Archive for translation

Awesome / sugoi すごい!

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Translating the I ching (Book of Changes)

For the last two decades or so, my brother Denis and I have been working on a translation of the Yìjīng 易經 (Classic of Changes).  We shall probably finish the first draft within a year.

Of all the Chinese classics, the I ching is the one that most Sinologists do not want to touch because of its maddening opacity.  In this regard, it is worth quoting at some length the words of James Legge (1815-1897), the Victorian translator of all the Confucian classics, a monumental achievement that still stands today as an invaluable resource for anyone who wishes to acquaint him/herself with these essential texts of early Chinese civilization.

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A sign pointing to a sign

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Imperial miscommunication

[This is a guest post by Krista Ryu]

I came across a fun anecdote from The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty,  which is the annual records of the Joseon Dynasty from 1413-1865, a national treasure of Korea. It is full of interesting, authentic records, since no one, including the kings themselves, could revise the records.  Consequently, even funny mistakes made by the Kings will be recorded in detail.

The story of failed communication between a Goryo Dynasty diplomat and the Hongwu Emperor (1368-1398; r. 1328-1398) of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

The story is as below (I have translated into English what I read in Korean, so what was actually said in Chinese at the time could be slightly different but the meaning should be the same):

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"National backbone"

I. J. Khanewala writes:

While visiting the tomb of the first emperor, I saw a sign in Mandarin which read minzu jiliang and translated as "National backbone". It left me quite mystified.  Here's a photo of the sign:

Source ("Utterly lost in translation").  Any idea what it could mean?

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The wonders of Google Translate

I have sung the praises of Google Translate (GT) before (e.g., "Google Translate is even better now" [9/27/16]), but this morning something happened with GT that really tickled my fancy.

One thing I use GT for is to compose texts in Chinese.  I find it to be a very powerful and easy to use input tool.

So I input the following:

shuō dìngle 說定了
xīngqítiān zhōngwǔ jiàn 星期天中午見

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"Dangal in Doklam": Sino-Indian propaganda video war

China fired the first shot with this infamous Doklam video called "7 Sins of India".  It's all about a remote spot on the border between Bhutan and Tibet, where India is now confronting China in an attempt to preserve the territorial integrity of tiny Bhutan.  This is the same area through which China invaded India in 1962, pushing south as far as Siliguri.

India has now countered China's propaganda video, which has been dubbed crudely racist by many, with a cute, corny video of its own called "Dangal in Doklam".

"Dangal in Doklam: After 7 Sins, Here’s India’s Sonu Song for China"

Deeksha Sharma    the quint

Updated: 23 August, 2017 9:18 AM IST

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Ask Language Log: splittism and separatism

From Elijah Z. Granet:

I am an avid reader of Language Log, and am writing with a question that has puzzled me for sometime, and which, as far as I can tell, has never been addressed. I would be quite grateful if you could spare a moment of your valuable time to help me figure out this odd occurrence.

I do not speak Chinese (or any East Asian language, for that matter), but I do try to follow the news coming out of China.  For several years now, especially as unrest in Xinjiang has increased, I have been growing increasingly puzzled by the insistent use of the calque “splittism.”  Official sources (e.g., Xinhua) will always say “splittism”, and many English sources will  also use it (albeit with a qualifier along the lines of “the Chinese authorities have condemned what they call ‘splittism’”).  A cursory search of Google Books and News suggests the use of “splittism” in reference to China dates back decades.

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The linguistics of a political slogan

Banner on the side of a fancy car in Sydney, Australia:

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How rapidly and radically can a language evolve?

[This is a guest post by Alex Wang, a long-term resident of Shenzhen, China]

I was wondering if there have been any studies on how readily a language can absorb new elements and features.

Yesterday at the Pacific Coffee shop near where I live, by chance I struck up a conversation with a professor who teaches economics at the local Shenzhen University.  He heard me speaking with my younger son in English and, when I went to attend my older son, he struck up a conversation with my younger son.  I suppose he was curious about how my younger son's oral English skills were so “good”, since he has a daughter who is around the same age as my older boy.  It would seem many locals want an English speaking friend for their children so as to have an environment to practice.

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Comrades, "hike up your skirts for a hard shag"

President Xi Jinping is fond of calling on the Chinese people to "roll up our sleeves and work hard" ( qǐ xiùzǐ jiāyóu gàn 撸起袖子加油干 / 擼起袖子加油幹).  No sooner had Xi uttered this stirring pronouncement in a nationwide address at the turn of the year (2016-17) than it became a viral meme (here and here) that has inspired countless signs, songs, and dances; enactment; and also this one, presumably in a poorly-heated environment

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Plum > apricot and wine > brew: the language of poetry and painting

[This is a follow up to "Preserved wife plum" (7/12/17), after which there ensued a vigorous and enlightening discussion on the terminology for plums, apricots, pastries, and so forth.]

My wife was born in Shandong in 1936, but fled from the Japanese with her family to Sichuan before she was one year old, and she spent the next eleven years of her life in Sichuan, before fleeing once again with her family, this time from the Chinese Communists, to Taiwan.

One of the last things Li-ching did before passing away in 2010 was write her childhood memoirs in Hanyu Pinyin (see here, here [three items], and here).  At this moment, I do not recall if she mentioned it in her memoirs, but one of her fondest recollections of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan where she and her family lived (it was also the wartime capital of the Republic of China — now on Taiwan) was the làméi 臘梅 / 腊梅 (Chimonanthus fragrans / praecox).  In English, the làméi 臘梅 is referred to as wintersweet, Japanese allspice (despite the attractive name, it is not edible), calyx canthus, and mistakenly — but still quite commonly — as "wax plum" (look it up on Google Images under this name for pretty pictures of the blossoms).   In Japanese this plant is called rōbai 蝋梅, although it used to be written 臘梅 and 蠟梅 (nowadays it is normally written in kana alone:  ろうばい · ロウバイ).

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Grammatical analysis versus accuracy of translation in international affairs

In this widely cited article, "China says Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong no longer has meaning", Reuters  (6/30/17) quoted PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesman, Lu Kang, as follows:

Now Hong Kong has returned to the motherland's embrace for 20 years, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, as a historical document, no longer has any practical significance, and it is not at all binding for the central government's management over Hong Kong. The UK has no sovereignty, no power to rule and no power to supervise Hong Kong after the handover.

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