Archive for translation

Particle amnesia

[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson]

I know you've written a lot about character amnesia in the greater Sinosphere. But I think I witnessed the related, but significantly different, phenomenon of (grammatical) particle amnesia (or perhaps, "drift") during a recent trip to Hawaii.

As you know, Hawaii has a large nikkei* population. This is especially true in and around Honolulu, where I was for the Japanese Studies Association conference last week. In addition to an extraordinary number of Japanese tourists, Oahu is home to nisei,** sansei,*** and many people of mixed heritage. Japanese signs abound, and Japanese is spoken in many hotels, restaurants, and stores.

[*an American of Japanese descent.]
[**second generation; ***third generation]

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IBM's "THINK" motto

Photograph taken by Hervé Guérin in the main lobby of IBM France:

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Chinese lung cancer poeticizes in English

For several days I've been aware of a strange poem that has gone viral in China:

"Read The Smog-Inspired Poem That China Can't Stop Talking About" (NPR, 1/12/17)

The strangeness of the poem is due to its being written from the perspective of lung cancer and addressed to the patient.  You judge for yourself — here's the complete poem:

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Year of the cock

For some reason, the Chinese have taken to comparing President Elect Trump to a rooster, this year's symbol in the 12-year cycle of the zodiac.


A giant chicken sculpture outside a shopping mall in Taiyuan, north China's
Shanxi province, that looks like US president-elect Donald Trump Getty Images

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Haifa subway station names

In several recent posts, I have pointed out how Chinese and Japanese announcements and greetings for foreigners are often pronounced in a special way that deviates markedly from what Chinese and Japanese would say to each other:

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Po Chai Pills

Stephen Hart sent in this scan of a box containing medicine that he bought in Malaysia in 1972:

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He comfortable! He quickly dry!

A neighbor of mine, a respectable woman retired from medical practice, set a number of friends of hers a one-question quiz this week. The puzzle was to identify an item she recently purchased, based solely on what was stated on the tag attached to it. The tag said this (I reproduce it carefully, preserving the strange punctuation, line breaks, capitalization, and grammar, but replacing two searchable proper nouns by xxxxxxxx because they might provide clues):

ABOUT xxxxxxxx
He comfortable
He elastic
He quickly dry
He let you unfettered experience and indulgence. Please! Hurry up
No matter where you are. No matter what you do.
Let xxxxxxxx Change your life,
Become your friends, Partner,
Part of life

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Words for anger

Lisa Feldman Barrett has an article on "The Varieties of Anger" in last Sunday's NYT.  Most of it consists of reflections on pre- and post-election anger in our society.  But Barrett has one paragraph in which she makes some rather dubious claims about the number of words for “anger” in several languages:

The Russian language has two distinct concepts within what Americans call “anger” — one that’s directed at a person, called “serditsia,” and another that’s felt for more abstract reasons such as the political situation, known as “zlitsia.” The ancient Greeks distinguished quick bursts of temper from long-lasting wrath. German has three distinct angers, Mandarin has five and biblical Hebrew has seven.

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Hokkien-Tagalog-English-Spanish phrasebook

Page of a phrasebook published in 1941 (click to embiggen):

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Intriguing Chinese sign spotted in London

From Donald Clarke:

The sign seems straightforwardly to be a warning that this is a "dangerous construction site".  The more you look at it, however, the more questions arise.

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Bilingual paronomasia in Literary Sinitic and Korean

The United States of America and Great Britain / United Kingdom are not the only countries in the midst of political crises.  South Korea has a nasty one of its own involving the undue influence of a shamaness over their President.

"Tens of Thousands Call on South Korea's President to Quit" (ABC News, 11/5/16)

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The mystery of "mouthfeel"

Helen Wang writes:

I have a question – what's the etymology of the English word "mouthfeel"? In the last few weeks in the UK I have heard the word "mouthfeel" several times, spoken very naturally as though it's an established English word. I was surprised because I remember kǒugǎn 口感 (lit. "mouth-feel") as being "untranslatable" or an "awkward translation". So I looked up "mouthfeel" online to see when this direct translation made its way into English. It even has a Wikipedia entry! But no mention of kǒugǎn 口感 or any etymology. It seems to have just appeared in English – earliest usage in the 1930s.  See The Big Apple, "Mouthfeel" (4/10/12) by Barry Popik.

So I tried looking up kǒugǎn 口感 in Chinese and found it was not as ubiquitous as I'd remembered. My very quick and basic search gave the impression that kǒugǎn 口感 might be a translated term in Chinese, most examples being related to drinks such as wine or tea. I wondered if you knew more?

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China's "core" leader

I've been reading countless reports about how Xi Jinping was made the "core" leader of China during the recently concluded meeting (6th Plenum) of the CCP, e.g.:

"China’s Communist Party Declares Xi Jinping ‘Core’ Leader

"China's Ruling Party Endorses Xi as 'Core Leader' After Meeting" (RFA, 10/27/16)

"Down to the core:  Xi Jinping gets a new label, but no more power: In China, a year of political infighting lies ahead" (The Economist, 10/27/16)

"China’s Xi Jinping Tightens His Hold on Communist Party:  Officials at conclave designate the president as the ‘core’ of the leadership, using title conferred on Mao Zedong " (WSJ, 10/27/16)

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*Notice, in the photograph accompanying this article (and many other articles), all the members of the Standing Committee, seated at the front of the hall facing us, raise their hands in exactly the same way (angle, height, position of thumb versus other fingers, etc.).  The other members of the Politburo, with their backs to us, also match the posture of the Standing Committee members, but not with such exactitude.

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