Protests, Complaints, and Representations

« previous post | next post »

In "Xinhua English and Zhonglish," I discussed the phenomenon of a peculiar style of English that has developed in China.  Since it is not outrageously incorrect in terms of grammar or grossly unidiomatic, this type of English cannot be labeled Chinglish.  On the other hand, this particular style of English, which we may call Xinhua English or New China News English, is distinctive enough to be recognizable as an emerging dialect.

The latest instance (like the previous one) was brought to my attention by Victor Steinbok, who keeps a keen eye out for pertinent examples.  It is in today's headline from China View, an organ of Xinhuanet:  "China lodges solemn representation over Japan's permission for Rebiya Kadeer's visit."

The expression "lodges solemn representation" calls attention to itself as a rather unusual way of expressing diplomatic discontent.  It was fairly easy for me to track down the original Chinese, which is:  TI2CHU1 YAN2ZHENG4 JIAO1SHE4 提出严正交涉.

TI2CHU1 means "bring / bring forward; raise; pose"

YAN2ZHENG4 means "serious and principled; stern; exacting"

JIAO1SHE4 means "mutual relations / intercourse (as between two nations); negotiation; representation" — this is obviously a difficult term to translate; the constituent morphemes respectively signify "hand over; deliver; cross; join; exchange; associate with; liaise; mutually interact" and "wade; ford; experience; go through; involve; touch upon."

In order to find the distribution of this and closely related expressions, I did a number of Google searches:

"lodges solemn representation"  279  (first two pages all related to China)

"lodged solemn representation"  148  ditto

"lodged a solemn representation"  35,600  ditto

"lodges a solemn representation"  116  ditto

"lodged stern representation"  2,740  ditto

"lodged a stern representation"  141  ditto

"lodged a stern protest" 7,870  (first two pages fairly evenly distributed among Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, and other countries)

"lodges a stern protest"  7  all except one Japanese (and the Japanese instances are all of the form "lodges a stern protest and expresses regret" — the second clause seems characteristically Japanese when used in combination with the first; actually there are only 4 items from Japan because two are duplicate hits; note that 3 of the items are as reported by official Chinese sources)

"issued a stern protest"  6,060  (only a much smaller number would show)   interestingly, several occurrences have to do with the Catholic Church

"issued a solemn protest" 9,560 (only 12 would show)  similar to the previous entry, many occurrences have to do with the Catholic Church

**Disclaimer:  I checked the numbers of hits for each item repeatedly, but was dismayed to find that they kept changing (especially for the last two items), sometimes radically, even from the first page to the second page of a given item.

I could continue this research indefinitely, but I want to point out — in addition to what I've already mentioned above — that sometimes "solemn representations" are not enough for China, in which case it has "made solemn representations to and lodged a stern protest with…."

Phrases with "complaint" in them are used globally and massively, but they are often referred to a third party (regulatory agency, etc.), whereas phrases with "representation" are generally reserved for state-to-state relations.

Finally, I noticed that a discussion group for Chinese interested in proper English usage had actually engaged this very topic.


  1. Nathan Myers said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 3:14 pm

    We have a group in the U.S. that substitutes "issue" for "problem", "failure", "fault", "complaint", and probably "atrocity" and "disaster". I suppose the process is similar.

  2. Nathan said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 3:28 pm

    But is this an intentional euphemism, or is it an actual translation error?

  3. Adrian Bailey said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 3:50 pm

    Google's hit counts have been broken for many months and they refuse to fix them. They prefer to characterise the problem as a feature rather than as a bug.

  4. Mark P said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 4:23 pm

    Often the substitution of "issue" is used to avoid pointing fingers or, maybe more often, to avoid stating that a (usually government) project has problems. Is it possible to read too much meaning into the choice of a particular English word to represent the Chinese? Does the Chinese for "complaint" (or whatever word most closely approximates what native English speakers expect to see in this diplomatic context) appear at other times?

  5. John Cowan said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 5:13 pm

    I think that the normal English diplospeak idiom is "issue a strongly-worded protest". (Sometimes non-governmental agencies do it too, notably the Church of England.)

    As for Google counts, they are acknowledged to be a rough approximation only; actual counts would cost too much response time for a pretty marginal feature.

  6. Therese said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 8:08 pm

    I'm so immersed in Xinhua English theses days (part of my job is to monitor the Chinese press) that I not only find no issue with these phrases but also find myself using them when translating Chinese statespeak into English.

  7. Chaon said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 9:44 pm

    "They prefer to characterise the problem as a feature rather than as a bug."

    Or as an issue…

  8. JimG said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 11:56 pm

    @ John Cowan: I never wrote (or was instructed to prepare) or saw a diplomatic note that referred to "a strongly-worded protest." That might be press or media usage. I'd bet that the solemn representations are Xinhua's characterizations of what the Chinese foreign ministry actually had in the diplomatic note.

    Dip notes typically omit the adverbs and simply use the word "protests" or invite the recipient to reverse or withdraw and action or statement.

  9. MBM said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 5:31 am

    I wouldn't berate search engines for giving only approximate numbers instead of exact hitcounts. Getting an exact hitcount is surprisingly hard and indeterminate because of things such as inflection ambiguity (is "walks" a noun or a verb?), language-recognition problems (which language is this page in?), duplicity (same or nearly same content on several pages) and so on.

  10. hsknotes said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 8:35 am

    Once again, the source nearly all the time of the grossly and only merely grossly unidiomatic:

    "lodges solemn representation" isn't grossly unidiomatic? Is it not machine translation done by person (or by machine?)? Do we want to label phrases abandoned 50, 100, or 200 years ago from formal, diplomatic speak, or legalese a new dialect? Maybe it's just a failure of translation, English instruction, dictionary use or a combination of those.

    If the idea is that we shouldn't label this "Chinglish" because that label implies there's interaction going on between Chinese and English creating a new thing and what is happening here is something else ("odd" dictionary/translation work, general disregard of and avoidance of cultural differences with regards to language and expression, etc.), I understand that. But couldn't we easily just let Chinglish be a stand in for Chinese English, which is the flavor of English that comes out of China in the same way Indian English is flavor of English that comes out of India? Or is it important that we reserve Chinglish as a word denoting the mixture (with grammatical differences)?

    If we don't refer to things like "WC" displayed everywhere as Chinglish, what do we call it?

  11. Franz Bebop said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 8:43 am

    These are just poorly written texts and bad translations. There is no shortage of clumsy, poorly written text, in lots of different contexts and communities, and yes, different contexts will tend to produce different flavors of it. But these don't constitute dialects. The labeling of these awkward turns of phrase as an "emerging dialect" vastly overstates the phenomenon.

    It is a fun topic, though. I often wonder where the pseudo-word "splittist" comes from. Was it actually invented by propagandists in the PRC, or does it have some other heritage? (As far as I am concerned, there is no English word "splittist," the right words would be secessionist or sectarian.)

    I wonder what sorts of English speakers are in the editing rooms, assisting with the translations. I suspect that many of them are native speakers, but have limited experience as journalists or as translators, and little contact with more experienced English-speaking peers. So they make things up as they go, and sometimes things get translated badly: they translate word for word as "lodged a solemn representation" instead of cluing in that English-language media normally use the phrase "issued a strongly-worded protest." That's a simple translation error: it's a failure to use the right idiom. Not necessarily wrong, just clumsy.

  12. Brett said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 9:22 am

    What I find most odd about that these phrases is the use of "lodge." It's not that it's wrong, but quite the opposite. It seems almost too subtle—a word that I would not expect to see used by non-native English speakers in this way. Merriam Webster gives the relevant definition as "to lay (as a complaint) before a proper authority: file." You can lodge an complaint or a protest, but not a compliment; the sense only seems to be usable with terms of reproach. It is probably not uncommon in descriptions of diplomatic speech, when a complaint is made directly to the party responsible. That's how the Chinese probably picked it up, but I still find it very jarring, seeing this rather subtle term juxtaposed with the grossly out of place "representation."

    As to "representation" itself: It occurred to me (when I was discussing my legal rights with an attorney yesterday) that "represenation" has a particular meaning, which may be borderline legal jargon: " (1): a statement or account made to influence opinion or action (2): an incidental or collateral statement of fact on the faith of which a contract is entered into." (The question yesterday was whether I had "made representation" that I would pay something.) I thought this might be the origin of the Chinese use of the word. However, when I was looking up that definition, I also found this: "(1): a usually formal statement made against something or to effect a change (2): a usually formal protest." So Merriam-Webster apparently recognizes the sense involved here, although it still sounds wrong to me.

  13. hsknotes said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 11:03 am

    "So Merriam-Webster apparently recognizes the sense involved here, although it still sounds wrong to me."

    It sounds wrong because it is not in popular (or unpopular) use, being archaic.

    "I wonder what sorts of English speakers are in the editing rooms, assisting with the translations.I suspect that many of them are native speakers, but have limited experience as journalists or as translators, and little contact with more experienced English-speaking peers…they translate word for word as "lodged a solemn representation" instead of cluing in that English-language media normally use the phrase "issued a strongly-worded protest."

    I hope you mean Chinese native speakers because I can assure nearly always there is a lack of English native speakers in relevant situations. The "limited experience as journalists or translators" and "little contact with more experienced English-speaking peers." cannot, I repeat cannot, produce "lodges solemn representation". No serious, even mildly educated native speaker of English can produce Xinhua English. Such phraseology comes from almost exclusively from the references. Editors, more frequently than not people who have little or no knowledge of Mandarin, (and oftentimes aren't native English speakers) , or are Native Chinese speakers, do various things from time to time, but often the end result is something like "lodges solemn representation".

  14. Steve Politzer-Ahles said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 2:24 pm

    @ Brett: I don't think the use of "lodged" necessarily means the writers were native English speakers; while it is a nuanced word, as you point out, a non-native speaker doesn't need to fully understand its semantics to use it correctly; you can memorize a verb like that along with the objects it typically uses, and in the future can use it correctly simply out of frequency-based habit, rather than any deep semantic understanding of it. For an example going in the opposite direction… as a non-native speaker of Chinese, I can still use all the right classifiers (including some pretty fancy ones) not because I necessarily understand what exactly they mean, but just because I've gotten used to seeing them with certain words and I know how to copy that.

    The real matter of interest here, as you suggest, is not the use of "lodged" but the funny use of "representation". Since it's so common in Xinhua English, I imagine it came about like you suggested: some old dictionary happened to contain this archaic definition that no one uses anymore, but to a Chinese speaker it looked like a perfect way of translating a difficult-to-translate term, so it caught on; as a non-native speaker, it's easier to learn a dictionary definition than to be aware of when and how exactly a word should be used. (While this is an example of overuse of a word from the wrong register/the wrong time/whatever, the same thing happens with words from the wrong place or dialect… for example, I have Chinese friends in the United States who talk about "trousers" and I have to keep reminding them that, even though it's technically correct, no one this side of the Atlantic says that.)

  15. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 2:45 pm

    For "lodged," google "notice of lodgment" and you will see lots of uses in lawyer-speak. In my own experience in the U.S., I've only encountered it in the California dialect of lawyer-speak. (I've had conversations with California co-counsel in which I said things like "What do you mean we can't file this without a notice of lodgment? What the hell is that?") We certainly never use it in New York. But the google results suggest it's current in the lawyer-speak dialects of some Commonwealth countries as well (including what looked like a hit from the no-longer-Commonwealth jurisdiction of Hong Kong, which might be significant in terms of where PRC propagandists or flacks might have gotten their English jargon from).

    My non-native sense of the lawyer-speak usage is that it's neutral and applies to any sort of document, negative or positive, you might have occasion to file in some formal fashion in some governmental office. Of course, you can argue that pretty much anything a lawyer files in court is directly or indirectly complaining about the alleged shortcomings of another party . . .

  16. Stephen Jones said,

    July 31, 2009 @ 12:49 am

    As I said in the other thread won't chinese diplomats often be using English when communicating with other governments? Thus we are not dealing with persistent errors of machine translation but a specific dialect, English as used by Chinese diplomats.

  17. JimG said,

    July 31, 2009 @ 9:36 am

    @Stephen Jones,

    Ah, but we're focused on the writing of reporters and propagandists, not the communications of the diplomats themselves.

    AFAIK and from my distant past experience, diplomatic practice is to communicate in your own language, so that what is presented is exactly what you mean to say. The original note is often accompanied by a courtesy translation, unofficial and not to be taken as perfectly reliable. Second choice of practice is to use "an official language" of the international organization or forum in which the communication is delivered — which is why countries want so much to have their languages recognized as one of the "official languages."

    This thread should also be tagged as journalistic jargon or media triteness, which is IMO the underlying cause of the pattern.

  18. Michael Rank said,

    August 1, 2009 @ 4:57 pm

    Franz Bebop asked, "I often wonder where the pseudo-word "splittist" comes from. Was it actually invented by propagandists in the PRC, or does it have some other heritage?"

    This is what the Oxford English Dictionary says:

    In Communist use: the pursuance of factional interests in opposition to official party policy. Also transf. Hence splittist, one who practises splittism; also as adj.
    1962 Guardian 15 Dec. 7/1 That dread word, ‘Splittism’, which has never before darkened a page of the Sino-Soviet polemic, broke through to the surface of the Peking ‘People's Daily’ yesterday in the first open discussion of the possibility of a split. This term, taken from the translation of the Chinese document into English by the official New China News Agency, appears from the context to be identical with the Russian Communist concept of ‘fractionalism’….

    While I was at it I looked up "paper tiger" and it turns out although authentically Chinese this expression easily pre-dates Mao and the Communists:

    1836 J. F. DAVIS Chinese II. xv. 163 A blustering, harmless fellow they [sc. the Chinese] call ‘a paper tiger’. 1885 Philadelphia Inquirer 31 July 4/1 The Chinese call a harmless blusterer ‘a paper tiger’….

    Incidentally anyone with a UK public library has free online access to the OED, don't know if there's a US, etc equivalent arrangement.

  19. Victor Mair said,

    August 1, 2009 @ 7:45 pm

    Randy Alexander taught me some new Google tricks that I wish I had known about before I wrote this blog.


    Fun with Google search:

    | is the "or" operator, so searching for "lodge|lodges|lodged|lodging a stern|solemn representation" should contain the total results for:

    lodge a stern representation
    lodges a stern representation
    lodged a stern representation
    lodging a stern representation
    lodge a solemn representation
    lodges a solemn representation
    lodged a solemn representation
    lodging a solemn representation

    As far as the number of results go, you can click on page 10, then page 20, etc until it runs out. The last number should be more accurate. This probably requires more experimentation, but you can play around and see what you get.

    You can also use the * operator. * can stand for any word or no word, so searching for "lodge * stern representation" would turn up things like:

    lodge stern representation (no word between "lodge" and "stern".
    lodge a stern representation
    lodge his stern representation
    lodge my stern representation
    lodge their stern representation

    Of course these two techniques can be used together. A search of "lodge|lodges|lodged|lodging * stern|solemn representation" turns up 792 results initially. When I press page 10 (the last o in Goooooooooogle), it changes to 791, and then 19 pages are shown (Gooooooooooooooooooogle), and pressing page 19, it changes the results to 16 pages and 167 results, with a note that "we have omitted some entries very similar to the 167 already displayed." Those omitted results are usually pages with identical content.

  20. Aaron Davies said,

    August 3, 2009 @ 11:32 am

    @Nathan Myers: consider yourself lucky they don't say "challenge".

  21. Ted said,

    January 20, 2014 @ 6:33 pm

    Part of what may be going on here is that the Chinese JIAO1SHE4 is a noun, requiring something else, in this case TI2CHU1, for a verb. (I say "may" because this is pure speculation; I know no Chinese.) This grammar seems to be interfering with the English translation, resulting in "lodge (v.) a solemn representation (n.)," where neither the verb nor the noun seems quite appropriate.

    Even a corrected version — e.g. "lodge a strong protest" — seems unidiomatic to me. I would normally express this concept using "object" as the verb: "objected strongly." If that's too ambiguous (because they could have objected publicly, rather than directly to the offending country), I would say something like "expressed a formal objection" or "presented an official complaint."

    None of the words in the Xinhua formulation — "lodge," "solemn," nor "representation" — is something I would expect a native speaker to use in this context, much less the combination.

RSS feed for comments on this post