamshell).

The character means “fruit” or “nut” and appears in words like 水果 (fruit), 苹果 (apple), 坚果 (nut), or 开心果 (pistachio nut).

So with regards to the food-related characters used in the Chinese name for 贝果… that’s 0 for 2 on the food groups! Could this name possibly be confusing?

Knowing that bagels are not well-known among Chinese people, I tested my co-workers. I asked them if they’d ever had a 贝果. They said no. I asked them if they knew what it was. They weren’t sure, but guessed it was some kind of nut.

On the upside (sort of?), I’ve noticed that my pinyin input method (Mac) is giving me the option of a bagel emoji as I type 贝果, and it has cream cheese on it! so maybe not all hope is lost for the bagel in China…

bagel emoji in Chinese

And that’s all I have for you today from the world of hard-hitting bagel journalism in Shanghai.


09

Aug 2019

How many ways are there to ask “where are you from” in Chinese? LOTS.

As an English speaker, you may be tempted to think that “where are you from?” is a super basic question. Just 4 words, right? How hard could it be? Well, for this particular question, in the particular language of Mandarin Chinese, it can be phrased more than 10 different ways.

Before I get into this, let’s be clear: I’m not trying to say Chinese is super difficult to learn, or that beginners can’t learn it. No no no no. I may personally feel that the language is kinda hard to learn, but Chinese is not bad at all when it comes to sentence structure in particular. BUT, it’s not unreasonable for beginners to assume that the question “where are you from?” is super straightforward, with just one way to express it in Chinese. And it’s that little assumption that I’m destroying here. You may have to put forward just a bit more effort on this one.

The Swappable Words

A big part of the problem is that in the question “where are you from,” pretty much every part of the sentence can be expressed in multiple ways. Let’s break it down:

  • where: 哪里, 哪儿, 什么地方, 哪个国家
    So the first two are the most common and should be learned first, but you will hear the others as well, so you have to learn them sooner or later
  • are… from: 从……来, 来自, 是……的
    There aren’t one-to-one translations, they’re roughly corresponding structure. See below for more clarity here.
  • you:
    OK, this one you don’t have to worry about much, at least!

The Structures

I live in Shanghai, so I’m going to pick 哪里 and stick with it for these examples. Just keep in mind that most of the others probably work as well.

  • 你从哪里来? (Nǐ cóng nǎlǐ lái?)
  • 你来自哪里? (Nǐ láizì nǎlǐ?)
  • 你是哪里人? (Nǐ shì nǎlǐ rén?)
  • 你是哪里的? (Nǐ shì nǎlǐ de?)
  • 你是(从)哪里来的? (Nǐ shì (cóng) nǎlǐ lái de?)

The Big “Where are you from?” List

OK, now let’s put all these words and structures together and see how many sentences we can come up with!

  1. 你从哪里来? (Nǐ cóng nǎli lái?)
  2. 你从哪儿来? (Nǐ cóng nǎr lái?)
  3. 你从什么地方来? (Nǐ cóng shénme dìfang lái?)
  4. 你从哪个国家来? (Nǐ cóng nǎge guójiā lái?)
  5. 你来自哪里? (Nǐ láizì nǎli?)
  6. 你来自哪儿? (Nǐ láizì nǎr?)
  7. 你来自么地方来? (Nǐ láizì má dìfang lái?)
  8. 你来自哪个国家? (Nǐ láizì nǎge guójiā?)
  9. 你是哪里人? (Nǐ shì nǎli rén?)
  10. 你是哪儿人? (Nǐ shì nǎr rén?)
  11. 你是什么地方的人? (Nǐ shì shénme dìfang de rén?)
  12. 你是哪个国家的人? (Nǐ shì nǎge guójiā de rén?)
  13. 你是哪里的? (Nǐ shì nǎli de?)
  14. 你是哪儿的? (Nǐ shì nǎr de?)
  15. 你是什么地方的? (Nǐ shì shénme dìfang de?)
  16. 你是哪个国家的? (Nǐ shì nǎge guójiā de?)
  17. 你是(从)哪里来的? (Nǐ shì (cóng) nǎli lái de?)
  18. 你是(从)哪儿来的? (Nǐ shì (cóng) nǎr lái de?)
  19. 你是(从)什么地方来的? (Nǐ shì (cóng) shénme dìfang lái de?)
  20. 你是(从)哪个国家来的? (Nǐ shì (cóng) nǎge guójiā lái de?)

Wow, that’s kind of a lot. The good news is that there a few that are used much more often than the others. Different native speakers will have different opinions on which ones are the most common, and it’s also partially dependent on region.

The “Where are you from?” Shortlist

You’ll hear lots of these in China, but after I asked a bunch of Chinese teachers, the most common favorites were:

  1. 你是哪里人? (Nǐ shì nǎlǐ rén?) — popular with southerners
  2. 你是哪儿人?(Nǐ shì nǎr rén?) — popular with northerners
  3. 你是哪个国家的? (Nǐ shì nǎge guójiā de?)

What might be surprising is that the question which most learners start with is not in the list:

  1. 你从哪里来? (Nǐ cóng nǎlǐ lái?)
  2. 你从哪儿来? (Nǐ cóng nǎr lái?)

When asked, the teachers say that’s because it sounds a bit formal (same with using 来自). That doesn’t mean that a beginner shouldn’t use it, though… it’s still fine.

Learner Shortcuts

So I bet you want to just pick one, memorize it, and use it exclusively, right? That’s fine. You can do that.

BUT, that’s not necessarily going to help you when you talk to random strangers in China. They are going to ask you where you’re from, and that’s when the big “Wheel of ‘where are you from?’” is spun, and the gods determine your fate.

Rather than memorizing 20 “where are you from” question forms, go with your gut. If you just started chatting, and you hear a 哪里 or a 哪儿 (exception: taxi drivers!), and maybe a 国家 or a 地方 or a on the end, just assume they’re asking where you’re from. This usually works.

Pro tip: Also be sure to answer in a complete sentence. Something like: “我是美国人。“. This way if you guessed wrong about what the person was asking, that person won’t be too confused by your answer.

Conclusions

I’m not saying you have to learn 20 ways to ask “where are you from?”

I am saying that if you are feeling frustrated because you’ve been studying for a while, but you still sometimes can’t understand the simple question “where are you from?” that there is actually a good reason, and it’s the fault of the Chinese language, not your fault.

"It's not your fault." (Good Will Hunting)

Over time, you will get these. It’s just a little more work than memorizing one sentence.


06

Jun 2019

New Star Wars Comics in Chinese

At the book store the other day, I noticed this series of graphic novels that covers the entire Star Wars saga (Original Trilogy, Prequel Trilogy, and Sequel Trilogy: all 9 movies):

Star Wars manga

I’m not sure these comic exist in English, but I imagine they do? (Anyone know?)

The 9 movies’ names, in Chinese are:

  1. Prequel Trilogy
    1. 星球大战前传一幽灵的威胁
      Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
    2. 星球大战前传二克隆人的进攻
      Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)
    3. 星球大战前传三西斯的复仇
      Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)
  2. Original Trilogy
    1. 星球大战新希望
      Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
    2. 星球大战2帝国反击战
      Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
    3. 星球大战3绝地归来
      Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)
  3. Sequel Trilogy
    1. 星球大战7原力觉醒
      Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
    2. 星球大战8最后的绝地武士
      Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
    3. 星球大战9天行者崛起
      Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

There are some good Star Wars-related key words in there (Jedi, Sith, Skywalker, etc.)… Only problem is that most Chinese people don’t care for Star Wars, so it’s not exactly “practical vocabulary” we’re talking about here! If this is a “Chinese market only” series, then I imagine it’s an effort by Disney at “cultural education” leading up to the final episode of the Skywalker Saga.


02

Apr 2019

This box is very afraid

I was struck by the use of the word on this package:

pa-shuai-pa-ya

It reads:

怕摔
怕压

Literally, “afraid of being dropped” and “afraid of being crushed.” I’m more used to seeing 易碎 on boxes: literally “easily broken” or “fragile.” This struck me as interesting because neither the box nor its contents actually fears anything. It doesn’t feel like an anthropomorphic usage, so it’s got to be an abstraction of the human “fear” emotion.

When I thought about it some more and talked about it with some AllSet Learning teachers, I realized it’s not just a matter of the two kinds of fear “human fear” and “abstracted fear”; there’s actually a whole range of usage with this :

  • 怕冷 (pà lěng) to be sensitive to the cold (lit. “to be afraid of cold”)
  • 怕热 (pà rè) to be sensitive to heat (lit. “to be afraid of heat”)
  • 怕辣 (pà là) to be sensitive to spiciness (lit. “to fear spicy”)
  • 怕生 (pà shēng) to be afraid of strangers (lit. “fear the unfamiliar”)
  • 怕黑 (pà hēi) to be afraid of the dark
  • 怕死 (pà sǐ) to be afraid of death
  • 怕高 (pà gāo) to be afraid of heights
  • 怕人 (pà rén) to be shy around people (usu. describing a child), to be afraid of people (usu. describing an animal)
  • 怕水 (pà shuǐ) to be afraid of water (usu. because one cannot swim)

Are they just degrees of the same emotion? Or are they totally different usages? It can be difficult to separate shades of meaning, especially for native speakers. This is what the field of semantics deals with.

To me, learning how other languages construct words and phrases in both familiar and utterly unfamiliar ways is one of the major joys of learning a language.


20

Feb 2019

Cthulhu in China

It’s always fun to discover cultural tidbits from home unexpectedly implanted in China, whether it’s Marvel superheroes, Steve Jobs, or even potatoes. So it was fun to make these two book discoveries in my local bookstore:

Snow Crash

Snow Crash: 雪崩

Snow Crash (雪崩) is a classic cyberpunk novel by Neal Stephenson (尼尔·斯提芬森). 雪崩 simply means “avalanche,” so it’s a shame that this translation seems hardly nuanced. But still… it’s Snow Crash!

Cthulhu

Cthulhu Mythos: 克苏鲁神话

H. P. Lovecraft‘s Cthulhu Mythos (克苏鲁神话) is well-known by all American geeks, but this is the first time I’ve come across it in China. Three volumes, even! The books were shrink-wrapped, so I couldn’t see exactly what they contained without buying them.

Xi Jinping’s Stories

习近平讲故事

Finally, there’s this gem: 习近平讲故事 (Xi Jinping Tells Stories). The book was with children’s books, but a quick glance revealed that this was not a book for kids. Yes, it was stories, but it was the sort of pretty straightforward propaganda the cover suggests, intended for adults.


16

Nov 2018

Shanghai Wall Wisdom

Spotted on a wall in Shanghai:

Shanghai Wall Wisdom

It reads:

勿以恶小而为之,
勿以善小而不为。

Because it’s from classical Chinese, it’s written in traditional characters and also reads right to left. It’s also a pretty simple introduction to classical Chinese, so if you’re intermediate or higher, it’s worth a closer look.

Translation:

Even in small matters, do no evil.
Even in small matters, do not fail to do good.

A few notes on the classical (or harder) Chinese:

  • : “do not” for commands (also used in formal modern Mandarin)
  • : “because” (classical Chinese)
  • : a tricky grammar word usually indicating contrast (also used in formal modern Mandarin)
  • : “to do” (classical Chinese)
  • : “it” (classical Chinese)

Words like and are especially tricky because they can mean so many different things! 慢慢来… it takes time to absorb all those different usages.


11

Oct 2018

EF’s “REAL Foreign Teachers”: Progress or Dog Whistle?

I spotted this EF advertisement here in Shanghai recently:

REAL English Teachers!!!

The text reads:

在英孚,我们
只用真正的外教

  • 100% TEFL/TKT双证上岗
  • 100% 全职教学
  • 100% 大学以上学历

A translation:

At English First, we
only use real foreign teachers

  • 100% TEFL/TKT double certification
  • 100% full-time teaching
  • 100% university graduates

So you see a white face and the promise of “REAL foreign teachers.” Is this some kind of racist ad? No, no, you are mistaken: they’re referring to the qualifications of their teachers, which just happens to be written in smaller type below. It’s just a coincidence that the teacher they chose for the ad is white, right?

This seems like a dog whistle advertisement to me. They’re communicating with the racist segment of their target market while also maintaining plausible deniability.

What do you think?


12

Sep 2018

Shanghai Subway Ads that Teach Chinese Grammar

Sometimes it feels like the environment is actively trying to teach certain words or grammar patterns. Recently I’ve been seeing this series of ads in the Shanghai Metro every day:

JD.com Ad 1

不为朋友圈而运动

JD.com Ad 3

不为跟风而运动

JD.com Ad 5

不为赶时髦而运动

JD.com Ad 4

不为别人的眼光而运动

JD.com Ad 2

不为自拍而运动

In this case, the pattern is a negative version of 为……而……. The pattern 为……而…… indicates doing a certain action for a certain purpose (apparently the red line is just there to emphasize “NOT for this purpose”). I discovered that this pattern was not yet on the Chinese Grammar Wiki, so I immediately added it: Explaining purpose with “wei… er…”.

The ads are interesting, because they come from JD.com (京东), which presumably sells sporting clothing and equipment (the ad mentions 京东体育), but it’s not made explicit what’s for sale. Furthermore, JD.com take a stance on values which seem to go counter to what a lot of young Chinese people are doing these days, and the values they’re advocating don’t seem to clearly lead to greater sales for JD.com.

The ads roughly translate to:

  • Exercise, not for your WeChat Moments [China’s version of Instagram]
  • Exercise, not just because everyone else is
  • Exercise, not to keep up with the trends
  • Exercise, not because of what other people think
  • Exercise, not for the selfies

(As you can see, it’s also challenging to translate the 为……而…… pattern into English in a consistent way. It would be nice to use “for” in all of them, but it just doesn’t work for some of them.)


04

Sep 2018

The Value of Reading Marvel Comics in Chinese

Last month my friend Zach Franklin and I spent a half-hour in a recording studio talking about reading Marvel graphic novels as a way to practice Chinese. Not sure how often I’ll do this kind of recording, but hopefully you Chinese learners will find it interesting!

John and Zach talk Marvel Infinity


The last interview I did of Zach was all text, for the 2010 interview post The Value of a Master’s in Chinese Economics. Now you get to hear his voice and learn a bit more about how he uses his Chinese for less serious endeavors.

The book we talk about (aside from Harry Potter) is Marvel’s Infinity, or 无限 in Chinese (in Zach’s hands above).

Audio Highlights

Here are a few markers for the audio, as well as some of the Chinese mentioned in our conversation:

  • 03:00: 2000 AD, Judge Dredd and Spawn discussion
  • 03:48 : Harry Potter discussion begins
  • 04:50: 4 Privet Drive = 女贞路4号
  • 05:38: Buying James Bond 连环画 books in Xujiahui
  • 09:16: to answer this question, Spawn (再生侠) has still not been officially translated for the Chinese market
  • 10:20: Beijing 潘家园 Market, 星球大战(上、中、下)
  • 11:41: my “Vader didn’t get a lot of screen time” comment was a reference to this YouTube video
  • 12:51: Discussion of Marvel Comics in Chinese, and the experiece of tackling them for the first time
  • 15:10: Discussion of the graphic novel Infinity
  • 17:49: Why Zach is a hypocrite (when it comes to study methods)
  • 19:12: Character names in Chinese discussed: 钢铁侠 (Iron Man)、雷神托尔索尔 (Thor)、鹰眼 (Hawkeye)、黑寡妇 (Black Widow)
  • 21:09: Calling out Pleco for lack of Marvel character name vocab
  • 21:28: 灭霸 (Thanos)、黑色兄弟会 (the Black Order) / 杀戮黑曜石 (lit. “Slaughter Obsidian”)、黑矮星 (Black Dwarf / Cull Obsidian)、超巨星 (Supergiant)、亡刃将军 (Corvus Glaive)、比灵星午夜暗夜比邻星 (Proxima Midnight)、
  • 25:10: “Infinity” is not the same as “Infinity War” at all
  • 26:38: Is reading translated comics in Chinese a good idea for other learners as well??
  • 27:44: “Cultural depth” of Marvel comics and Star Wars in Chinese society
  • 29:06: The value of studying material you’re actually interested in

Images from Infinity (Chinese Version)

The front of the book has a list of all the Marvel characters’ Chinese names, and here are the sections that relate to this podcast (apologies for the quality; it’s a photo of a physical book!):

Infinity (Marvel), Avengers

Infinity (Marvel), Black Order

Here we can see the members of the Black Order more clearly:

Infinity (Marvel), Black Order

And, just for balance, here are a few shots where the Chinese used is actually really easy to read:

Infinity (Marvel), Cap & gang

Infinity (Marvel), Black Bolt & Thanos

Finally, a few cases where apparently translation was not really an option (or maybe just too much trouble):

Infinity (Marvel), Thanos

Infinity (Marvel), Thor

(Take that, 灭霸!)

If anyone has a question for Zach, please leave a comment on this blog post, and I’ll gleefully harass him until he answers!


26

Jul 2018

The Torture of Japanese via Chinese

This week my wife and I have been planning a short family vacation to Japan. We’ll be hanging out in Fukuoka for a bit in August.

I majored in Japanese long ago, spoke pretty fluently, and was even reading Japanese literature. Now, after 18 years in China, my Japanese is rusty, but I do still speak it. Reading is much harder than it used to be, because all that Chinese in my brain wants to interpret the Japanese characters I see as Chinese. The more kana mixed in with the Japanese, the easier and more natural it is for me to read kanji as Japanese.

Anyway, what I’m finding much more difficult than reading Japanese is listening to it… in Chinese. The Chinese, of course, read Japanese kanji as if they were Chinese hanzi. In some cases, the Japanese words, pronounced as Chinese, become full-fledged loanwords in Chinese. No surprise, and no big deal. You get used to hearing Tokyo (東京) pronounced as “Dōngjīng,” and Kyoto (京都) as “Jīngdū,” etc.

But what you don’t get used to is hearing everything Japanese pronounced as Chinese. While we’re planning the trip, my wife is constantly dropping the Chinese names of all kinds of random Japanese places, and that’s something my poor brain can’t handle. On the one hand, they’re Japanese places, and I speak Japanese, so I want to know the Japanese names of the places we’re talking about. But on the other hand, my wife isn’t just going to learn Japanese for this trip, and she speaks to me mostly in Chinese, so of course she’s going to use the Chinese names. So my brain has to keep trying to jump through this series of hoops:

Chinese pronunciation → Chinese hanzi → Japanese kanji → Japanese name

(Sometimes I can get as far as step 2, but rarely can I get to step 4.)

Brain melting…


26

Jun 2018

Eat Less Meat, says Huang Xuan

I spotted these pro-veggie ads in the Shanghai Metro recently:

少吃肉 (Shao chi rou_

少吃肉 [Eat less meat]

多走走 [Walk more]

少吃肉 (Shao chi rou_

少吃肉 [Eat less meat]

多福寿 [Be happier and live longer]

The obvious grammar points here are 少 + V and 多 + V (which don’t tend to come naturally to English speakers).

This is good to see, because as anyone who has lived in China should know, the (even remotely) affluent Chinese consume quite a bit of meat these days (and waste a lot of it, too).

蔬食 (shu shi)

The ads aren’t too clever, but the message is good, and there’s even a spot of characterplay in there. 蔬食 refers to a “vegetarian diet.”

The guy featured in the ad is 黄轩, an actor, and the ads are sponsored by WildAid.

Related links:


29

May 2018

Teachers Under Attack in Advertising?

I noticed these ads on the Shanghai Metro recently:

teacher-attack1

妈妈, [Mom,]
Tom老师
教我的发音 [The pronunciation Teacher Tom taught me]
Amy老师说不对! [Teacher Amy says is not correct]

teacher-attack2

妈妈, [Mom,]
今天外教 [today the foreign teacher]
把我的名字 [got my name]
叫错了三次

“Dada English” is one of a new wave of Chinese online English learning platforms which includes “VIP KID.” What makes these platforms special is that they all purport to offer native speakers as teachers, and many of them are from North America or Europe. (I understand that some of the competition uses mostly teachers from the Philippines.) The first ad above emphasizes 欧美外教: teachers from North America and Europe.

What about the Chinese teacher of English? A resource long known to be often “less than perfect” with regard to native-like English abilities and yet nevertheless a crucial component of the educational system, is not even a part of the discussion these ads are trying to create. Rather, it’s a matter of where your foreign teacher is from and how professional he is.

I’m really curious if there is enough of the right kind of labor in North America and Europe to keep these business models afloat in the long-term. I suspect it’s going to be a lot harder building and maintaining a team of online freelance English teachers when those teachers are not Chinese or physically in China.


03

May 2018

Born Fried (shengjian)

Check out the English name of this little shop:

Born Fried

Born Fried” is almost certainly an overly literal character-by-character translation of 生煎, a kind of bready, fried stuffed bun. Wikipedia describes it like this:

…a type of small, pan-fried baozi (steamed buns) which is a specialty of Shanghai. It is usually filled with pork and gelatin that melts into soup/liquid when cooked. Shengjian mantou has been one of the most common breakfast items in Shanghai since the early 1900s. As a ubiquitous breakfast item, it has a significant place in Shanghainese culture.

That same page gives the literal translation “raw-fried” for 生煎. Still, there’s something about “Born Fried”… it has a cool ring to it.

In case you’re not familiar with this little joyful celebration of grease, here are a few photos from Flickr (not my own; click through for the photographer’s photos):

小楊生煎

Shanghai Meat Donut

shengjian 生煎

shengjian 生煎 Suzhou 2


13

Mar 2018

Not so clever use of “carry”

Saw this ad on the Shanghai Metro:

Untitled

The top line of the text is a definition of the English word “carry,” used in the ad copy below:

*注:CARRY = 带领、支撑

Here’s a tip: if you need to define the foreign word, there’s a good chance it doesn’t belong in your ad.


01

Feb 2017

Happy Year of the Rooster

Happy Year of the Rooster/Cock/Chicken! Just as the English word “cock” has multiple meanings, the Chinese word (“chicken”) does as well. By itself, it can mean “prostitute,” but the same sound “jī” is also part of the Chinese word for, well, “cock.” I guess I’m friends with a bunch of upstanding Chinese folk, because I didn’t see the many puns I feel I could have for this year’s barrage of Chinese New Year greetings.

Here’s one tame pun I did see this year:

点钞机 / 点钞鸡

So the original word is 点钞机, “money counting machine.” Substituting (“chicken”) for (“machine”) doesn’t change the sound at all, but 点钞鸡 falls right in line with the Chinese proclivity for wishing financial success in the New Year. And you can totally imagine a money counting rooster.


27

Oct 2016

Investigations of a Bilingual 4-year-old’s Riddle

My daughter is almost 5, and she has a penchant for “riddles.” At first, these started out super simple, such as, “what animal can fly?” or “what is up in the sky during the day and gives us light?” Over time, they started to get more and more complex, morphing into questions such as, “what animal can fly but isn’t a bird?” or “what animals swim in the ocean but aren’t fish?” or “name three animals that live in the ocean but have no eyes.” These games are good linguistic exercises, reinforcing the vocabulary my daughter is picking up in the books we read her. In most cases, she can even do these riddles bilingually, and she enjoys quizzing her mom in Chinese on the ones I give her in English that she is able to answer.

Occasionally I’ve asked her to give me a riddle, and it’s usually something super simple, similar to the afore-mentioned “what is up in the sky during the day and gives us light?” one. Fair enough… I don’t expect the riddle of the Sphinx from a 4-year-old. But the other day she asked me this one:

What has 5 legs and lives in the sky?

Pretty certain that no animal has 5 legs, I figured she got the number wrong, and was counting a tail as a leg or something. So I guessed “dragon” and “pegasus” and the like, but she said those were wrong, and she knows a tail isn’t a leg. I was stumped!

Pegasus

The answer to the riddle is “a star.” (She’s most familiar with the 5-pointed star, which she’s always getting in sticker form.)

I was kind of blown away by this, because it’s a pretty cleverly crafted riddle. Trying not to be too quick to declare my daughter a genius, though, I gave some thought to what might be going on in her bilingual mind.

In Chinese, a 5-pointed star is called a “五角星,” literally, “5-corner-star.” But here’s the thing… “foot” in Chinese is (pronounced “jiǎo,” exact same pronunciation as above), and it’s a word sometimes used to represent the whole leg. She hasn’t officially started learning Chinese characters yet, and she definitely isn’t aware of how the two Chinese words are written. So in her mind, is it all the same “jiǎo”? Is a Chinese five-pointed star a “five-legged star” to her?

I tried to investigate this question, but my daughter didn’t have much patience for my line of linguistic questioning (a trait she probably inherited from her mother). In the end, I got her to answer like so:

Me: Do you know what the 五角 in 五角星 means?

Her: It means “five legs.”

Her: [thinks for a minute]

Her: …or “5 corners.”

I’m not sure if she thought of that second meaning when she was devising her riddle, and neither is she. Language acquisition is a largely unconscious process, and that’s especially true for kids. She hasn’t come up with any similarly clever riddles since. We’ll see what happens.


25

Oct 2016

Verbing for the Summer

Summer is over, but I can’t help sharing this 一下 / 一夏 pun:

喝一夏,冰一夏

It reads:

喝一夏,冰一夏

The “喝一夏” part is punning on a very common use of 一下 after a verb, whereas the “冰一夏” part is punning on the same usage in a less typical way.

An uninspired translation would be, “have a drink and cool off.” (Sorry, I have no inspired translation!)


14

Jun 2016

Rebecca Wigs: Fake Hair, Real Me

There’s a brand of high-quality wigs in China called Rebecca. The Chinese tagline for these wigs is:

rebecca-jiafa-zhenwo

假发,真我

The simple slogan (great for beginners!) sets up a nice contrast between the words (fake) and (real). It doesn’t translate well into English, though, because the word for “wig” in Chinese is 假发, quite literally, “fake hair.” So here are your two most obvious direct translation candidates:

  1. “Fake hair, real me”
  2. “Wig, real me”

Pretty bad. The wigs themselves look pretty gorgeous, though, and Rebecca hired Chinese superstar babe 范冰冰 (Fan Bingbing) is their model:

rebecca-fanbingbing1

rebecca-fanbingbing2

The Rebecca wigs also occasionally stray into the “slightly less than practical,” apparently:

rebecca-long-wig



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