Archive for Found in translation

Translation variation

For the past week, I've been in Paris attending JEP-TALN-RECITAL 2016 ("31ème Journées d’Études sur la Parole — 23ème Conférence sur le Traitement Automatique des Langues Naturelles  — 18ème Rencontre des Étudiants Chercheurs en Informatique pour le Traitement Automatique des Langues). This event certainly takes the prize for the longest acronym of any conference I've ever attended.

Attending a francophone conference gave me a chance to practice what remains of my high-school French, and the content was worthwhile as well — I heard many interesting papers and saw many interesting posters, about which more later. I haven't posted much during the past week because the internet at the conference site was badly overloaded, and the situation at my hotel was not much better. But now at CDG waiting for my flight there's decent connectivity, so here's a little something about signage translation.

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You aim too please

From a men's room at the Beijing airport:


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Ask Language Log: German restaurant-name zum?

From Aaron Powell:

I woke last night with a minor bout of food poisoning and spent some time catching up on Language Log to distract myself ,and it occurred to me that you might be able to explain a German linguistic phenomenon that I don’t understand.  I have recently moved from the USA to Vienna, Austria and I’ve noticed several restaurants whose names start with ‘zum’: zum schwarzen Adler, zum schwarzen Kameel, zum schwarzen Baaren, zum englischen Reiter.  (If you press me, I’ll tell you which one might have made me ill).

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Rats, heroes, and zeroes

I have received this notice from several sources in the last few days:


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Madame Curry

Mark Swofford called my attention to this Taipei restaurant, noting the risqué pun in its name:  gālí niáng 咖哩娘 (lit., "curry mom").  The restaurant also has the Frenchified Western name "cari de madame".

It could conceivably be a pun for jiālǐ niàng 家裡釀 ("home brew"), but I suspect that Mark had something else in mind.  Well, the proprietors tell part of the story themselves here, "A naughty name for insane curry".

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That should work well

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Degrees of spiciness

Tim Leonard sent in the following photograph of a Korean restaurant sign:

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Lost and found

In the 10/4/15 issue of the Chicago Tribune, Eric Zorn has a sympathetic look at Chinglish:  "Cultural sensitivity lost — and found — in translation".  He offers the following sign at a museum near Datong as a prime specimen:

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Help wanted in Srinagar

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Joe Chen Buns

From Wei comes this photograph of a sign on a deli that they took the other day in Guangzhou:

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Vigilance — Cleanliness

The trash receptacles on Paris streets consist of suspended transparent plastic bags, printed with two words in large black letters: VIGILANCE (= "vigilance") on top, and PROPRETÉ (= "cleanliness") underneath.

The bags used to be green, but are now clear — and the container of curved metal spokes is new — but the VIGILANCE / CLEANLINESS message has been there for while. And to the extent that I noticed it, I interpreted this motto as a quaint cultural survival, some long-ago authority figure wagging a monitory textual forefinger at the prospect of litter.

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Your appointment smells of elderberries

Spending a couple of months in Paris frequently exposes me to the wonders of semantic drift. Many of the new French words that I'm learning turn out to be unexpected figurative senses of words that I already knew — though sometimes I need to look them up to realize that I knew them, because the figurative usage is non-obvious.

For example, the picture on the right shows a sign in the window of a local Credit Agricole branch, urging me not to miss the "créneau". What, I wondered, is a créneau, and what would it mean to miss it?

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Illustrated translations of the untranslatable

"Beautiful Illustrations of Words with No English Equivalent",Twisted Sifter 5/16/2015.

As usual, many of the translations seem to be somewhat more specifically evocative than the words they translate.

Thus Spanish duende is rendered as "The mysterious power that a work of art has to deeply move a person", whereas the WordReference dictionary gives simply "spirit, magical creature; elf, imp, goblin; magic, charm", and the Collins dictionary gives "goblin, elf; imp; magic; gremlin".

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