Archive for Translation

Why is Facebook's Chinese translation still so terrible?

[This is a guest post by Jenny Chu]

Has Language Log been following up on the great sorrow that is Facebook's (Chinese) translation feature? The last reference I found was this one

It came up today when I was reading this somewhat viral post on Facebook

I switched on the auto-translate option to help me understand. The results were not just astonishingly bad, but had a surprisingly medical bent.

 
今天這個主權政府作承諾的時候大辭炎炎,七情上面,結果又是如何?–> "Today, when the private government is working, the weather is colon inflammation, above the sentiment, what is the result?"

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The Great Translation Movement

Yesterday, in "Malign Woodpeckers and Other Hegemonic Behavior" (4/18/22), we became briefly acquainted with "The Great Translation Movement" (TGTM).  Today we will probe more deeply into what it is all about.  Suffice it for the moment to say that TGTM deeply unnerves the CCP.  In addition to "Twisted in translation: Western media, social groups set up language barriers by intentionally misreading, misinterpreting Chinese materials", by Huang Lanlan and Lin Xiaoyi, Global Times (4/14/22), which was the main basis for yesterday's Language Log post and in which TGTM played a key role, TGTM was also featured in these recent Global Times (GT) articles:

"How China can counter translation bias", by Tang Jingtai, GT (4/12/22)

"GT Investigates: Behind the online translation campaign are a few Chinese-speaking badfaith actors fed by antagonistic Western media", by GT staff reporters, GT (3/24/22)

Here's a Global Times article in Chinese against TGTM where we learn that the Chinese name for it is "Dà fānyì yùndòng 大翻译运动" ("The Great Translation Movement").

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Malign Woodpeckers and Other Hegemonic Behavior

With this stunning journalistic masterpiece, Global Times, China's official, nationalistic, daily tabloid newspaper under the CCP, has outdone itself in exposure of truly insidious "Western" (U.S., British) linguistic behavior:

"Twisted in translation: Western media, social groups set up language barriers by intentionally misreading, misinterpreting Chinese materials", by Huang Lanlan and Lin Xiaoyi, GT (4/14/22)

Here's one gem from the article:

Professor Tang from Fudan University noted that anti-Chinese forces are now mature enough to use the internet to self-organize – actively plan anti-Chinese issues to infiltrate and mobilize some netizens, driving them to act like woodpeckers to find a few rare, extreme statements and then embellish them.

Gosh!  Who knew that woodpeckers could be trained to do that?  Every day is an education. 

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Commas matter, Oxford and otherwise

Mark Swofford took this photo yesterday in a Taipei supermarket:

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Mandarin and Manchu semen

[This is a guest post by Jichang Lulu.]

Recent discussion of that most Taiwanese expletive, 潲 siâu ‘semen’ (“Hokkien in Sino-Japanese script”), made me think of a favourite item. Although Mandarin 㞞 sóng has the same literal meaning, in my experience that’s less familiar to some speakers than nouns that contain it, e.g. 㞞包 sóngbāo (literally ‘bag of semen’), roughly ‘weakling’.

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Arabic and the vernaculars, part 4 — the case of Bible translations

Again, to refresh our collective memory and to provide the context for the present post and the other posts in this series, I repeat the following questions:

1. Is there such a thing as "Classical Arabic"?  If there is, how do we describe / define it?

2. What is "Standard Arabic"?

3. What is Quranic Arabic?  How different is it from Standard Arabic?

4. How many vernacular Arabic languages are there?  Egyptian? Syrian?  Lebanese?  Are they quite different from Standard Arabic?  Are they mutually intelligible?  Do they customarily have written forms and a flourishing literature?

You may also wish to revisit the introduction with which the first post in the series began.

Heather Sharkey offered the following eye-opening response:

You have opened a can of worms! Or many cans of worms!

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Drive my car / Doraibu mai kā

Questions from Nancy Friedman:

I'm writing something about the Best Picture nominee "Drive My Car," whose Japanese title is "Doraibu mai kā." Is there a name for this sort of transliteration from English into Japanese? Why would a Japanese writer–the source story was written by Haruki Murakami–choose a transliteration instead of a translation? (Beatles reference, maybe?)

From David Spafford:

It’s definitely a Beatles reference. I don’t know this particular Murakami work, but he’s well known for his Beatles references: think "Noruuei no mori", which is an obvious reference / mistranslation of the Beatles song, "Norwegian wood".

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Good translation is an art: Bēowulf

As a published translator myself, I certainly strive to make my translations worthy of being considered as art.  But it isn't always an easy task.  Witness "The Tricky Art of Translation and Maria Dahvana Headley’s Modern Beowulf", CD Covington, Tor.com (Mon Feb 7, 2022):

It’s not very often that a thousand-year-old poem has a new translation that gets people hyped up, at least in the Anglophone world, but Maria Dahvana Headley’s recent Hugo Award-winning translation of Beowulf stirred up a lot of interest—there’s even a video series of writers and entertainers reading it out loud. (Alan Cumming’s section is excellent—he really knows his way around alliterative verse.)

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Moth eyebrows: lectio difficilior et tertium comparationis

Dieter Maue, a specialist on Old Uyghur, Tocharian, Sanskrit, and Brahmi script, wrote to ask:

The simile 'like the moon of the third day' (tertium comparationis: delicate, graceful; curved (eyebrows)) is currently occupying my mind. Attested in Tocharian A and in Uigur, it sounds, but it doesn't seem to be, Indian.

Tentatively I have translated Uig. üč yaŋıdakı ay täŋri ‘third day’s moon god’ into Chinese word for word; but sān rì yuè 三日月("moon of the third day") is not found in the dictionaries. In the Chinese Tripitaka, there is just one suitable instance. Elsewhere, the moon of the third day seems to be called éméi yuè 蛾眉月 ("moth eyebrow moon" — only poetically?). According to Giles (ChinEnglDict s.no. 7714 ): “ éméi 蛾眉 moth eyebrows, – alluding to the delicate curved eye-markings of the silkworm moth … moth-eyebrows is used figuratively for a lovely girl.   Also wrongly explained as referring to the small curved antennæ of the silkworm moth. ­ Éméi yuè 蛾眉月‚ the crescent moon’. “  The antennae of Bombyx mori are clearly visible, while I cannot find anything which corresponds to  the “eye-markings”. Do you have an idea how to solve the problem?

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Japanese translation bumbles, fumbles, and stumbles

New article in Japan Times (1/21/22) by Eric Margolis:  "Translator trip-ups: What do they mean for learning Japanese?"  It is so rich in insights that I will quote from it liberally (well, the whole kit and caboodle, broken up a bit):

In the recent issue of the literary magazine Monkey, which publishes new and old Japanese writing translated into English, a dozen literary translators dished out their thoughts on the hardest words to translate from Japanese into English. These choices ranged from the omnipresent いらっしゃいませ (irasshaimase), which is used as a greeting when entering a store, to sentence endings like the emphatic よ (yo) and the interrogative かしら(kashira, I wonder?).

Examining the words chosen by these translators can shed light on why communication between languages requires so much more than one-to-one translation. It also demonstrates how important it is to have a high level of cultural understanding for speaking fluent Japanese.

I want to take a look at five of these words and dive into why they’re significant and how Japanese learners can embrace and grow by using them. These words are: いらっしゃいませ、おじさん/おばさん (ojisan/obasan, mister/missus), 懐かしい (natsukashii, nostalgic), はあ(, an interjection) and 心 (kokoro, heart). Why did translators choose these words as being hard — even impossible — to translate? As we’ll soon see, the parenthetical definitions are woefully insufficient. We’ll need to dive deeper.

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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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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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