Archive for translation

Buddha whatever

There's a new attitude wave in China, and it's called the "Fó xì xiànxiàng 佛系现象", which looks like it means "Buddha system / series / department phenomenon".  Unfortunately, that doesn't really make much sense on its own account, and it certainly doesn't fit with the way the expression "Fó xì 佛系" is employed in current parlance, as described in this Chinese newspaper account.  The closest parallel I can think of in American contemporary speech would be “whate-e-e-ver".

So why are they taking the name of the Buddha in vain?

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An early fourth century AD historical puzzle involving a Caucasian people in North China

[This is a guest post by Chau Wu]

There is a long-standing puzzle that has attracted historical linguists’ interest. This is a single sentence of 10 characters in two clauses: “秀支替戾岡, 僕谷劬禿當” (xiù zhī tì lì gāng, pú gŭ qú tū dāng). The sentence does not make sense in any of the Sinitic topolects. Obviously, this appears to be from a foreign language using Sinographs as phonetic transcriptions. Indeed, the source document which gives this mysterious sentence clearly indicates this is in Jié 羯, a non-Sinitic language that showed up in China during the chaotic period known as the Sixteen Kingdoms (304-439 CE) marked by uprisings of 五胡 wŭhú ‘Five Barbarians’ (Xiōngnú 匈奴, Jié 羯, Xiānbēi 鮮卑, Dī 氐, and Qiāng 羌) against the Jìn 晉 dynasty.

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Seitan

From time to time during the past half century or so, I've heard of a food product called seitan.  Because the name sounds Japanese and it was associated with a natural food store in Cambridge, Massachusetts that I frequented called Erewhon (see here for the 1872 satirical Utopian novel by Samuel Butler whence it got its name) that was founded by Japanese macrobiotic advocates (see below for a bit more detail), I always assumed that it was both a Japanese word and a Japanese product.  As we shall find later in this post, I was (sort of) mistaken on both counts.

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Automated transcription-cum-translation

Marc Sarrel received the following message on his voicemail:

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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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