Archive for Translation

Non-Han writing in the PRC: A new series

[Blog post today by Bruce Humes]

VHM:  Since I know about half of the authors and translators in this series, I am pleased to see them and their cohort getting wider recognition and circulation.


"'Multi-ethnic' Literature: Yilin’s 2020 Cache of Fiction by non-Han Writers"

As your year-end holiday lockdown fast approaches, it’s worth noting a new series of books by non-Han writers launched this year by one of China’s best-known publishers, Yilin Press — lit., “translation forest” — that is normally associated with marketing popular foreign-language fiction in Mandarin for Chinese readers.

The name of the series itself, Library of Contemporary Classics by China’s Multi-ethnic Writers (中国当代多民族经典作家文库), is notable, because it employs the term “multi-ethnic” rather than the former politically correct, ubiquitous reference to “minority ethnic” literature (少数民族文学) that must surely have rankled some.

I will write more about the worrisome outlook for mother-tongue, multi-ethnic literature out of China — given moves to severely restrict education in Uyghur, Tibetan and Mongolian, and the ongoing incarceration of hundreds of thousands of Turkophone people in Xinjiang — but for now, here are the titles in Yilin’s new series (so far available only in Chinese) with a bit of background info and links:

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"Hit the airplane" and Google Translate

Charles Belov writes:

In response to a tweet by How Wee Ng:

During speaking class today, students practised describing different modes of transport, including taking a taxi dǎchē 打车, taking a plane zuò fēijī 坐飞机. But someone almost said "He took the plane to Beijing" using dǎ 打+ fēijī 飞机. I immediately intercepted, "No, you can’t go to Beijing that way."

I checked Google Translate and it responded "Take a plane".

I've submitted the correct translation "masturbate", but it will take more than one person submitting it to get the correction to happen.

Wiktionary has the correct translation, and it apparently has acquired a secondary meaning in Cantonese ("to do something solely for the feel-good feeling"), according to that entry, to my surprise.

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Translation loops

From Jeff DeMarco:

I’m sure you’ve seen the Facebook translation artifact where it repeats “and I’m going to go to the middle of the day.” This post does that and something similar with “of the 912th.” I keep advising Facebook that these are unintelligible, but they seem to be a low priority.

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Wattle gate

Stefan Krasowski, who graduated from the Wharton School of Penn in 2002, and has visited every country in the world, just wrote this note to the e-Mair list:

Wattleseed milkshake

This Australian milkshake brought to mind a VHM Classical Sinitic class where I first encountered the word "wattle" in translating a Du Fu (712-770) poem.

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Learning Tamil

Recently we have had a string of posts on South Asian linguistic phenomena.  Most of the languages involved have been Indic, and will probably continue to be predominantly so during the coming months and years.  Consequently, I'm delighted today to make a post about Tamil, a Dravidian language with a glorious heritage.

Except where otherwise noted, the indented paragraphs below are by Carrie Wiebe (professor of Chinese language and literature at Middlebury).  They are integral and self-explanatory, so I will make few interpolations.

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Shitshows, shitholes, and shitstorms

I don't know who was responsible for first labeling the Trump-Biden debate a "shitshow", but the word has been much talked about during the last couple of days.

Nathan Hopson wrote in:

Well, obviously I want to know how the world is translating "shit show." You surely don't have to ask why.

French, the other language I read my news in, can fall back on un merdier or un spectacle de merde, both of which appear to be also liberally sprinkled in social media today.

Japanese famously doesn't have a whole lot of obscenities, but fortunately shit is one of them.

Asahi, Japan's #2 paper gave us:

Shit show(くそみたいなショー)
kuso mitai na shō = a show like shit

(FWIW, Yahoo Japan's realtime search of "shit show" (on Twitter, etc.), has many examples, mostly referencing the Asahi article.)

IMHO, it's sad that we have to fall back on a simile here. Takes some of the oomph out of the gut punch that was our national horror show.

How is the rest of the world press dealing with this "spectacle of shit"?

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The (alleged) untranslatability of Chinese poetry

Review:

"Poems Without an ‘I’", by Madeleine Thien
NYRB October 8, 2020 Issue

The Banished Immortal: A Life of Li Bai (Li Po)
by Ha Jin
Pantheon, 301 pp.

The Selected Poems of Tu Fu: Expanded and Newly Translated
by David Hinton
New Directions, 267 pp.

Awakened Cosmos: The Mind of Classical Chinese Poetry
by David Hinton
Shambhala, 138 pp.

I have never been a fan of the view that Chinese poetry is untranslatable, or that  any other genres of Chinese literature, for that matter, are untranslatable.  Since I have done a huge amount of translation in my lifetime, if I accepted the notion that Chinese literature is untranslatable, I would long ago have made a gigantic fool of myself.  Quite the contrary, I am content with my accomplishments in translating all sorts of Chinese literature into English, and I believe that what I have done enriches the intellectual life of Americans and other speakers of English by making available to them an equivalent emotional and esthetic experience as that afforded to Chinese readers of the works in their original language.

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"Little competent donkey"

Announced only yesterday, Alibaba has a new robot delivery vehicle for the last mile:

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"Blue-eyed person"

Cai Xia 蔡霞, a retired female professor from the Central Party School of the CCP has been denouncing Xi Jinping for his imperial aspirations and the CCP as a corrupt, zombie party.  Somehow, she managed to escape to the United States after her initial condemnations.

Fuming, the Party has cancelled her membership and vilified her perfidy:

After the Party School of the Central Committee of Communist Party of China (CPC) announced on Monday that it had rescinded the Party membership of retired professor Cai Xia and revoked her retirement benefits, Cai quickly became Western media's blue-eyed person.

Source:  "Cai Xia’s blatant betrayal is totally indefensible: Global Times editorial", Global Times* (8/19/20)

*An official CCP daily tabloid sponsored by the People's Daily.

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Classical Chinese vulgarisms

[This is a guest post by Ken Hilton]

I came across this Facebook post and I thought it might be worth sharing on Language Log.

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Japanese toponyms Englished

There's a Reddit page with this title:  "Fully anglicised Japan, based off actual etymologies, rendered into plausible English".  Feast your eyes:


(source)

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The Emperor is an organ of the state

Jim Unger sent me this mystifying note (7/25/20):

The other day, my wife called my attention to the fact that the ‘organ theory of the emperor’ (Tennō kikan setsu), for which Minobe Tatsukichi (1873-1948) was prosecuted in the 1930s, is written 天皇機関説.  This is odd since ‘organ’ in the medical sense (the apparent source of Minobe’s metaphor) is currently written 器官 whereas 機関 is now pretty much ‘engine’.  Since it is inconceivable that generations of historians writing in English have simply been perpetuating a mistranslation, it appears that either 器官 is a later coinage or that 機関 narrowed in meaning sometime later, or both.  I am not particularly interested in untangling this mess, but it might be worth studying because it seems to be a case of one or more Sino-Japanese compounds undergoing semantic change within Japanese, which, of course, ought not happen if every kanji were a logogram of fixed meaning.  Do both these words occur in Chinese?  If so, have they ever overlapped in meaning in Chinese?  Is one or the other a 19th or 20th century neologism?

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"Gold" as element and "gold" as substance — as conceived by Mendeleev

[This is a guest post by Conal Boyce]

Your wonderful arabesque on the world of 'kedi'* (and the disappearance of cats for a time — perhaps to a different planet, because they had grown weary of trying to school us humans?) reminded me that you are a connoisseur of languages plural, not just Chinese. In that connection, you might find my 2019 article** on Mendeleev interesting.

 
[**"Mendeleev’s Elemental Ontology and Its Philosophical Renditions in German and English", HYLE – International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry, Vol. 25 (2019), No. 1, 49-70.]

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