Joe Chen Buns

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From Wei comes this photograph of a sign on a deli that they took the other day in Guangzhou:

The Chinese on the sign reads:

Qiáo Chén cūliáng fāng 乔晨粗粮坊
("Qiao Chen's [> Joe Chen's] coarse grain [> whole food / grains] place / shop[pe]")

We at Language Log are familiar with the usage of cūliáng 粗粮 ("coarse grain[s]") among foodies in China: "Coarse grains hotel "  (6/1/14).

Wei reports:

…Clearly it's a deli that sells food made from flour (whole maize flour, as I later tried myself and found out, hence "粗粮"), and probably the name of the owner of this Chinese franchise is 乔晨, which seems quite reasonable.

However, it's the logic behind the English translation for "乔晨粗粮坊", the very name on the plaque, that interests me. We know 乔 is the usual Chinese transcription for the English name Joe, but it is rarely the other way round; "晨" is simply transcribed to its pinyin Chen, and then 粗粮坊 (workshop for whole grain floor products) is rather succinctly put into "buns". So for 5 characters they combined 3 different ideas to make them…sound catchy? Authentic? I don't know.

Funny and a bit weird as it is, I still rate it a well devised and successful translation. I hope you enjoy it too!

I certainly did enjoy this clever translation, and I'm sure that other Language Log readers will be taken by it too.

乔 (trad. 喬) is indeed a fairly common surname in China, in fact, the 96th most common last name, and chén 晨 is often used in given names.  Thus Qiáo Chén 乔晨 is an entirely plausible name for a Chinese person.  It's interesting, though, that when you put Qiáo Chén 乔晨 in Google Translate, out comes "Joe Chen" in English!


  1. K Chang said,

    July 6, 2015 @ 4:30 pm

    If you pronounce it in Cantonese (they are in Guangzhou, after) it sounds kinda like "good morning". 乔晨 = 早晨 and according to their website, they really specialize in the breakfast market:

    >> 以独特的配方、精湛的工艺、出众的口味、在早餐市场独树一帜,主营粗粮食品。

    >>With unique recipe, precise craftsmanship, outstanding flavor, we have established ourself as the pinnacle in breakfast market, with primary speciality of maize-based foods.

    While primary corn-flour based, they said their flour is actually a mix of various natural flours, such as sticky-rice, green beans, red potatoes, black rice, and sorghum.

  2. K Chang said,

    July 6, 2015 @ 4:34 pm

    OTOH, the brand is apparently a nation-wide chain that started in Guaizhou so the Cantonese pronunciation is probably NOT the primary reason.

    Their menu is full of buns, nothing but buns (and corn based drink, I'm guessing similar to Horchata?)

    IMHO, whoever named it in English didn't try to "translate" the idioms at all, but still managed to capture the essence of the restaurant.

  3. Noel Hunt said,

    July 10, 2015 @ 9:01 pm

    To Professor Mair, I am interested in why you have romanized 坊 in the first tone. There seem to be two meanings for 坊, depending on whether it is in first or second tone; I think the second tone version is used as a kind of synonym of 房 (house, room), while the first tone version seems to mean simply `place'. I am familiar with a 白酒 (bái jiǔ, Chinese distilled spirit) called 水井坊 (shuí jǐng fáng) which I think is a place name, that of a town in Sichuan. I write fáng because this seems to be how Chinese I have met pronounce the name of the eponymous restaurant (in Sydney), but I now suspect it should be first tone since it is the name of a place.

    I hope you can clear up this confusion.

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