Pastry shops are very popular in Beijing and other Chinese cities. One chain is called Wèiduōměi 味多美 ("flavor-much-beautiful"). On the company website, they call themselves Wedomé, but the workers' uniforms sport the name Weiduomei.
Julien Paulhan sent in the following photographs taken at a Weiduomei bakery in Beijing:
Before embarking upon an analysis of the Chinglish labels, since we will be talking about French breads we need to determine how to say "France" and "French" in Chinese. When I learned my Mandarin in the guise of Kuo-yü 國語 40 some years ago, the name for France was pronounced Fàguó 法國, and in Taiwan today that is how it is still pronounced, but now on the Mainland it is pronounced Fǎguó 法国. Although saying Fǎguó 法国 sounds strange and awkward to me, I will use that pronunciation in this post, because the locations of the shops I'm talking about are in the People's Republic of China. I should note, however that I used to play the French horn, and I always found it curious that — even when I learned to say Fàguó 法國 for "France" — the Mandarin word for my instrument was Fǎlánxī hào 法蘭西號, not Fàlánxī hào 法兰西号, where Fàlánxī / Fǎlánxī is the Mandarin transcription of "French".
Returning to our Chinglish lesson for today, the items under discussion are clearly the result of inconsistent translation techniques.
First we have these two:
gǎnlǎn fǎbàng 橄榄法棒 - "Olive law baguette"
jièmò fǎbàng 芥末法棒 - "Mustard law baguette"
And then we get these two:
suànróng fǎbàng 蒜蓉法棒 - "Minced garlic baguette"
yuán wèi fǎbàng 原味法棒 - "Original baguette"
The first part of each translation is not bad, and the second part of the latter two translations is accurate. For some odd reason, in the second part of the first two items, the translator has chosen to insert "law" before "baguette". Of course, the "law" in these two items comes from the surface signification of fǎ 法. However, since "baguette" (fǎbàng 法棒 ["French rod / stick"]) already accounts for the fǎ 法, it is a mystery why the translator duplicates it by inserting "law" between the flavor and "baguette".
I suspect that the first two items may be later additions to the offerings of the shop and that their translations, having been done later, have added a gratuitous "law" because someone with minimal English, seeing the fǎ 法 in the Chinese names and being troubled by its overt absence in the English, got the bright idea to insert it.
Though we cannot blame the faulty translations on several of the best known online translation software systems, they do expose the perils of rendering fǎbàng 法棒 ("baguette") into English.
Baidu Fanyi gives for these items:
Olive method best
Mustard method best
Garlic method best
The original method.
The bizarre translation of fǎbàng 法棒 as "method best" (instead of as "baguette") derives from the fact that fǎ 法 not only means "law" and can function as the phonetic transcription of "F(rance)", it also has the meaning of "method", while a colloquial usage of bàng 棒 ("staff, stick, rod, bar") is "excellent, super, great, fantastic, the best".
Olive France rod
Mustard France rod
Garlic France rods
Flavor of France rods
I'm amused by the singular number of the first two items and the plural number of the second two.
Babel Fish (now Bing):
Olive law bars
Mustard law bars
Garlic law bars
Original law bars
One of the reasons for so much confusion over how to deal with "baguette" in Chinese is that there is no standard translation for the term, fǎbàng 法棒 ("French stick") being but one possibility. Perhaps more common is fǎshì chánggùn miànbāo 法式长棍面包 ("French style long stick / rod bread" [the word for "bread" at the end is usually omitted]) or Fǎguó chánggùn 法國長棍 ("French long stick / rod").
Regular readers of Language Log will already be familiar with gùn 棍 ("stick, rod, wand, bar, bastinado, stave; rascal, scoundrel"), since it occurs as the second element of the word for bachelor and was extensively discussed in this post and the numerous comments thereto (they continued on for many days after the original post).
Not only are Weiduomei's English names for some of their baguettes funny, a sign that greets the customer upon entering is also perplexing. The word tuī 推 ("push") is painted on both the left and right doors, but the English above reads "pull" on the left and "push" on the right. If you pull on the left-side door, it will not open; you have to push, as the Chinese directs you, but not the English.
Enough of Weiduomei! When I was in Beijing during the fall and spring semester of the past academic year, the most conspicuous pastry shops were called Paris Baguette. The name sounded slightly peculiar to me, yet attractive nonetheless, so I frequented them fairly often.
Most people know the shops by their English (< French) name, but they also do have a Chinese name, so I thought that I might find some enlightenment from Paris Baguette about a good way to say "baguette" in Chinese. The Chinese name of Paris Baguette is Bālí bèitián 巴黎贝甜. To my mind, that didn't make much sense as a Chinese name for a shop specializing in baguettes (bèitián doesn't sound much like "baguette"), and the meaning wasn't right either: "shell-sweet". That, plus the rather un-Chinese, un-French atmosphere of the shops, made me suspicious. It turns out that the Paris Baguette chain is run by Koreans.
Paris Baguette is everywhere in Korea, and they are spreading across the world. The rapid expansion of the Paris Baguette chain has taken place mostly within the last half-dozen years or so. You can now find them in New York, and for those of you who live in the Philadelphia area, there is a Paris Baguette out in Elkins Park.
Once I discovered that Paris Baguette is owned by Koreans, I thought that perhaps 贝甜 might sound more like "baguette" if I pronounced it in Korean, but that doesn't work very well either. 贝甜 in Korean is p’aech’ŏm, quite far from "baguette".
In Korea, people normally use the transliteration of baguette, "paget’ŭ (바게트)" or "pagettŭ (바게뜨)", to designate this type of bread. The official Korean name for Paris Baguette uses the latter one.
So where does this bèitián 贝甜 ("shell sweet") of the Chinese name for Paris Baguette come from? In fact, p’aech’ŏm (the Korean pronunciation of the name) is not a Korean term that people use in daily speech. It seems that someone tried to coin a word for "croissant" in Sino-Korean, and p’aech’ŏm is the result of that effort. "P'ae (bei) is shell –> shell-shaped moon is "crescent" –> croissant (shell-shaped sweet pastry?). A further felicitous connotation of bèi 贝 is "money, wealth, riches", since this character (originally the pictograph of a cowry) often figures as a radical in characters having to do with pecuniary matters.
In Korea, Paris Baguette is sometimes called "Paris Croissant", which is the name of the parent company.
To summarize for the Korean:
巴黎贝甜 / Paris Baguette / 파리 바게트 / Pari Bageteu (Chinese / English name / Korean name /Korean romanization). However, Koreans usually pronounce this like "Ppari Bagetteu" / "Ppari paket‘ŭ." (빠리 빠게트), which is fairly close to the original French pronunciation because Korean has fortis such as "ㅃ (pp)", "ㄸ (tt)", "ㅆ (ss)" and so forth. Samuel Martin (the Yale grammarian of Korean) called them reinforced consonants. But others have called them "tense", "emphatic", or a variety of other names. Koreans refer to them as "thick sounds" (that is, "thick" as in a thick liquid), "double consonants", or "twin consonants".
The name "Paris Baguette" is actually somewhat misleading, since this is not a baguetterie but a typical bakery-cafeteria of Asia which sells a broad range of pastry products of French and Japanese-French style (Korean bakeries have been influenced by Japan from their early stages). There are probably two main reasons for the popularity of Paris Baguette in China, aside from its energetic marketing efforts. One is that it meets the needs for Asian cafe-culture and another is that Paris Baguette popularized and globalized French bread in Asia after Japan adopted and adapted it to Asian styles.
Finally, "baguettes" is the French word for chopsticks. That conjures up in my mind an odd picture of someone trying to eat Chinese food with a pair of long, French bread loaves.
[Thanks to Sungshin Kim, Eiren Shea Warneck, Kira Simon-Kennedy, Bill Hannas, Haewon Cho, Minkyung Ji, Daniel Sou, Matt Anderson, Tom Bartlett, Haitao Tang, Perry Link, Melvin Chih-Jen Lee, Yunong Zhou, Gianni Wan, Bob Ramsey, Gene Buckley, Laurent Sagart, and Vivian Corbin]