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In "Applenese", we examined the Chinese translations from the Mainland, Taiwan, and Hong Kong of this Apple advertising slogan for Mother's Day last spring:  "A gift Mom will love opening. Again and again."

Now let's see what is done with the new Apple campaign for the iPhone 6, "Bigger than bigger",  in Chinese and other languages.


bǐ gèng dà hái gèng dà 比更大还更大

No surprises or tricks here; that's a straightforward Standard Mandarin translation of "bigger than bigger".

Taiwan and Hong Kong are the same:

qǐzhǐ yú dà 豈止於大 ("more than / not merely big")

In using a Literary Sinitic construction, the persons responsible for this translation were trying to be fancy, but I don't think they were very successful in conveying the playful sense of "bigger than bigger".

On the popular blog called Gǔ dàbáihuà 谷大白話 ("Valley Vernacular"), where the motto is "THERE'S NO『俗』WITHOUT『谷』" ("There's no 'vulgar / popular' [sú] without 'valley' [gǔ]"), the rendition of "bigger than bigger" is bǐ bīgé gèng yǒu bīgé 比逼格更有逼格 ("bigger than big"), where bīgé 逼格 is a transcription of the English word "big".

As for the success of the Japanese, French, and German on this site in conveying the sense of "bigger than bigger", I leave it to Language Log readers to comment upon them if they wish.

Incidentally, a few commenters to the first Applenese post asked why there's an "n" in "Applenese", and wondered whether it was modeled on "Chinese" or "Japanese".  I don't think that's the reason at all.  I'm not the person who proposed the form "Applenese", but I am happy to follow it because it subscribes to the simple rule that I adhere to for the formation of language names:  add an "n" before "-ese" if the name of the people, place, etc. of the language ends with an open syllable, omit the "n" if the name of the people, place, etc. of the language ends in a closed syllable, thus Shanghainese, Suzhounese, Applenese, etc., but Cantonese, Pekingese, Taiwanese, Sichuanese, Shandongese, and so forth.  Of course, sometimes if the name of the people, place, etc. is well established as the name of the language as well, then it's not necessary to add "-ese", with or without an "n", thus Hakka, not *Hakkanese.  I seem to recall that Mark Liberman commented on this question somewhere a while back, perhaps in a personal communication to me, but I can't dig up what he said now.

[H.t. Bathrobe]


  1. Marek said,

    September 13, 2014 @ 7:23 am

    I wonder if the corporate world ever realizes their cool-sounding English advertising slogans are hardly translatable into the languages of what might just as well be the majority of their customer base these days. I doubt it.

    I see that German also went with 'not just bigger / more than just bigger' (same as Taiwan and Hong Kong here). I couldn't find any Polish translations but I can't think of anything else than comes close to 'bigger than big'.

  2. Max said,

    September 13, 2014 @ 9:17 am

    But Apple doesn't end in an open syllable.

  3. Ducks said,

    September 13, 2014 @ 9:52 am

    Japanese: 大きさ以上に大きく進化 – ookisa ijou-ni ookiku shinka
    Progressing in a way that's bigger than bigness(?)

    The nominalization 'ookisa' of the adjective 'ookii' (big) I assume is meant here to be interpreted as 'bigness', however, my impression is that 'ookisa' tends to mean 'size' rather than 'big-ness' as it morphemically looks like it ought to. Therefore this is somewhat odd to my Japanese L2 ears.

  4. Matt_M said,

    September 13, 2014 @ 10:34 am

    @Max: yes, unless you're a non-lambdic speaker…

  5. Ethan said,

    September 13, 2014 @ 11:35 am

    The French plays on reduplication of 'plus' (more) rather than on reduplication of 'grand' (big). "Bien plus que plus grand" ==
    than . For me the translation is a good one, both clever and similar in construction to the original.

  6. Ethan said,

    September 13, 2014 @ 11:36 am

    Bah. The markup ate my angle brackets.
    "Bien plus que plus grand" == (much more) than (more big).

  7. WoD said,

    September 13, 2014 @ 11:58 am

    That Japanese is so bad in so many ways, I don't know where to begin. The fact that the translator felt obliged to introduce the concept of 進化 (shinka – progress), not in the original English shows how stumped they were by trying to convey the meaning of "bigger than big" in Japanese. The problem is there is no easy way to nominalize an adjective in Japanese. I'm tempted to try 大きいより大きい (ookii yori ookii), which would be a pretty literal translation of "bigger than big," but I'm not sure that packs any significance.

  8. Brendan said,

    September 13, 2014 @ 12:38 pm

    I think "逼格" is, er, bigger than just a transliteration of the English word "big." First thought upon reading it was that it was probably a play on the words 資格 (zīgé, "qualifications; credentials") and 裝逼 (zhuāngbī, which I'll gloss tamely here as "be a poseur; put on airs"). Besides transliterating "bigger than big," I read the Valley Vernacular weibo as also saying something like "bigger bragging rights than ever before."

    On a search, it looks as if 逼格 had existed previously in the wild, with the meaning "裝逼的格調".

  9. mcur said,

    September 13, 2014 @ 3:59 pm

    The Japanese is 'ookisa ijou in ookiku shinka' ('developing greatly beyond bigness'), which has nothing going for it except that it repeats the 'ooki-' ('big / great') stem. But in fairness to the poor translator who pulled this job, comparatives in Japanese are very clumsy.

    Something like equivalence could maybe be achieved with liberal use of punctuation: 「より大きく」より、大きく ' "yori ookiku" yori, ookiku' ('bigger, than "bigger"') but it might not jive with Apple's clean aesthetic.

  10. Sjiveru said,

    September 13, 2014 @ 5:18 pm

    It's a shame the Japanese translators did what they did, since these days Japanese has a system that handles this -really well- – something like mcur's translation (maybe instead より大きいより大きい 'yori ookii yori ookii') is both a direct translation of 'bigger than bigger' and enjoyably punny.

  11. mcur said,

    September 13, 2014 @ 10:50 pm

    Incidentally, 「Sjiveruにより、より大きくより大きくより、より大きいより大きいがよいらしい」"Sjiveru ni yori yori ookiku yori ookiku yori yori ookii yori ookii ga yoi rashii " is a wonderful Buffalo buffalo sentence.

  12. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    September 14, 2014 @ 1:31 am

    Given that Apple ends in /l/ or /l̩/, I don't think it's obvious what rule should apply. I actually would have expected -ese, without the /n/, by analogy with legalese (and perhaps also Senegalese, Congolese, Bengalese, etc.).

    I wonder if the factor driving Applenese might actually be the spelling? <Applese> would probably be mispronounced, and <Apple-ese> would be a bit awkward (and might make the <-ese> ending less recognizable?).

  13. John Walden said,

    September 14, 2014 @ 3:32 am

    You need a people or place ending in -le.

    If Seattle had its own language, what would it be called?

    One I can think of is Engle/Angle giving Englisc-English. Thus Applish.

    A bit too Anglocentric?

  14. Jongseong Park said,

    September 14, 2014 @ 12:09 pm

    Too bad Appletalk is already a thing.

    For the intrusive n in forms with -ese, there is an old Language Log post which blames the Dutch—think Javanese, Sundanese, and Balinese in the East Indies.

    Interestingly, while -ese is derived from Old French and is cognate with Modern French -ais or -ois, and French uses the forms javanais, sundanais, and balinais, it uses shanghaïen with -en, patterning with such examples as hawaïen and uruguayen where the root word ends in a vocoid.

    The Korean version of the slogan is 크다는 것 그 이상 keudaneun geot geu isang, literally "more than being big". Like the Chinese versions mentioned, it fails to capture the playfulness of the original. Same with the French Bien plus que plus grand ("much more than bigger"), which is in the same vein. But it's hard to think of translations that would be huge improvements on these. The original slogan relies on the snappiness of "bigger" and the ability to apply it to the concept of being "bigger" itself. It's hard to copy in other languages.

  15. Robert said,

    September 14, 2014 @ 12:48 pm

    I really like the 逼格 translation. It actually makes more sense about Apple products in the Chinese context. Many Chinese think that buying an apple product (especially an iPhone) is not a necessity and is kinda a show-off (装逼). 逼格, an existing world that happens to sound similarly (or almost the same) to "bigger" accurately reflects that. Also, 逼, as in 牛逼, is used to describe something exceedingly good or cool, which actually is what Apple is trying to convey, and is what some Chinese think about Apple (Apple fans, or 果粉). Too bad though, 逼 is a profanity in the first place, meaning "vagina", and this translation cannot be used in a more formal way.

  16. Bathrobe said,

    September 14, 2014 @ 3:45 pm

    The problem seems to me to be that there are two meanings of the word 'bigger' here.

    (1) The actual dimensions of the phone are larger — therefore, the phone is 'bigger'

    (2) The phone has something of even greater 'significance' than a mere increase in size.

    In real terms the appeal of the phone lies in the cool features and functions, the je ne sais quoi, that Apple has supposedly packed into it to make it worth buying. That would, however, make awful ad copy ('Not just bigger; it also has more features and functions'). It is this vaguely defined 'bigger' that is causing problems in translation. This is where the different translations start to stumble and diverge.

    The Mainland Chinese direct translation seems to me less than satisfactory because 比更大还更大 is clunky and therefore doesn't adequately convey the meaning of 2. Not that 更大 in Chinese is incapable of conveying the meaning 'more significant', but in this case the catchphrase just sounds puzzling and meaningless. It invites the response, 'What do you mean that it's even bigger than being bigger?' Discussion of the term on the Chinese Internet seems to be occasioned by both the clunkiness and the meaninglessness of the ad.

    The HK/Taiwan resorts to a more elegant phrasing that tries to capture in a four-character Classical-style compound the concept of not merely being larger in size but also being 'something else'. Whether it succeeds or not is another question, but at least the meaning is there.

    The Japanese translation 大きさ以上に大きく進化 gives up on the straightforward syntactic parallelism of the English. 大きさ refers to (1), the physical size of the phone. 大きく進化 tries to capture (2), the 'significance' of the new phone, by using 進化 'evolution, progress'. The parallelism is retained only in the use of the adjective 大きい in both parts. In trying to encapsulate the elusive meaning of 'bigger', 進化 perhaps falls rather flat. It does, however, make for acceptable (if not inspiring) ad copy.

    More than anything, the range of solutions adopted conveys the desperation of people around the world trying to capture the meaning of 'Bigger than bigger' and in most cases deciding that a direct translation just wouldn't cut it as advertising copy.

  17. Bathrobe said,

    September 14, 2014 @ 8:09 pm

    Interestingly, the China Apple site has now changed over to 岂止于大.

  18. Bathrobe said,

    September 14, 2014 @ 8:24 pm

    Also interesting from a 'linguapolitics' point of view are the following:

    1. Only a select group of major countries and languages gets a translation. In Europe, there are only French, German, Spanish, and Italian versions. Smaller European countries get the English version Bigger than Bigger, or the site does not advertise the iPhone 6 at all. In Asia, there are only versions for Thai, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese. The Middle East is a blank — no Arabic.

    2. The Spanish version for Spain (Más que grande) is different from that for Latin America (Mucho más que grande).

    3. Brazil gets Portuguese ad copy (Muito mais que grande); Portugal has English (Bigger than Bigger).

    4. French for European countries (Bien plus que plus grand) is different from that for Canada (Plus grand que grand).

  19. Bathrobe said,

    September 14, 2014 @ 8:27 pm

    Also: No Russian.

  20. Yuanfei said,

    September 14, 2014 @ 11:00 pm

    I don't like any of the Chinese translations. The English one is so genius: as it is about two types of new iphone 6: both of them are bigger than iphone 5, and yet one mode is bigger than another bigger one. That is so literal. And their bigger appearance also designates a sense of grandness–that is, the value and technology of the iphone is bigger as well. Whereas in Chinese 大 reminds me of the 装天葫芦 in Journey to the West: the gourd that can contain heaven: a lie that Monkey said to the two demons in order to trick their authentic gourd that can absorb men. 大, literally means big; and sometimes it could just mean awkwardness and lie such as 说大话; and in the Chinese context, perhaps, it is smallness 小 such as 小巧玲珑, that would makes up an image of magic; for it's nimble, intricate. So in my opinion the Chinese character 大 just sounds clumsy in this advertisement.

  21. Subtle Knife said,

    September 17, 2014 @ 4:15 am

    In reply to Bathrobe, I did find a Dutch version in the apple store today, but on the main page it still says 'Bigger than bigger'.

    The Dutch version is 'Meer dan alleen groter' (More than just bigger).

  22. Bathrobe said,

    September 17, 2014 @ 6:28 am

    Meer dan alleen groter can be found on the Internet (at Apple Store but not at iPhone strangely enough). Apple doesn't seem to be consistent across countries.

    I forgot to mention there is also a Turkish version.

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