Archive for Lost in translation

Silver / aging / senior / whatever industry

Goods and services for senior citizens are a big business in China.  In general, the manufacture and marketing of such products go by the designation lǎolíng chǎnyè 老龄产业.  But, oh, how to render that in English?

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Official Chinglish, with a note on North Korean Juche

What would you think if you encountered terms like this?

Two-oriented Society

Three-zation / Threezation

You might wonder if the people who dreamed them up were high on something when they produced these opaque, unidiomatic renderings.  Yet such terms are official translations of Chinese expressions.  As such, they have entered the stream of global English.

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Tireless or unchanging?

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Those LLog readers who aren't already Radiolab listeners should give their latest episode on translation a listen. There are 8 stories packed into this one episode, a few about language and a few not-so-much, but all of them well-worth the price of admission.

But I'm not just here to promote Radiolab. I'm also here to comment on something that happened in this episode that I am now very curious about (curious-enough-to-blog-and-solicit-comments curious, not curious-enough-to-do-some-real-research-of-my-own curious). There's a point in the show where one of the show's hosts (Jad Abumrad) warns listeners that there's going to be some raunchy language used and discussed for the next several minutes; even though the putatively offensive words were bleeped out in the version I listened to (via my iTunes podcast subscription), it was clear that I wouldn't have wanted my 5-year-old child to hear the piece so I appreciated the warning.

But at the very end of the episode, something very different happens. With no warning whatsoever, long strings of uncensored expletives assaulted my ears. I was wearing headphones and nobody else was around, but still I wondered: where was the warning? Why was there no bleeping? And then I realized that I wasn't listening to people speaking English anymore, but rather people swearing in other languages — and the first one was Spanish, which I am also a native speaker of.

But still: is Radiolab's audience (and their innocent children!) not at least potentially multilingual? Why the bleeping of English words and the elaborate warning preceding a story about their use, but no warning or bleeping whatsoever about the same sorts of words in other languages? It's not like I ever understood this sort of censorship and prudishness in the first place, but now I'm royally confused.


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*BEEP* vegetables

Chinglish makes an appearance in the "Translators" segment of HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (10/19):

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"German type sexual harassment"

From the German "Fun Pics und lustige Videos" website comes this hilarious photograph of a dish served at the Quansheng Hotel 泉昇大酒店 (I think that it is in Changsha, Hunan):

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Tasteless coffee

From "Signspotting around the world: Funny fails", a "Lonely Planet travel signs" feature of CNN Travel, I have selected an ensemble of four signs to illustrate different types of translation difficulties.

The first was spotted in a Beijing cafe:

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One's deceased father grind

Reader Crystal's friend recently came across the following message which they believe was machine translated from Chinese:  "I'm a junior, ready to one's deceased father grind".

Ready to WHAT?

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Oh my melon!

Bryan Van Norden is a Visiting Professor at Wuhan University this semester, and he ran across an interesting bit of language play. Below is a still (taken with his cell phone) of a television commercial currently running in the PRC. It is for a watermelon juice drink. As you can see, the tag line is a bilingual pun, substituting guā 瓜 ("melon") for "God."

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In "Applenese", we examined the Chinese translations from the Mainland, Taiwan, and Hong Kong of this Apple advertising slogan for Mother's Day last spring:  "A gift Mom will love opening. Again and again."

Now let's see what is done with the new Apple campaign for the iPhone 6, "Bigger than bigger",  in Chinese and other languages.

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I remember Apple's Mother's Day advertising campaign for the iPad Air and iPad mini last spring:  "A gift Mom will love opening. Again and again."

I only found out yesterday, in this article, that the Mainland Chinese translation of this tagline is the following:

Ràng māmā kāixīn de lǐwù, kāile yòu kāi.


The grammar cannot be faulted, and the meaning superficially seems to make sense, but the more you think about it, the odder it becomes.  If forced to translate the Chinese translation back into English, I'd come up with something like "A gift that will make Mom happy.  She'll open it again and again."  (Or, for the second sentence, less forced but more awkward:  "She'll be hap[py] again and again.")  That's not what the English says.

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Michael Newton has called attention to this Chinese sign on Twitter:

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Burial Man: new hero?

Label on a display at the Nagoya City Museum:

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