Archive for Translation

Sino-Semitica, part 2: of massage and Old Sinitic reconstructions

As part of our research on the dictionary of Middle Vernacular Sinitic (MVS) that Zhu Qingzhi and I have been working on for more than two decades, I was tickled by this quaint poem (below on the second page) by the medieval Buddhist poet, Wáng Fànzhì 王梵志 (Brahmacārin ब्रह्मचारिन् Wang; fl. first half of 7th c.).

I have been an avid fan of Wáng Fànzhì's unique poetry for nearly half a century.  Quaint, indeed, and also quirky.  Wang Fanzhi is self-demeaning in a funny, adorable way.  The poem I'm about to introduce you to is a good example of his trademark self-abnegation.

What attracted me particularly to this poem for the purposes of our research on MVS is the first word in line 2, chǎngtóu 長頭 ("for a long time"), which does not exist with this meaning in Literary Sinitic (LS) / Classical Chinese (CC).  Finding chǎngtóu 長頭 ("for a long time") in Wang Fanzhi's poem was already enough of a treat, but when I got to the last word of the couplet, I was even more delighted.  As you will momentarily see, what Wang says about his wife's tummy is funny by itself, but the word he uses to describe what the wife does to her tummy made me even more excited.

But let's read the poem first, then I'll talk about the word in question, namely, méisuō 沒娑 ("massage").

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Upcoming Russian Referendum on Changes to the Constitution: Да или Нет

This is an old Soviet joke, recycled and updated, that is making the rounds in Russia now.

Вопрос на всенародное голосование –

Вы не против изменения Конституции РФ, чтобы Владимир Владимирович Путин остался правителем России на всегда?

Варианты ответов:

1. Нет, не против
2. Да, не против

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Portuglish

[This is a guest post by Thomas Lee Mair]

I'm sending an excerpt from a novel I just finished. This might amuse you the way the Chinglish signs do.

The excerpt is from The Grammarians, a novel by Cathleen Schine, which the NYT listed as one of the 10 best novels of 2019. The novel tracks the lives of a set of twins, Laurel and Daphne, who love words and grammar. The other characters mentioned in this excerpt are Arthur (their father) and Don (Arthur's brother and the twins' uncle).

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"Common sense" in Chinese and in English

Long Ling has an essay about an exam given to prospective civil servants in Chinese:

"What Really Happened in Yancheng?" by Long Ling, the London Review of Books, 42.2 (1/23/20).  Translation by Jonathan Flint.

This essay, written by a government official in Beijing — presumably writing under a pseudonym — describes the civil service examinations used to select personnel in China. Conventional problem-solving makes up about half of the test, with ideology making up the other half. The author zooms in on the degree to which the exams require regurgitating Marxist ideology: essentially, a test of one's ability to follow the party line.

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Multicultural pork buns

Emery Snyder spotted this sign in New York City's Chinatown:


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Amazing new Japanese words

These come from the following nippon.com article:

"Pay It Forward: The Top New Japanese Words for 2019" (12/13/19)

I'll list the words first, then explain which one is my favorite.

A prefatory note:  nearly half of the words on these lists are based wholly or partly on borrowings from English, though they are assimilated into Japanese in such a manner that they are unrecognizable to monolingual English speakers.

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Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese dependency parsing

We are keenly aware that, while advances in machine translation of Vernacular Sinitic (VS) (Mandarin) are quite impressive and fundamentally serviceable, they cannot be applied directly to the translation of Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese (LS/CC).  That would be like using an Italian translating program for Latin, a Hindi translation program for Sanskrit, or a Modern Greek translation program for Classical Greek, probably even less useful than these parallel cases, because the whole structure and nature of LS/CC and VS are different from each other.

However, now there is available a LS/CC parsing program that takes us on a major step toward a functional system for the machine translation of the literary / classical written language (it is only a written / book language, not a spoken language).  It was developed by  YASUOKA Koichi 安岡 孝一 of Kyoto University's Institute for Research in Humanities (Jinbun kagaku kenkyūjo 人文科学研究所) and is available here.

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Durian pizza

Last month we had "Explosion Cheese Durian Pie" (9/23/19).  Now we have durian pizza, courtesy of Jeffrey L. Schwartz, who posted this photo of an advertisement for Mi Tea on Bell Blvd. in Bayside, Queens…  Wash your durian pizza down with some salted cheese tea!

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Mongolian and Manchu translations of Chinese classics

Xinhuanet has a feature article on a "Mongolian sinologist devoted to translating Chinese classic works" (8/31/19).  His name is Menerel Chimedtseye, and he is a professor at the National University of Mongolia in Ulan Bator.  The scholar's Mongolian Cyrillic edition of The Book of Mencius was just published this past Saturday.  With the appearance of his Mencius, Chimedtseye has now completed the translation of all of the Four Books, which also include the Great Learning, the Doctrine of the Mean, and the Analects of Confucius, and constitute the foundation of the core belief system of Confucianism.  He has also translated Sun Zi's Art of War and other early Chinese works into Mongolian.

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Do not puke

Thai sign over a sink in a restroom, from Alexander Bukh on Facebook:

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The United Front represents your meaning: Tibetan neologisms, New Social Strata emojis and the Sagerean Section

[This is a guest post by Jichang Lulu.]

A recent paper by Alex Joske features Sitar སྲི་ཐར་ (Wylie Sri thar, Chinese transcription Sita 斯塔), a senior CCP united front cadre. Sitar's career included decades at the Central United Front Work Department, of which he was a vice head between 2006 and 2016. He later became a deputy director of the office of the Party's Central Coordination Group for Tibetan Affairs (Zhōngyāng Xīzáng Gōngzuò Xiétiáo Xiǎozǔ 中央西藏工作协调小组). On at least two occasions, he led Central United Front Work Leading Small Group inspection groups, thus earning mention in Joske's paper, of which said Group is the main topic.

'Xi Jinping Thought', another 1499 Tibetan neologisms, and more

A more recent thing Deputy Director Sitar has presided over should perhaps earn him a mention on this Log, by virtue of its subject-matter. On 28 April 2018, Sitar was the top cadre speaking at the presentation of "more than 1500" Tibetan neologisms coined since the 18th Party Congress (held in November 2012), compiled by the National Tibetan Terminology Standardisation Commission (Rgyal yongs Bod skad brda chad tshad ldan can las don u yun lhan khang རྒྱལ་ཡོངས་བོད་སྐད་བརྡ་ཆད་ཚད་ལྡན་ཅན་ལས་དོན་ཨུ་ཡོན་ལྷན་ཁང་, Quánguó Zàngyǔ Shùyǔ Biǎozhǔnhuà Gōngzuò Wěiyuánhuì 全国藏语术语标准化工作委员会). I know this because it was reported on various media and other government websites that reported, in Chinese and Tibetan, on the Commission membership change taking place on that day.

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The rake and the vamp

Chris Brannick posted this photograph of a fan on his Facebook page:

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"Eastoxification" supersedes "Westoxification" in Persian

One never ceases to be amazed at the articles one comes upon in Wikipedia.  First, in this comment to a discussion on anti-Westernism in China ("War on foreign names in China" [6/22/19]), I encountered the notion of "Westoxification" in contemporary Iranian discourse.  Reading the Wikipedia article on this subject is so interesting that I copy passages of it here for Language Log readers (the whole article is fascinating and well worth reading):

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