Archive for translation

Sino-Sanskritic "devil"

One of the most curious and fascinating words I learned during the first or second year of Mandarin study was móguǐ 魔鬼 ("devil; demon; fiend").  Somehow it just sounded right as the designation for what it signified:

Tā shìgè móguǐ 他是個魔鬼 ("He's a devil")

Even the characters, which I have always deemphasized since I began learning Mandarin, seemed appropriate. Guǐ 鬼 ("ghost; spirit; apparition; deuce"), the representation of a bogeyman that goes all the way back to the oracle bone inscriptions more than three millennia ago, was the thing itself.  Although I didn't know the exact meaning of mó 魔, it too had the guǐ 鬼 radical, so I thought of móguǐ 魔鬼 as a "mó 魔 type guǐ 鬼", and I just took it on faith that it meant "devil".

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Chinese translation app with built-in censorship

What good is a translation app that automatically censors politically sensitive terms?  Well, a leading Chinese translation app is now doing exactly that.

"A Chinese translation app is censoring politically sensitive terms, report says", Zoey Chong, CNET (11/27/18)

iFlytek, a voice recognition technology provider in China, has begun censoring politically sensitive terms from its translation app, South China Morning Post reported citing a tweet by Jane Manchun Wong. Wong is a software engineer who tweets frequently about hidden features she uncovers by performing app reverse-engineering.

In the tweet, Wong shows that when she tried to translate certain phrases such as "Taiwan independence," "Tiananmen square" and "Tiananmen square massacre" from English to Chinese, the system failed to churn out results for sensitive terms or names. The same happened when she tried to translate "Taiwan independence" from Chinese to English — results showed up as an asterisk.

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Kids Bong

Bill Benzon spotted this on Facebook:

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"I Want to Eat Your Pancreas"

Seen by a friend of Jeff DeMarco in Sydney, Australia's Chinatown:

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Go Believe

Zeyao Wu sent in this sign on a restaurant:

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The pig(s) and the raccoon

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Please Wait to be Seated

Sign at a hotel in Anchorage, Alaska, spotted by Marc Sarrel:

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Stylistic preferences in English and Chinese

This is from an ad for a new apartment building in University City next to Penn:

Wèi nín xià gè rénshēng jiēduàn ér zuò de gōngyù

为您下个人生阶段而作的公寓

"Apartments made for the next stage of your (honorific) life"

Here's the English version from the same website:

Apartments for the next phase in life

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Seven flavors

Jichang Lulu reports that an eating establishment in London has chosen the name qī wèi 柒味 ("seven flavors").  This comes via Yuan Chan on Twitter:

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Creative translation

From Tanner Greer:

I was playing around on The Communist Youth League's Bilibili channel the other day when I came across this video. You'll notice it is an attempt to appropriate an interview with Trump's chief of staff to legitimize Party narratives. Some of things the Party says are fair game, I suppose, but a lot of them revolve around… very creative translations. This is my favorite:

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A new kind of iron rice bowl

In the good / bad old days of Chinese communism, people talked about having a "tiě fàn wǎn 铁饭碗" ("iron rice bowl"), which meant essentially that they had a "job for life", though the pay might have been extremely meager.  With the transformation of communism to mercantilism* (in the PRC's case, we may refer to it as "neomercantilism"), the old iron rice bowl could no longer be assured, so new (and more sophistical) types of job security were devised.  One that I just heard about for the first time a few days ago is biānzhì 编制.  For the moment I'll just say that this term can normally mean "weave; plait; braid", "work out; draw up", "organizational scheme (of a group / work unit)", and so forth.  The individual morphemes of which biānzhì 编制 is composed respectively mean "knit; weave; plait; compile; edit; arrange; organize" and "make; manufacture; restrict; system; work out; establish; overpower".

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The non-ineffability of "strip" as a measure word

The Guardian published an article on "10 of the best words in the world (that don't translate into English)" (7/27/18).  Calling on nine of their correspondents, they introduced a bouquet of beautiful words, each one of which I am enamored:

SPAIN: sobremesa (Sam Jones in Madrid)

PORTUGAL: esperto/esperta (Juliette Jowit)

ITALY: bella figura (Angela Giuffrida in Rome)

GERMANY: Feierabend (Philip Oltermann in Berlin)

FINLAND: sisu (Jon Henley)

IRAN: Ta’arof (Saeed Kamali Dehghan)

RUSSIA: тоска (toska) (Andrew Roth in Moscow)

JAPAN: shoganai (Justin McCurry in Tokyo)

NETHERLANDS: polderen (Jon Henley)

CHINA: tiáo 条 (Madeleine Thien)

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A "Wild Boar" proficient in five languages — English, Thai, Burmese, Mandarin, and Wa

At the same time as the World Cup was being held in Russia, an even more intense soccer-related drama was unfolding in Thailand.  A group of teenage boys and their coach had become trapped in a cave complex for more than a week after the entrance had been sealed by rapidly rising floodwaters.  An international team of rescuers worked tirelessly to bring them out of the cave, and one brave hero lost his life in the attempt.  His name was Saman Gunan (Guana/Kunan); he died while taking oxygen to the Thai youngsters trapped in the cave.  Requiescat in pace!

But there was another hero of the Thai rescue operation, and he was a 14-year-old polyglot:

"Teen hero emerges from Thai cave rescue mission", NZ Herald (7/11/18)

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