4 Uygur Theater

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Gus Tate lives in Guangzhou (Canton) where he teaches "conversational English and Time Travel to a group of high school students wearing white polo shirts and blue track pants." For fun, he runs a blog called Cantonstinople. Currently there is displayed on that site the following photograph of a sign for a "4D" movie about dinosaurs (Gus explains that the extra "D" is probably to indicate the fact that the seats in the theater move and there are other physical effects that are apparently quite terrifying):

The heading of the announcement reads quite matter-of-factly:  "Items [You Should] Pay Attention to [upon] Entering the Theater."  Mysteriously, this comes out in the English translation as "4 Uygur theater admission matters needing attention."  Before you go on to the next page, if you know even a small amount of Chinese, try to figure out how the translator got from "Enter Theater" to "4 Uygur theater."

I will not take the time to explain all the rest of the Chinglish on the sign, because the point of it is mostly understandable, except for:

1. cherish = take care of; in the field = in the theater
2. = sit tight
3. no change necessary
4. and the diet = and eat or drink

A hint about how to solve the puzzle of the first two words of the title comes from the fact that this is a 4D theater, not just a two-dimensional or even three-dimensional theater.  Now, if we want to render 3D or 4D into Chinese, we would usually write SAN1DU4 三度 or SI4DU4 四度.  However, we can alternatively write SAN1WEI2 三維 or SI4WEI2 四維.

DU4 and WEI2 are both highly polysemous, the former meaning, among other things, "a linear measure," "degree," "extent," "law, regulation," "tolerance," "consideration," "occurrence, time," and the latter signifying, inter alia, "tie up, hold together," "hold fast," "maintain, uphold," "think of, estimate," "corner," "regulation," "an auxiliary particle in Classical Chinese," etc.  Regardless of their original meanings, both DU4 and WEI2 have been pressed into service to convey the concept of "dimension" in mathematics and physics.

But WEI2 has another very common usage, viz., to transcribe foreign names.  For example, WEI2 stands for "Victor" in my Chinese name, MEI2 (Mair) WEI2 (Victor) HENG2 (Henry) 梅維恆 and for the first syllable of the Chinese transcriptional equivalent, WEI2MO2JIE2 維摩詰, of the Sanskrit name of the famous Buddhist layman Vimalakīrti.  Another transcribed name that begins with WEI2 that one frequently encounters is WEI2WU2'ER3 維吾爾, i.e., the ethnonym of the Uyghur / Uighur / Uigur / Uygur / ئۇيغۇر / Уйғур, etc.

To cut to the chase in this elusive hunt for the "4 Uygur" beastie, the translator charged with rendering SI4WEI2 四維 into English came up with "4 Uygur" instead of "4D."

It should perhaps also be noted that it is merely a coincidence that there are four items in the list of instructions to those who enter this undoubtedly exciting Cantonese theater.  The 4D/Uygur of the title is an entirely separate matter.

My only regret is that I am not in Cantonstinople right now so that I could go enjoy the experience for myself.  And, believe you me, I would observe all four rules to the letter / character of the law!

[A tip of the hat to Ryan Leonard.]

Update — Gus Tate and Ryan Leonard, with the sign's context (Click on the image for a larger version, or here for an even larger one):


  1. Chris said,

    June 12, 2009 @ 8:46 am

    An even bigger coincidence is the 4 Uighurs currently in the news because they're going to Bermuda. (From Guantanamo, which is what makes it news.) When I saw the title I thought there would be some connection to that…

  2. Rob P. said,

    June 12, 2009 @ 9:47 am

    Is SI4WEI2 out of frame? I don't see it. I see what looks like it may be the bottom bit of a 4 at the upper left….

  3. rpsms said,

    June 12, 2009 @ 11:38 am

    in this context, wouldn't "hang onto your seat" be a better translation?

    "Sit tight" is most often used (in my experience) to mean "wait," while "hang onto your seat" leans towards "get ready to be blown away"

  4. Benjamin said,

    June 12, 2009 @ 11:46 pm

    Not that I would have gotten the 维吾尔 thing anyway, but I also dont see 四维 anywhere on the screen…

  5. Victor Mair said,

    June 13, 2009 @ 4:18 pm

    I agree with Benjamin that there does appear to be a 4 mostly out of the frame at the top left of the picture. I will ask Gus Tate and others in Guangzhou and Hong Kong if someone could check (better yet, take a fuller picture of the sign). I suspect that there must be a WEI2 or D somewhere up there after the 4, but — from what we have now — it's hard to imagine the placement.

    I also agree with rpsms that "sit tight" is not as good a translation of the second directive as "hang onto your seat," which is quite inspired.

  6. Yue Jiang said,

    June 14, 2009 @ 8:40 am

    Jiahong Yuan told me of this log when he visited Xi'an. I visit here sometime and find this piece interesting. I would like to hypothesize how the translator put the Chinese into English the way we see here.

    It is amusing to read such a Chinglish announcemnt. However, if we find a palm or pocket electronic dictionary and enter the Chinese word by word into the dictiionary, we may realize how this outlandish translation was produced. It sounds more like a dummy machine translation plus some basic command of Engilsh as a foreign language.

    For example, "Do not smoke" seems to be a household English for most Chinese with some basic English education. However, it is not easy for this amateur translator to find the English equivalent for YIN3 SHI2. It is here that the electronic dictionary becomes handy.

    As for the WEI2, type it in, the translator in question readily find that Uygur. The same is the case with most other "language points" in the translaiton product.

    [(myl) For some detailed discussion of the role of digital translation devices/programs, see "The etiology and elaboration of a flagrant mistranslation", 12/9/2007. ]

  7. Gus said,

    June 15, 2009 @ 7:18 am

    Hi guys, I took a better picture of the sign:


    It's obvious now that the original Chinese version of the heading in question is indeed right above its English translation; it's just that it's in several fonts and sizes so I didn't recognize their correlation at first.

    Hope that clears things up!

  8. Victor Mair said,

    June 15, 2009 @ 2:02 pm

    From Michael Carr: Wenlin gives: 四維[-维] ²sìwéi n. ①the four social bonds: propriety, morality, modesty, sense of shame ②the four directions ③〈Ch. med.〉 the four limbs ◆attr. 〈phy.〉 four-dimensional

    Bing translator gives: 四維 the relativity theory

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