Archive for Found in translation

Quiet thirst

Mark Swofford, who is visiting the Jiaobanshan (Jiaoban Mountain) Park in Fuxing District of Taoyuan City, sent me this photograph of a sign introducing the area:

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Englishy Chinese

In a moment of whimsy, I concluded a note to a friend thus: 

wǎng qiánmiàn kànzhe 往前面看著 ("looking forward")

Whereas, the usual way to express that idea in idiomatic Chinese would be:

qídài 期待 ("expect; look forward to; await; wait in hope")

I referred to my intentionally deformed Chinese as Yīngshì Zhōngwén 英式中文 ("English style Chinese") and asked some friends what they would call that kind of writing (I was searching for a parallel to "Chinglish").

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"A French word that is more vulgar"?

Norimitsu Onishi, "Using Harsh Language, Macron Issues a Challenge to the Unvaccinated", NYT 1/5/2022:

Faced with a surge in coronavirus cases driven by the Omicron variant, President Emmanuel Macron of France said Wednesday that he wanted to “piss off” millions of his citizens who refuse to get vaccinated by squeezing them out of the country’s public spaces.

By shocking the nation with a vulgarity three months before presidential elections, Mr. Macron was relaying not only a public health message, but also a political one. He appeared to be calculating that tapping into the growing public anger against the unvaccinated held more potential electoral rewards than the risk of angering an anti-vaccination minority whose support he has little hope of ever getting. […]

“The unvaccinated, I really want to piss them off,” Mr. Macron said, using a French word that is more vulgar, explaining that a new, reinforced vaccine pass would make it impossible for the unvaccinated to go to restaurants and cafes, or the theater and cinemas. 

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RFK's first name

Below is a guest post by Bob Ladd.


For years I’ve been puzzled – or at least struck – by the fact that my (Italian) wife always refers to “Bob Kennedy” rather than “Bobby Kennedy” whenever he comes up in a conversation (his assassination was one of the first international political events she was really aware of).  Today it came up again because Beppe Severgnini (a prominent Italian journalist) wrote a piece in the Corriere della Sera about how RFK Jr. is a prominent anti-vax person.  So I thought about it again, and it occurred to me that maybe “Bob” is simply how he’s referred to in Italian.  Sure enough, in Severgnini’s piece he is referred to as “Bob”.

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Big, open, high, ?

Paul Eprile has a new translation of Jean Giono's 1951 novel Les Grands Chemins, under the title The Open Road. The publisher's blurb describes it this way:

The south of France, 1950: A solitary vagabond walks through the villages, towns, valleys, and foothills of the region between northern Provence and the Alps. He picks up work along the way and spends the winter as the custodian of a walnut-oil mill. He also picks up a problematic companion: a cardsharp and con man, whom he calls “the Artist.” The action moves from place to place, and episode to episode, in truly picaresque fashion. Everything is told in the first person, present tense, by the vagabond narrator, who goes unnamed. He himself is a curious combination of qualities—poetic, resentful, cynical, compassionate, flirtatious, and self-absorbed.

Reading this, I wondered whether this novel might have helped inspire Jack Kerouac's 1957 novel On the Road — Kerouac spoke French until the age of six, and wrote in French as well as English throughout his life, so it's plausible that he read Giono. But Les Grands Chemins was first published in May of 1951, and Wikipedia tells us that

The idea for On the Road, Kerouac's second novel, was formed during the late 1940s in a series of notebooks, and then typed out on a continuous reel of paper during three weeks in April 1951. 

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Chinesey Japanese in a Hong Kong restaurant

From Zihan Guo:

Yesterday a friend of mine posted this photograph he took in a restaurant called 興記菜館 in Hong Kong. As a Chinese speaker and Japanese learner I find this hilarious.

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The importance of translation for learning Literary Sinitic

After reading "Bad poetry, bad translation" (6/18/21), Zihan Guo wrote:

Thank you for sharing this post.

While reading it, its comments, and all the selected readings related to it, I could not help but feel that translating classical Chinese poetry is the way to make sure one really understands it. Back in middle school and high school in China, my teachers would teach poetry and prose through paraphrasing, making them coherent narratives. However, adding things is as detrimental as its opposite. It was not until college that I started to truly appreciate classical Chinese poetry, through producing English translations myself, struggling with its syntactic concision and lack of precision, squeezing meanings from diction and speculating moods from imagery.

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Duck names

Variation across across Europe and the Middle East in the names of Donald Duck's three nephews:

I'm a little surprised that Disney gives such freedom to local adapters.

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Lucky eating you

Sign at a shop in Changzhou, Jiangsu, specifically at the Computer City mall:

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Meryl Streep reciting a "Mandarin poem"

On The Late Show (12/8/20), Stephen Colbert coaxes Meryl Streep to recite a very famous Tang poem (her English rendition begins at 4:28 and her Mandarin recitation starts at 4:45 — total 6:02):

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Accidental filmic poetry

Tonight we're rewatching The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in honor of Ennio Morricone, the composer of its iconic score, who died today. Deediedeedledee nwah nwah nwaaaaahhh

And I've just had a thought about the title that turns on the quite different interpretations of the-Adj constructions in English and Italian, which I mainly know about from this paper by Hagit Borer and Isabelle Roy .

In English, "the Adj" generally only allows a generic reading, and often refers to the class of humans characterized by the adjective, as in the poor, the rich, etc. In Italian (and French, Spanish, etc.) this isn't the case; the construction, although based on the same syntax, can also receive a particular referential singular interpretation. Borer and Roy ascribe this to the presence of identifying number and gender features on the determiner in those languages.

In the original Italian title of the movie, Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo ('The good.masc.sg, The ugly.masc.sg, the bad.masc.sg.) these 'The-Adj' sequences are referential; they refer to the three main characters Blondie, Angel Eyes and Tuco. The Italian title is more or less equivalent to English "The good guy, the bad guy and the ugly guy". 

In English, though, the grammatical structure of the title can only get the generic reading. The use of these forms in the film to refer to three protagonists, then, bestows an archetypal quality on those characters; they're metonymically interpreted as instantiating the whole classes of good people, bad people and ugly people respectively. And the kind of mythic force it imparts somehow fits so perfectly with the grandiose yet tongue-in-cheek quality of the whole film, to me it's really a fundamental part of its impact, humor and appeal.

My question is, do you think Leone and the scriptwriters understood this property of the English translation? Or did they read their English calque of the Italian grammatical structure just as they would have read the Italian? The Italian title, in fact, with its masculine singular marking, cannot be understood in the same way as the English is. To represent the English interpretation in Italian, apparently, the plural would be needed: i belli, i brutti, i cattivi. My guess is that neither the writers nor the director realized that the title read so differently in English. 

 According to Wikipedia, the Italian title was a last-minute suggestion of screenwriter Luciano Vincenzoni, and the title for the English version was determined by the studio after some alternatives were bandied about and rejected. I wonder if someone at United Artists recognized the different reading, and the epic quality it imparted, when they were discussing the choice!

Thanks to Roberta d'Alessandro and other Facebook linguists for Italian judgments and discussion!

 

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The opacity of a bilingual, biscriptal Taiwanese headline

From a Taiwanese website

Dūnmù jiànduì fángyì chūbāo! Mǎ Yīngjiǔ cue Cài Yīngwén dàoqiàn wǎng bào 1450 xiǎngfǎ

敦睦艦隊防疫出包!馬英九cue蔡英文道歉 網曝1450想法

For someone who is not intimately acquainted with the political and linguistic scenes in Taiwan, it is hard to make sense of this headline.

Here are the easy parts:

jiànduì 艦隊 ("fleet")

fángyì 防疫 ("epidemic prevention; anti-epidemic")

Mǎ Yīngjiǔ 馬英九 ("Ma Ying-jeou", former President of Taiwan [Republic of China], 2008-2016)

Cài Yīngwén 蔡英文 ("Tsai Ying-wen", current President of Taiwan [Republic of China], 2016-)

dàoqiàn 道歉 ("apologize")

wǎng bào 網曝 ("internet exposure; expose on the internet")

xiǎngfǎ 想法 ("ideas; thoughts; opinions; views; beliefs")

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WeChat COVID-19 ditty

[This is a guest post by David Moser]

This little Stück of piecemeal wordplay has been making the rounds on WeChat. It seems to be an amalgam of several little coronavirus memes that had appeared in isolation.

gélí rénquán méile 隔离人权没了
bù gélí rén quán méile 不隔离人全没了
tiānshàng biānfú, dìshàng Chuānpǔ 天上蝙蝠,地上川普
yīgè yǒudú, yīgè méipǔ 一个有毒,一个没谱
bù dài kǒuzhào nǐ shìshì 不戴口罩你试试
shìshì jiù shìshì 试试就逝世

A rather literal translation might go as follows:

隔离人权没了 With the quarantine, there are no human rights.
不隔离人全没了 Without the quarantine, the humans will be all gone.
天上蝙蝠,地上川普 In the sky are bats, on the earth there's Trump.
一个有毒,一个没谱 One has a virus, the other has no clue/no plan.
不戴口罩你试试 Just try not wearing a face mask.
试试就逝世 If you try it, you'll die.

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