Non-translation

« previous post | next post »

A rather disturbing (at least to me) article in the South China Morning Post (7/24/16), "How China's quest to become a football powerhouse is revamping the beautiful game:  China has emerged as deep-pocketed investor in what amounts to a global power grab for influence in football", is preceded by this photograph:

You can find photographs of the banner that says "Fight for the motherland" all over the web, e.g., here, here, and here.  It's so ubiquitous in Chinese sports, especially soccer, that it must be standard issue and must have been sanctioned by some governing body.

But what does the corresponding Chinese wording say?

Zhōngguó duì bì shèng 中国队必胜
("the Chinese team will surely win")

The Chinese and the English are so far apart in their sense and sentiment that you really can't call the relationship between them one of "translation".  You can't even call it paraphrase.

Here at Language Log, we have three categories under which we usually put posts about translation:  Translation, Lost in translation, and Found in translation.  I don't think that "Fight for the motherland" can rightly be placed under any of these categories.  Consequently, for want of a better designation, I'm tentatively calling it "non-translation".

Whoever was responsible for rendering Zhōngguó duì bì shèng 中国队必胜 ("the Chinese team will surely win") in English must have thought that the conviction conveyed by the Chinese was not suitable for English eyes and ears, so they came up with something that they considered to be more appropriate for foreign consumption.  Unfortunately, "Fight for the motherland" sounds gauche to sports fans of other countries.  In my estimation, they should start all over with a new Chinese slogan and a more or less accurate translation of whatever they come up with.

[h.t. Mark Metcalf]



28 Comments

  1. Chris Lawrence said,

    July 24, 2016 @ 11:36 pm

    "The Chinese team will surely win" isn't entirely unique as a slogan; one of the chants of U.S. soccer fans is "I believe that we will win." You don't see it much on scarves though.

  2. Charles said,

    July 24, 2016 @ 11:50 pm

    And that is why competitive sports have no appeal to me. Those people look like they're in terrible anguish. As am I when I have to listen to crazy sports fans talk of how Teague's injury might hurt his potential, the amazing move Zonsky made in the game last night, and such drivel.

    As far as the translation goes, why is it even translated? Do the French translate their sports banner signs into english, and vice-versa?

  3. Vivian said,

    July 25, 2016 @ 12:10 am

    Another example of non-translation: Team Rocket's motto in Pokemon anime series. (http://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Team_Rocket_mottos)

    The first line in Japanese is "なんだかんだと聞かれたら、答えてあげるのが世の情け", the English translation is "If you ask us this or that, the pity of the world is what responds!" but the actual line used (in the English version of the anime) is "Prepare for trouble, make it double!"

  4. JPL said,

    July 25, 2016 @ 12:29 am

    Interesting. The message expressed by the Chinese expression and the message expressed by the English expression are not equivalent. Avoiding the notion of 'translation equivalent', in a field methods or elicitation situation, if you start with a request to express a given specified message in L1, and then to express the equivalent message in L2, getting the above responses would indicate that there is something wrong. (Unity of message expressed is a pragmatic condition stipulated from the metalanguage point of view.) For two sentences to be regarded as translation equivalents, in any case, the meanings of the two sentences have to be equivalent in specifiable respects. Insofar as there is referential content in the meanings of the two sentences, the objective situation referred to in the Chinese sentence is not identical to the one referred to in the English sentence. I have to conclude that the banner expresses not a translation equivalence, but two distinct messages, one in Chinese, and an additional one in English. But why does the English speaking audience, as opposed to the Chinese speaking one, need to see the sportingly inappropriate "Fight for the motherland"?

  5. Alyssa said,

    July 25, 2016 @ 1:54 am

    I think the oddness of "the Chinese team will surely win" is more due to register than sentiment. I wouldn't find anything remarkable about a sports fan holding a sign that said "We're gonna win!!!" for example.

  6. Gideon said,

    July 25, 2016 @ 3:07 am

    I'd translate it as "Certain victory to China!"

  7. WSM said,

    July 25, 2016 @ 5:28 am

    Perhaps it's a variation on the already-observed phenomenon of using pinyin to provide a subtext to the "primary" sentiment expressed in characters: except in this case the second script is English, not Pinyin-transcribed Mandarin.

  8. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 25, 2016 @ 5:44 am

    @Chris Lawrence:
    When and where do U.S. soccer fans chant, "I believe that we will win"? That sounds more in line with Tom Lehrer's Harvard fight song ("Albeit they possess the might, Nonetheless we have the will"). than with any actual chanting by fans.

  9. J. Goard said,

    July 25, 2016 @ 6:45 am

    I don't know if it's 100% accurate to say that I see this kind of thing in Korea *every day*, but it's not too far off. One common example is a restaurant claiming wholesome food with domestic ingredients in Korean, while being something like the world's most delicious cuisine in English. Another is school posters, which could readily have something like English "Happy, Healthy, Smiling" under Korean 'ethically upright and environmentally conscious'.

  10. david said,

    July 25, 2016 @ 7:06 am

    Perhaps it is not a translation at all, agreeing with Prof. Mair. Perhaps it is a second, independent complementary slogan or cheer.

  11. Francis Boyle said,

    July 25, 2016 @ 7:12 am

    I think the natural translation would be "go China" but perhaps the bureaucrats who created the slogan, being bureaucrats, had an aversion to a more demotic register. A Chinese Sir Humphrey Appleby maybe?

  12. BenT said,

    July 25, 2016 @ 8:28 am

    @Francis Boyle: There is already an idiomatic phrase for "go China" in Chinese: zhōngguó jiāyóu 中国加油.

    Also in Korean there is a sports slogan similar to "go!" or for a sense of encouragement which is 파이팅(paiting) or 화이팅(hwaiting) which is derived from the English word "fighting."

  13. Chris Lawrence said,

    July 25, 2016 @ 12:12 pm

    @Ralph Hickok:

    I've heard it at matches, and it's on the list of American Outlaws chants: https://www.theamericanoutlaws.com/chants

    More details here: http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/soccer-dirty-tackle/the-improbable-story-of-how-the-trendiest-chant-in-sports-began-040228934.html

  14. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 25, 2016 @ 12:43 pm

    @Chris Lawrence:
    Very interesting … thanks. I'm not only a sports fan, but a sports historian; however, I don't really follow soccer, so this is news to me.

  15. Victor Mair said,

    July 25, 2016 @ 1:05 pm

    As a former athlete, must say that I completely agree with Charles.

  16. rdb said,

    July 25, 2016 @ 6:33 pm

    They've managed to get the bread; now it's time for the circuses.

  17. David Marjanović said,

    July 25, 2016 @ 7:17 pm

    As far as the translation goes, why is it even translated?

    A novel strategy to strike fear into the hearts of the enemy.

    Do the French translate their sports banner signs into english, and vice-versa?

    No.

  18. TheStrawMan said,

    July 26, 2016 @ 6:01 am

    I agree with J. Goard. I live in Japan though but see this kind of thing often. That is, a slogan/piece of ad copy etc written in typical "slogan Japanese" or "advert Japanese" or whatever accompanied by English that is in no way shape or form a translation or "rendering" of the Japanese, but is more of a "compliment" or accompaniment that is at least broadly similar in terms of theme.

    I actually view this as a step forward, because it suggests bureacrats ad agencies are not quite as often demanding awkward literal translations of their slogans ect, but accept that since they cannot be rendered into natural, fluid English without drastically changing the content, it makes more sense to create some original English that at least parallels the theme in question

  19. Jay said,

    July 27, 2016 @ 6:16 pm

    It sounds like the English translation of the slogan was translated from Russian!

  20. Wang Yujiang said,

    July 28, 2016 @ 5:23 pm

    I think the proper translation of "中国队必胜" is "go China". We should not do translation word by word.

  21. Victor Mair said,

    July 28, 2016 @ 6:06 pm

    How should we translate "Zhōngguó duì jiāyóu 中国队加油"?

    Is there a difference in nuance between "Zhōngguó duì jiāyóu 中国队加油" and "Zhōngguó duì bì shèng 中国队必胜"?

    If so, how shall we convey that difference in English?

    UPDATE

    "Anger on streets in China as football team suffer shock defeat by war-torn Syria: Disgruntled fans gather to demand that president of football association is sacked as hopes for a football revolution suffer a blow" (10/7/16)

    The photograph accompanying this article shows the same banner with the "Fight for the motherland" slogan as in the photograph above, but this time there's a fellow standing front and center holding aloft a banner with these large characters:

    "Zhōngguó jiāyóu 中国加油" ("Go China")

    See also "Add oil" (9/13/16).

  22. Wang Yujiang said,

    July 28, 2016 @ 6:53 pm

    @Victor Mair
    Although two Chinese sentences are different, I think the translations should be same, because their meanings in English are almost same. As I said before we should not do translation word by word. These two sentences are like synonyms.

  23. JPL said,

    July 28, 2016 @ 7:05 pm

    I agree that translation should not be done "word for word", but the question still remains whether "go China" is a translation of the Chinese expression in question, or rather what you might call a "situational equivalent", what someone might typically say in the equivalent situation in a different cultural and linguistic context, as with greetings, for example. As for "Fight for the motherland", it is neither a translation equivalent nor a situational equivalent. So what was that non-sporting sentiment even doing on the banner? So I would say that "go China" does indeed express the same message as the original and would be quite appropriate as the English version on the banner, even though we did not arrive at it by trying to get an English sentence that "has the same (linguistic) meaning" as the original sentence.

  24. Victor Mair said,

    July 28, 2016 @ 8:19 pm

    What's the "proper" Chinese translation of "Fight for the motherland"?

    Would that Chinese translation be suitable on a banner held by supporters of a soccer team? Or is it only appropriate for them to display in English?

  25. Wang Yujiang said,

    July 29, 2016 @ 9:20 am

    If we have to translate both two signs 中国队必胜 and 中国队加油, we may go to a soccer game to look at what the American soccer fans wrote. For example, beat xxx (I am not sure it is) and etc. That is a good way to translate, although they are not the "proper" words. As I have said we should not translate word by word. Actually the meaning of the Chines words 中国队加油 is "add more oil to China", not "go China", and "Go China" is not belong to 中国队加油。

  26. Wang Yujiang said,

    July 29, 2016 @ 9:22 am

    @Victor Mair
    Chinese is my first language. I think the Chinese translation of "Fight for the motherland" should be 为祖国而战 or 为中国而战。However "Fight for the motherland" here is Chinglish. Soccer is a game, not a war. No fight in a game except the boxing.
    If I am a soccer fan and I have to write a banner in English, I will write "go China", not "fight for the motherland". The reason is that "fight for the motherland" is for Chinese reader, not the English reader.

  27. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 29, 2016 @ 10:09 am

    @Wang Yujiang:
    "Fight" is very commonly used in cheers and chants at sporting events in the United States. Indeed, "fight songs" are often sung by fans. Exhorting athletes to fight for their country, even in non-combat sports, wouldn't sound out of place to American sports fans.

  28. Wang Yujiang said,

    July 29, 2016 @ 11:02 am

    @Ralph Hickok
    Thanks for your information about the word "fight". I learned a lot from Language Log.

RSS feed for comments on this post