Archive for Translation

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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Parts of the body — back and waist; slicing up reality

The word for "back" in Mandarin is bèi , the word for "waist" is yāo .  But nearly all of my Chinese students and friends, including the most learned, get the English words mixed up.  They will say "My waist aches" when they mean "My back aches" and "Don't break your waist" when they mean "Don't break your back".

Aside from exchanges in daily conversation, I also noticed this confusion in historical contexts.  One of the most famous early medieval Chinese poets, Tao Qian (Yuanming) (365- 427), when asked to dress up in a fancy, formal way to show his subservience to a visiting inspector, famously declared, “Wú bùnéng wèi wǔdǒu mǐ zhéyāo, quánquán shì xiānglǐ xiǎo rén yé 吾不能為五斗米折腰,拳拳事鄉里小人邪!” ("I cannot bend my back to obsequiously serve a petty person in the village for five pecks of rice."  Many translators of this passage render "zhéyāo 折腰" as "bend [my] waist" rather than "bend [my] back".  The "five pecks of rice" refers to his salary as a local magistrate, which he'd rather give up than lose his dignity and self respect.  Because of his unbending attitude, Tao abandoned government service altogether by the age of forty and returned to his own hometown to live as a farmer.

[Reference for specialists:  from Tao Qian's brief biography in the "Biographies of recluses", scroll 64 of the Book / History of Jin (Jìnshū 晉書) (Zhonghua shuju ed., vol. 8, p. 2461)]

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Missionary Linguistics; the joys of interpreting

Geoff Wade called my attention to this interesting website: The Digital Orientalist (also accessible via Twitter).  The current issue is on "Missionary Linguistics – Latin, Portuguese and Japanese resources online", by Michele Eduarda Brasil de Sá (12/24/21).  The article begins:

In the mid-90s, I was an undergraduate student taking Latin and Japanese classes. People looked at me as if I were doing something silly and had no idea of the meaning of the word “job market,” usually asking my reasons to study languages that were so… different. Well, I would go really fine on answering that I started learning them by curiosity and liked them. In the Humanities, we get used to being asked  “what for?” about the things we love to study.

That’s when I first learned about Jesuit grammar books and dictionaries on the Japanese language. As for grammar books, we must not understand them strictly as the ones we use nowadays, of course. They are called artes and bring information about the language and history, religion, and habits – summing up, relevant information for newcomers who needed to get rapidly acquainted with the people. (For the primary databases with related material, see James Morris’ Beyond “Laures Kirishitan Bunko”: Digital Repositories for Studying 16th and 17th Century Japanese Christianity). By that time, I had no idea of how relevant they were for the history of Japanese Linguistics. One of these books is João Rodrigues Tçuzzu‘s Arte da lingoa de Iapam, where, in its first part, he offers a pattern of cases (nominative, genitive, and so on, following the Latin tradition) for nouns and pronouns with the addition of particles, clarifying that there are neither declensions nor plural or gender inflections in Japanese:

(Free downloadable version here)

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Bizarre anime adaptation

Congressman Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) recently posted a strange "anime" video on Twitter. The tweet has since been deleted after widespread criticism of the violence it depicts (including attacks on President Biden and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), but the video is still available on YouTube.

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Pull!

From an anonymous colleague:

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Sino-Japanese aesthetics and a new mode of translation

[This is a guest post by Ashley Liu]

The following is a new way to translate classical Chinese poetry into Japanese. Recently, some Chinese shows about premodern China have become popular in Japan. The Chinese songs in the shows–written in classical Chinese poetry style–are translated into Japanese and sung by Japanese singers. I am fascinated by how the translation works. As you can see below, the Japanese version has waka aesthetics but keeps the 7-syllable format of Chinese poetry. The Japanese version seems to reduce the original meaning by a lot, but if you read it carefully, the way it captures the core meaning is ingenious, e.g., 風中憶當初 (remembering the past in the wind) = 時渡る風 (wind that crosses through time / brings back time).

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Sino-French language lessons

Chinese signs from Quora.  Since they are rather lengthy and come with French explanations, I will depart from my usual Language Log treatment of providing Romanizations, transcriptions, and translations for the Chinese.  Instead, I will only give English translations (based mainly on Google translations of the French, with slight modifications).

En raison de la population nombreuse et du nombre insuffisant d'agents de police, les Chinois ont développé une culture unique en matière de panneaux d'avertissement intimidants :

Panneau de signalisation : "Veuillez conduire en toute sécurité, il n'y a pas d'hôpital à proximité".

Due to the large population and insufficient number of police officers, the Chinese have developed a unique culture of intimidating warning signs.

Warning sign: "Please drive safely, there is no hospital nearby".

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Magical Penis Wine

Victor Steinbok reports:

This made the rounds on Reddit a few times. The screenshot of a 2019 Reddit thread popped up on my FB feed today. It might even come in white and red 😈


Source:  NV Debao Winery Magical Penis Wine

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Chinese, English, and Japanese toilet instructions

Sol Jung, a former Penn undergrad, took this photograph more than a decade ago, but I'm only now getting around to posting on it.

There's quite a story behind the photograph and why it took me so long to write this blog post about it.  I will explain below.

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Tortured phrases

Article by Holly Else in Nature (8/5/21):

"‘Tortured phrases’ give away fabricated research papers

Analysis reveals that strange turns of phrase may indicate foul play in science"

Here are the beginning and a few other selected portions of the article:

In April 2021, a series of strange phrases in journal articles piqued the interest of a group of computer scientists. The researchers could not understand why researchers would use the terms ‘counterfeit consciousness’, ‘profound neural organization’ and ‘colossal information’ in place of the more widely recognized terms ‘artificial intelligence’, ‘deep neural network’ and ‘big data’.

Further investigation revealed that these strange terms — which they dub “tortured phrases” — are probably the result of automated translation or software that attempts to disguise plagiarism. And they seem to be rife in computer-science papers.

Research-integrity sleuths say that Cabanac* and his colleagues have uncovered a new type of fabricated research paper, and that their work, posted in a preprint on arXiv on 12 July1, might expose only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the literature affected.

[*VHM:  Guillaume Cabanac, a computer scientist at the University of Toulouse, France]

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Fully vaccinated or not in English, French, and Chinese

Sign in Vancouver International Airport:


Segregated line-ups for vaccinated and unvaccinated international arrivals at Vancouver International Airport. Photo by Andrew Aziz. (Source)

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The Rhetoric Trap

Interesting Chinese translation of the title of Yale philosopher Jason Stanley's book, How Propaganda Works:

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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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