Archive for translation

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Now Hong Kong has returned to the motherland's embrace for 20 years, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, as a historical document, no longer has any practical significance, and it is not at all binding for the central government's management over Hong Kong.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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Renewal of the race / nation

Jamil Anderlini in the Financial Times (6/21/17), "The dark side of China’s national renewal", writes:

To an English-speaking ear, rejuvenation has positive connotations and all nations have the right to rejuvenate themselves through peaceful efforts.

But the official translation of this crucial slogan is deeply misleading. In Chinese it is “Zhonghua minzu weida fuxing” and the important part of the phrase is “Zhonghua minzu” — the “Chinese nation” according to party propaganda. A more accurate, although not perfect, translation would be the “Chinese race”.

That is certainly how it is interpreted in China. The concept technically includes all 56 official ethnicities, including Tibetans, Muslim Uighurs and ethnic Koreans, but is almost universally understood to mean the majority Han ethnic group, who make up more than 90 per cent of the population.

The most interesting thing about Zhonghua minzu is that it very deliberately and specifically incorporates anyone with Chinese blood anywhere in the world, no matter how long ago their ancestors left the Chinese mainland.

“The Chinese race is a big family and feelings of love for the motherland, passion for the homeland, are infused in the blood of every single person with Chinese ancestry,” asserted Chinese premier Li Keqiang in a recent speech.

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Li’l Ice AI writes Chinese poetry

About a week ago I received this Facebook query from Scaruffi.com about Chinese chatbot poetry (relayed by Mark Liberman):

Since friday Chinese social media are flooded with comments about a poetry book written by Microsoft's chatbot Xiaoice that was published on May 19 (three days ago).

I cannot find a single reference to this book in Google's search engine.

No western media seems to have picked up the news.
(As of today, monday the 22nd)

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Toxic clams

Photograph of a sign at Sequim Bay, Washington taken by Stephen Hart:

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Attribution of the WannaCry ransomware to Chinese speakers

The notorious WannaCry malware infestation began on Friday, May 12, 2017 and spread rapidly throughout the world, infecting hundreds of thousands of computers and causing major damage.  Speculation concerning the identity of the perpetrators focused on North Korea, but the supposed connection was never convincingly demonstrated, and there were no other serious suspects.

Yesterday, Jon Condra, John Costello, and Sherman Chu published a stunning report which suggests that the authors of WannaCry — or someone they hired — spoke fluent Chinese:

"Linguistic Analysis of WannaCry Ransomware Messages Suggests Chinese-Speaking Authors" (Flashpoint [5/25/17])

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"Little Man" the eating machine

There's a curious article by Kathy Chu and Menglin Huang in the Wall Street Journal (5/21/17):

"How a Toddler Who Loves Eating Transfixed China:  2½-year-old Xiaoman is an online sensation, bringing fame, a Pampers ad and questions about her weight"

https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-a-toddler-who-loves-eating-transfixed-china-1495387268

If you have difficulty reading the whole article via the embedded link, try this TinyURL, which should lead you to a complete preview.

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BARF (Belt and Road Forum) 2.0

[This is a guest post by the inimitable satirist, S. Tsow]

[1.0 is this: "BARF (Belt and Road Forum)" (5/19/17)]

Xi Jinping ("Mr. Eleven" [XI]) calls his New Silk Road initiative "One Belt, One Road"  (Yidai-Yilu).  A map I have shows a land route in the north, going westward, bifurcating at Urumchi, and ending at Rotterdam and Istanbul.  OK, that's the "belt".  The "road" shows a sea route in the south that wanders all over the place and ends in the west at Venice.

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BARF (Belt and Road Forum)

We are currently in the midst of a massive propaganda barrage unleashed upon the world by the People's Republic of China.  It's all about something that started out being called "Yīdài yīlù 一帶一路" ("One Belt One Road"), at least that's what it was named when I first heard about it a year or two ago.  The Chinese publicists writing about it in English may have just styled it "The Belt and Road", but everybody I know spoke of it as "One Belt One Road" — "OBOR" for short, which reminded me of Über.

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No word for "Community Room"?

At the Valencia Police Station in San Francisco, CA, there is a sign reading "Community Room" in English and Spanish. There is also Chinese on the sign; however, apparently a word or two is not considered adequate to communicate this concept in Chinese.

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The sanitization of a sensual Chinese poem

From Michael Pratt, a former professor of Spanish, who relocated to Shenzhen to learn more about Chinese poetry, which was his chief motivation for moving to China:

At times, when I discuss Tang shi ("Tang poetry") with Chinese acquaintances, I am struck by their seeming dogmatism about the range of possible interpretations. For example, in a recent conversation about the poem “Jīnlǚ yī 金缕衣” ("The Robe of Golden Thread"), traditionally attributed to Dù Qiūniáng 杜秋娘 ("Autumn Maid Du")*, my Chinese interlocutor was adamant that the speaker’s insistence on the importance of plucking blossoms during one’s qīngshàonián 少年时 ("youth") was entirely high-minded — i.e., that it was a vulgar mistake for me even to suggest that sex or love might number among the pleasures symbolized by those enticing but ephemeral blossoms.

[*VHM: article in Mandarin; in Literary Sinitic; in Norsk bokmål]

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Tribute: Burton Watson, 1925 – 2017

During the second half of the twentieth century and well into the twenty-first century, Burton Watson translated a wide range of works of premodern Chinese literature into highly readable, reliable English. His numerous published translations span the gamut of Chinese texts from history to poetry, prose, philosophy, and religion.  He was also an accomplished translator from Japanese, especially of poetry and religious literature.

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'Tis the Season: blooming in translation and in art

Jocelyn Ireson-Paine came across the Language Log posts which mention blooming: the increase in size of translated texts. She draws, and this made her think that if line drawing is regarded as translation from an original scene to lines, blooming can occur there too. She has written a brief note on this in "Drawing as Translation".

The essay was inspired partly by Jocelyn's thinking about what she does when she draws, and partly by English lecturer Matthew Reynolds talking about his book Translation: A Very Short Introduction.

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