"There is no Communist Party, there is no New China"

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Kira Simon-Kennedy wrote to me from Beijing that she is chaperoning 30 French high school students on their first trip to China to learn Mandarin.

Yesterday afternoon, the French students were trying to decipher the following banner at a bus stop:  "没有共产党, 没有新中国."  Most of the students have already taken a couple years of lessons, so they could be classed as having reached intermediate level.  They got as far in their interpretation of the sign on the banner as "There is no collective __, there is no new China."  Not bad for intermediate level learners, but the banner remained a mystery to them, if only at the lexical level because they didn't know what 共产党 meant.  However, when Kira told the students that 共产党 meant Communist Party, they were all the more puzzled.  "Are they allowed to say that ('there is no Communist Party')?" one student asked.  "Isn't that really dangerous to deny the existence of the Party in public?"

The students thought that someone had the nerve to buy a public ad to tell the world:  "There is no Communist Party, there is no New China" — superficially that's what the sign on the banner seemed to be saying.  The close grammatical parallelism of the two clauses only made such an interpretation seem all the more certain.

How to break through the impasse of a sentence that seems relatively easy to understand, but yet remains incomprehensible (i.e., it is at odds with patent reality, viz., "there is a Communist Party, there is a New China" — quite the opposite of what the sentence seems to be saying, grammatically speaking, viz., "there is no Communist Party, there is no New China")?

We have repeatedly been disappointed by translation software, but let's run this problematic sentence through Google Translate and Baidu Fanyi to see if they can do any better than the intermediate level students from France.

Méiyǒu Gòngchǎndǎng, méiyǒu xīn Zhōngguó 没有共产党,没有新中国 ("If there were no Communist Party, there would be no New China")
Google Translate:  Without the Communist Party, No New China
Baidu Fanyi:  Without the Communist Party, there'll be no new China

I'm impressed.

Let's see how they do with the comma removed:  Méiyǒu Gòngchǎndǎng méiyǒu xīn Zhōngguó 没有共产党没有新中国 ("If there were no Communist Party, there would be no New China")
Google Translate:  No new China without the Communist Party
Baidu Fanyi:  There'll be no new China without the Communist Party

I'm really impressed!

I don't know how they did it, especially when they failed so miserably with sentences like these two in "Google me with a fire spoon":

Dì yīcì búmǎi yuàn nǐ 第一次不買怨你 ("If you don't buy one the first time, blame yourself")
Google Translate:  Do not blame you first buy
Baidu Fanyi:  The first not to buy because of you

Dì èr cì búmǎi yuàn wǒ 第二次不買怨我 ("If you don't buy one the second time, blame me")
Google Translate:  Blame me not to buy second
Baidu Fanyi:  Second do not buy blame me

In all three cases, it is necessary for the translator — be it machine or human — to recognize that the syntactic relationship between the first clause and the second clause is one of "if… then".  Even though the syntax is not explicitly marked, the reader (and hence the translator) must be able to extrapolate it from the context.  What is somewhat mystifying to me is how Google Translate and Baidu Fanyi both did a good enough job with "Méiyǒu Gòngchǎndǎng méiyǒu xīn Zhōngguó" 没有共产党没有新中国 for a monolingual English speaker to understand what the Chinese sentence is about, whereas they came up short on the latter two sentences, such that a monolingual English reader would have a very difficult time to make any sense of what the original Chinese sentences meant if they were relying solely on the English translations provided by Google Translate and Baidu Fanyi.  On the other hand, since both Google Translate and Baidu Fanyi adopted a different translation strategy for the first of these three sentences ("without…" instead of "if not… then"), I'm beginning to wonder whether it is possible to program translation software to recognize an "if… then" dependency structure when it is not explicitly marked.

[P.S.:  After I had already written this blog, but just before posting it, I decided to Google "Méiyǒu Gòngchǎndǎng méiyǒu xīn Zhōngguó" 没有共产党没有新中国.  Having done so, I discovered that this is the title (and the opening lines) of a song that was recently widely sung by various choruses to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party).  After watching several video recordings of performances of the song, something very strange became apparent to me.  Namely, although the title of the song remained "Méiyǒu Gòngchǎndǎng méiyǒu xīn Zhōngguó" 没有共产党没有新中国, most of the performances made a tiny, but very significant, alteration in the opening lines by inserting jiù 就 ("then") between the two clauses, hence:  "Méiyǒu Gòngchǎndǎng, jiù méiyǒu xīn Zhōngguó" 没有共产党, 就没有新中国.  Thus the syntactical relationship that I had posited in the analysis given above was made explicit:  "(If) there were no A, then there would be no B", where the "If", although still not explicit, is strongly implied by the "then" at the beginning of the second clause.  However, the jiù 就 ("then") is manifestly arrhythmic, so all of the choruses I listened to slurred over it, making it almost inaudible, as though they were embarrassed to put it there, but perhaps (secretly / subconsciously) afraid if they didn't that someone might misinterpret the lines in the disastrous way that the French students did.  Perry Link has a book coming out from Harvard University Press fairly soon that will emphasize the vital role of rhythm and meter in the construction of Chinese phrases and sentences.  This little jiù 就 ("then") that gets sneaked into the middle of the otherwise perfectly symmetrical opening lines of the song would surely cause a strict prosodist to raise an eyebrow.]


  1. Carl said,

    August 4, 2011 @ 8:48 pm

    Without any evidence, I hypothesize that Google cheated: they had seen this sentence with its translation before, so there was no need to "guess" that it was an if-then. It merely spat out a prerecorded answer. If I can, perhaps I will test this hypothesis later.

  2. GregT said,

    August 4, 2011 @ 8:52 pm

    Is this just a matter of Google Translate using the same sort of "thinking" that regular Google uses? That is to say, supplementing its basic translation algorithm with a web search and finding that the Chinese phrasing often appears in documents within a significant number of sentences of an English-phrasing that is significantly close to Translate's first attempt at translation? And therefore preferring that translation over its own? So it works here because the specific phrase is popular and previously translated, whereas it doesn't work for the other ones you mention because they're less specifically common and have not been regularly translated in other English sources.

  3. jfruh said,

    August 4, 2011 @ 9:10 pm

    I've similarly always wondered whether the titlle Bob Marley song "No Woman No Cry" meant "If there's no woman, there's no crying" or "Don't cry, woman." The Wikipedia article says that it's the latter, and moreover that the second no is really "nuh" in Jamaican Patois, which means "don't."

  4. Victor Mair said,

    August 4, 2011 @ 9:25 pm

    Peter Conn sent me this about Google from an essay in the current NYRB:

    "They have been relentless in driving computer science forward. Google Translate has achieved more in machine translation than the rest of the world’s artificial intelligence experts combined."

    [(myl) Though the translation team at Google is a strong one, the consensus in the field would be that this is a highly misleading statement at best.The ideas and algorithms embodied in Google Translate are more or less the same as those in use throughout the field of statistical machine translation. These ideas were pioneered several decades ago in Fred jelinek's group at IBM, and developed by many researchers elsewhere, especially in the context of DARPA's MT projects over the past couple of decades. To the extent that Google has an advantage, it lies in access to a larger amount of training data.]

  5. kktkkr said,

    August 4, 2011 @ 9:46 pm

    It seems that a machine translator with the appropriate heuristics for what a clause in Chinese looks like would be able to insert a comma appropriately, if asked to do so, and then the next task would be to guess the connection between clauses.

    However, both translators fail badly on 第一次不買怨你 even with a comma inserted between 買 and 怨. (They do worse with a question mark.) Perhaps it is difficult without the context to guess who is "not buying", and equally awkward for people who don't use this implied if-then structure.

    (If commas are inserted in both sentences and they are placed on adjacent lines, Google Translate recognizes the parallel structure and tries to preserve it. The result seems highly dependent on punctuation. I was lazy and used ASCII characters for punctuation, but I don't think it makes a huge difference.)

  6. Enzo said,

    August 4, 2011 @ 10:29 pm

    One example of similar syntax in English is the phrase "No justice, no peace". There's also a Christian bumper sticker I've seen reading "Know Jesus, know peace".

  7. Ghaa said,

    August 4, 2011 @ 10:38 pm

    I immediately grasped the meaning from the literal translation. English has a parallel construction in set phrases like “no brain, no pain” (certainly there are more grammatical examples, but I cannot produce one right now).

    So, in my opinion, the most striking point here was that the sentence proved unintelligible to French students. Is that because French does not have any syntactic construction similar to this?

  8. Carl said,

    August 4, 2011 @ 10:52 pm

    Results are all over the map for minor wording changes:

    No new China without the Communist Party.

    No new China without the Kuomintang.

    (I was playing around earlier and it said KMT instead of spelling it out… Not sure why the difference.)

    Without the Communist Party USA is not new.

    Japan is not the LDP's new.

    No new China without freedom.

    No freedom is not a new United States.

    No Proof of Benten no new democracy.
    (Should be "no new democracy without the dialectic"…)

    It's possible some of my test sentences are ungrammatical since I don't know Chinese, just Japanese, but the results seem kind of random.

  9. Mark Liberman said,

    August 4, 2011 @ 11:34 pm

    I believe that it is almost certain that this particular slogan, with its English translation, is present word-for-word in the parallel text corpora that both translation engines are built from. Certainly the Chinese version of the slogan is common on the web in word-for-word form, and the slogan has its own Wikipedia page:

    "Without the Communist Party, There Would Be No New China" (simplified Chinese: 没有共产党就没有新中国; traditional Chinese: 沒有共產黨就沒有新中國; pinyin: Méiyǒu Gòngchǎndǎng Jiù Méiyǒu Xīn Zhōngguó) is a popular Communist propaganda song in the People's Republic of China, which originated in 1943 in response to the phrase "Without Kuomingtang there would be no China".

    Thus it's probable that no intelligence, artificial or otherwise, was involved in the translation. At least, no intelligence specific to this phrase — there is considerable insight implicit in the approach that builds new translations out of fragments of old ones. It's just that in this case, the whole thing can basically be looked up at once.

    Modern MT engines like Google's are also able to do a pretty good job at what you might call "phrasal analogy", and so a certain amount of substitution may also work.

    For the state of the art as of 2002, see Richard Zens, Franz Josef Och and Hermann Ney, "Phrase-based machine translation", Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 2002.

    So whatever is going on, it's not really true that

    it is necessary for the translator — be it machine or human — to recognize that the syntactic relationship between the first clause and the second clause is one of "if… then"

    In particular, if the translation is accomplished by finding the whole input in a translation memory, then no syntactic or semantic analysis is being done. Various phrase-based and syntax-based translation methods encroach gradually on "recognizing the syntactic relationship between the [clauses]", but there's a whole spectrum of possibilities between simple table look-up and genuine "understanding" of the structure. And this example is almost surely on the "simple table look-up" end of the spectrum.

  10. vanya said,

    August 5, 2011 @ 1:02 am

    Intermediate students of Mandarin didn't know what 共产党 means? That is embarassing, or your definition of an "intermediate" learner is a lot more generous than mine.

  11. John Walden said,

    August 5, 2011 @ 2:19 am

    I wondered if "No _______ No___________" might be a bona fide calque from Mandarin, prompted, I'm afraid to admit, by the stereotypifying if not racially-slurring expression "No tickee, no washee".

    Most 'Authorities' hold that it's made-up pidgin, eg


    but there is this:

    Typically, when people learn a new language, they layer their new vocabulary on top of the grammatical structure of their native language. No tickee no shirtee is a fine example of this linguistic phenomenon, for it is a transliteration into English of a perfectly grammatical and idiomatic Mandarin Chinese phrase: mei(2) pian(3) yi(1) mei(2) chun(3) yi(1); literally, no ticket, no shirt.



    I am in absolutely no position to comment.

    [(myl) It's possible that the well-known "no tickee, no washee" slogan influenced the frequency of this construction to some extent, but paratactic sequences in which the conditional relationship is only implicit are common in colloquial English, as discussed here under the name of "baseball conditionals" or "Elmore Leonard conditionals".]

  12. Gregory Dyke said,

    August 5, 2011 @ 4:34 am

    I wonder if this is related to novices being unused to the absence of a copula and overcompensating for its generalised absence. In French, the idiom "pas de …, pas de …" is almost estabilished enough to be a snowclone, particularly in sentences such as "pas de bras, pas de chocolat" and, more recently from the Asterix and Cleopatra film: "Pas de pierres, pas de construction… pas de construction, pas de palais… pas de palais… pas de palais"

    [(myl) In French, as in English, such constructions are ambiguous (or maybe better, vague) between interpretation as a conditional and interpretation as a conjunction of negative existentials. The content determines the relative plausibility of the options, and in most real-world cases, only one of the options makes any sense.

    Thus a style guide instructs us "Pas de mots en majuscules, pas de soulignages (à l'exception des noms de genres et d'espèces soulignés d'un trait)." And a species description specifies "Pas de tentacules superoculaires, pas de crête occipitale." These would be preposterous as conditionals, and so we know that they're conjunctions of negative existentials.

    I suspect that this is true in Chinese as well — but something is apparently different. Perhaps it's the lack of a common and convenient way to make the conditional interpretation explicit? Perhaps it's a general preference for paratactic constructions without explicit clausal relationships?]

  13. Randy Alexander said,

    August 5, 2011 @ 7:09 am

    Looking up the phrase on Baidu mp3, I found that all of the hits listed the title with 就.

  14. Victor Mair said,

    August 5, 2011 @ 7:55 am

    "No pain no gain" and similar expressions remind me of the seemingly grammarless (or grammar-deficient [qua English] — at least it has the ring of being unidiomatic as standard English) "Long time no see", which I've always suspected to derive from Chinese,

    though the situation may be a bit more complicated than that:

    "The phrase is considered a multiword expression that cannot be explained by the usual rules of English grammar due to the irregular syntax."


  15. John Swindle said,

    August 5, 2011 @ 8:47 am

    No shirt no shoes no service.

    In the slogan about the Communist Party, does the added jiù 就 ("then") bring us closer to ordinary speech, and could that be the reason it's added?

  16. J.W. Brewer said,

    August 5, 2011 @ 9:09 am

    FWIW, http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2351 indicates that "no tickee no washee" was the fons et origo of "No X, No Y" idioms in English, although perhaps more research has been done since then. (This thread makes me realize that I've somehow been listening to "No Woman No Cry" for three decades and change without having tried to parse the title phrase in context.)

    [(myl) In the cited post ("No X no Y" (5/26/2010), it was simply observed that "No tickee no washee" predated "no justice no peace" and "no shirt, no shoes, no service".

    In 1702, long before the immigration of Chinese to the new world began in significant numbers, "no money no Swiss" (for example) was already a stock phrase, as indicated by this sentence in "Select epistles or letters out of M. Tullius Cicero; and the best Roman, Greek, and French authors, adapted to the humour of the present age, by T. Brown":

    For, after long Observation, I find it to hold truer no Money, no Mistress, than no Money, no Swiss.

    No doubt some diligent reader can track this expression or similar ones even further back in history — I can find an example of the French version in Apologie pour Monseigneur le Cardinal Mazarin, 1649:

    Le Cardinal: Oiiy, ce sont des gens à l'argent ausi bien que moy, point d'argent point de Suisse, & moy ie dis point de Suisse, plustost de l'argent.

    I've seen the saying (presumably in Italian) attributed to Gian Giacomo Trivulzio, who died in 1518, but I haven't found a specific contemporary quotation.]

  17. Josh said,

    August 5, 2011 @ 9:11 am

    Vanya, I learned mandarin from my mother and then from successive classes in early life for over 8 years. Even though I felt myself to be at a very proficient level outside of technical and engineering speech (for which I'm now taking classes) I didn't know what 共产党 meant until the seventh year of my study.

    This wasn't because of any particular failing but because the vast majority of my teachers avoided mentioning politics like the plague. The overseas Chinese community, even among the children, is emotionally divided among KMT supporters, DPP supporters, and mainland Chinese who support the communist party.

  18. Jerry Friedman said,

    August 5, 2011 @ 9:46 am

    @Gregory Dyke: A classic example of this construction in French is "Point d'argent, point de Suisse."

    @Victor Mair: I don't know whether it's interesting, but the young Mexican men at a gym I go to, who speak English with different degrees of fluency, are fond of "Long time no see". Maybe it's because they don't have to remember that in more standard expressions, see would be in the present perfect, whereas in equivalent Spanish expressions it's in the present (I believe). So this phrase might still be doing its job for non-native speakers. I'd be amused if it's originally fictional.

    By the way, the earliest citation in Google Books is now from Excursions, Adventures, and Field Sports in Ceylon (1843). Time to edit Wikipedia.

  19. A-gu said,

    August 5, 2011 @ 10:11 am

    No doubt this is not simply the machine translation deciphering the sentence; it's obviously being treated like some sort of 'set phrase.' My favorite counter examples:

    No not the old Chinese Nationalist…

    Old China without the Communist Party did not

  20. un malpaso said,

    August 5, 2011 @ 11:54 am

    I always figured "No Woman No Cry" meant "No, woman, don't cry," just from the fact that later lyrics make it obvious that he is talking to his woman. In fact, he explicitly says "Don't shed no tear(s)." context, context…

    although I suppose, seen in another light, he could be commiserating with a friend and saying that "he won't shed any tears" because he has no woman now :)

    Also, "No pain, no gain" is well enough established that it could be a new framework for the construction in most people's minds.

  21. Mark Mandel said,

    August 5, 2011 @ 11:56 am

    John Swindle: I've generally seen that one on signs as
    where the line breaks serve as punctuation. Of course, it's still not explicit that the condition is inclusive disjunction of the first two lines —

    [(you have NO SHIRT on)
    (you have NO SHOES on)]
    (you will get NO SERVICE here)

    Gregory Dyke said: I wonder if this is related to novices being unused to the absence of a copula and overcompensating for its generalised absence. In French, the idiom "pas de …, pas de …" is almost estabilished enough to be a snowclone

    What do you mean by snowclone? Glen Whitman coined the term in 2004, as reported on this blog by Geoff Pullum:

    At last a suitable name has been proposed for the some-assembly-required adaptable cliché frames for lazy journalists that have received occasional discussion on Language Log (here, in the first instance). I mean formulae like these (where the N, X, Y, Z are filled in to taste):

    If Eskimos have N words for snow, X surely have Y words for Z.
    In space, no one can hear you X.
    X is the new Y.
    —–END QUOTE—–

    I feel stubbornly prescriptivist here. A snowclone is not just a construction, it is a construction cloned from a familiar phrase. If “pas de …, pas de …” is a snowclone, what's the clone progenitor?

    I for one welcome our new X overlords
    "I for one welcome our new insect overlords" (on "The Simpsons")
    “pas de …, pas de …”
    … what?

  22. J. Goard said,

    August 5, 2011 @ 12:45 pm

    Pretty frigging obvious to me right away, and I suppose it's not because of any particular language I know well, but rather my experience as teacher and student with the early stages of L2 acquisition where this is pretty much how anybody learning any language will express a conditional.

  23. slobone said,

    August 5, 2011 @ 1:06 pm

    Use a gun, go to jail.

  24. Kaiser said,

    August 5, 2011 @ 1:43 pm

    @Carl, @Mark: To elaborate on Mark's point, Carl's experiments are perfect illustration that machine learning algorithms do not care for, nor understand, anything about sentence structure, grammar, linguistics, etc. The ML algorithms are statistical, meaning they are based on frequency of occurrence. Thus, a common phrase will likely be translated correctly but turning it into an unusual phrase using the same sentence structure is not likely to yield a good result.

  25. required said,

    August 5, 2011 @ 1:49 pm

    I suggest that the French students might have gotten the conditional bit if they hadn't been jet-lagged. It is reasonable to expect, after all, that they would have already been familiar with similar phrases in Chinese before, such as the well-known Confucian "君君臣臣、父父子子." ="[If] the ruler [behaves like] a ruler, [then] the subject [will behave like] a subject; [if] the father [is] a father, [then] the son [will be] a son." Or something along those lines… would someone who actually knows Chinese enlighten us as to how common this style is in literary and/or regular spoken Mandarin?

  26. Ellen K. said,

    August 5, 2011 @ 2:04 pm

    I'm struck by the addition of "there is". In English, as I'm familiar with it, "No X, no Y" implies the conditional. "There is no X, there is no Y", does not.

  27. Bob Moore said,

    August 5, 2011 @ 4:28 pm

    @Mark: (Blatantly wearing my Google hat) While it is true that the IBM group laid the foundation for modern statistical machine translation (SMT), arguably the breakthrough that made it work well enough to be usable was Franz Och's extension of the IBM approach to use word strings ("phrases") rather than single words as the basic units of SMT. Although Franz made this breakthrough before joining Google, the fact that he has been the driving force behind the Google Translate effort should give Google some bragging rights over the rest of the field (excluding the IBMers who all went to Wall Street).

    [(myl) I don't think we disagree about the history — I cited Zens, Och & Ney 2002 as a key development. But I thought I ought to counter the statement that "Google Translate has achieved more in machine translation than the rest of the world’s artificial intelligence experts combined", which makes it seem as though the essential innovations came from the Google Translate development effort. From where I sit, GT's biggest accomplishment has been to make high-quality MT universally accessible.

    The Google-internal research effort, to the extent that it's known to outsiders, is clearly also of very high quality — but "achieved more than the rest of the world combined"? I don't think so.]

  28. Alex Dodge said,

    August 6, 2011 @ 2:09 am

    On the topic of set phrases, Google translate interprets "不入虎穴" as "Nothing ventured." I guess because it knows "不入虎穴,焉得虎子" as "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

  29. Rob P. said,

    August 6, 2011 @ 6:12 am

    I was also at first surprised that the students weren't familiar with "communist party." When I took Chinese in college, our textbooks were from Beijing Language Institute and they were full of communist jargon. We learned vocabulary like peoples liberation army, comrade and others that I don't remember. The dialogues had sentences like, "I joined the party and moved to the city and got a nice apartment," or "in the fall, everyone, doctors, teachers and students, go to the countryside to help with the harvest." But then, my high school textbooks were from Taiwan and didn't have any of that: "Who's dog is that?" "That is my dog."

  30. chris said,

    August 6, 2011 @ 10:50 am

    This reminds me of all those newspaper articles which appeared when Google Translate was first launched, lauding its remarkable "accuracy" at translating sample texts from classic novels in various languages. Astonishly, the Google Translate result was almost word-for-word identical to the corresponding human efforts, throughout the entire passage! The reviewers were all terribly impressed – although surely anyone with even the tiniest inkling of the nature of translation would have realized how impossible such a result would be unless Google Translate was drawing its translation from the same source as the reviewers' "human" version… It was yet another depressing demonstration of how little understanding most people have of what translation really involves.

    In one review I saw, Google didn't do so well in Russian; that being the only language where the sample text was not taken from a classic novel (it was an old speech by Gorbachev).

  31. Alan Chin said,

    August 6, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

    The song is a famous revolutionary song, I believe dating from BEFORE 1949 and the triumph of the Communist Party — it is an exhortation to action — dating from 1943.

    See Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Without_the_Communist_Party,_There_Would_Be_No_New_China

    The fact that this is no longer universally known even by astute students of Chinese culture and language show how disparate the various strains of history, its interpretation, and its discontents remain up for grabs and at play.

    There was a time when the song would have been immediately recognizable to anybody in the Chinese world, whether Communist or anti-Communist…

  32. Joseph said,

    August 6, 2011 @ 3:11 pm

    This reminds me of the statement "No bishop, no king" by James I, King of England, which could easily be misinterpreted in a similar way.

    [(myl) From William Prynne, The antipathie of the English lordly Prelacie, both to regall monarchy and civill unity, 1641:

    There is nothing more frequent in the these latter dayes in the mouthes of our domineering Lodrly Prelates, then this triviall Paradox of Archbishop Bancroft (which some would originally father upon our late Soveraigne King James) NO BISHOP, NO KING ; as if Kings could neither bee, nor continue Kings, unlesse Prelates were suffered both to be, and to continue Lords ; and Princes Crownes irreparably lost, if Bishops Miters were but once cast downe.

    This is the earliest published version of this "triviall Paradox" that I've found, though from the context it must be somewhat earlier, since Richard Bancroft died in 1610 (and was the "chief overseer" of the King James Version of the bible). It's considerably earlier than the first English-language version (1702) that I've found of "no money, no Swiss", but this saying is attributed to an Italian commander who died even earlier, in 1518. I imagine that this pattern was used, in English and other languages, long before the early 17th century, with written evidence perhaps going back to clay tablets in Sumer; but I don't know of any evidence one way or the other.]

  33. Ken Brown said,

    August 7, 2011 @ 5:09 pm

    Joseph beat me to it! That is exactly what I thought of when I read the OP. This construction has a long history in English.

  34. Amelia W. said,

    August 8, 2011 @ 11:01 pm

    In an effort to further unravel how and when Google Translate will understand an "if…then…" here are some combinations of the infamous "If you don't buy it the first time, you are to blame" notion of Google me with a firespoon. I've taken up where KKTKKR has left off, and added increasing amounts of clarification with 如果 and 那/就。The comma does seem to be unreliable in rendering if/then, and the big winner is "自己" for indicating "yourself." Hopefully someone more learned will find these edifying.

    Do not blame you first buy

    Do not buy the first time, you blame

    Do not buy the first time, to blame you

    Do not buy the first time, blame yourself

    If not buy the first time, blame yourself

    If first you do not buy it, blame yourself

    If you do not buy the first time, you blame yourself

    To my mind, google is trying to stay out of trouble as best it can by not assuming who is doing the blaiming, and where it is directed. I have to admit as another "intermediate" Chinese student, I have often found myself creating equally heinous translations trying to avoid the same thing on tests.

  35. marie-lucie said,

    August 9, 2011 @ 5:21 pm

    About the French students' reactions, I agree with the person above who differentiated English "no … no …" (= French "pas de …, pas de …") and "there is no …, there is no …" (= French "il n'y a pas de ……). Students at the beginning and even intermediate level tend to have learned complete, unambiguous sentences, and are often baffled by shortcuts, irony, jokes, anything where there is some ambiguity. So the students here seeing an apparently official display probably expect ponderous declarative sentences, not ambiguous ones even if they had been occasionally exposed to them.

  36. Diane said,

    August 11, 2011 @ 8:29 pm

    I second Ellen K. "There is" makes all the difference.

    I don't speak a word of Chinese or French so someone please clarify: was the "There is" in the original Chinese or did the French speakers inserted it themselves for some grammatical reason of their own?

  37. John Swindle said,

    August 11, 2011 @ 9:10 pm

    @Diane: It's implicit in the Chinese original. 没有 méiyǒu, "not have", can reasonably be translated into English as "not to have", "no", "without", or "there is no", depending on context.

    Unlike the English translation, "No Communist Party, no New China," you can break the Chinese original in the middle to form sentences: "There is no Communist Party. There is no New China."

    I keep typing "Communisty."

  38. Amir said,

    August 14, 2011 @ 8:54 am

    Regarding the statistical translation angle: A while back the Hebrew-speaking internets were afire with apparently chauvinistic Google translations, when asking to translate from English to Hebrew phrases such as:
    – I am driving a car
    – I am washing the dishes
    – I am doing the laundry
    In Hebrew the verbs also carry the gender of the person carrying them out, and Google translated phrases with dishes or laundry in the feminine while others such as driving in the masculine. Hence the uproar.
    Those in the know were quick to point out that Google uses statistics to translate, meaning it gives results from what it finds most used (on the web?). That pretty much cinched it for us that the translations were not so much AI as they were statistical.
    On another note: We have a saying in Hebrew that I'm fond of (and don't know its origins): "No brain, no worries".

  39. Alex said,

    August 15, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

    Another English parallel: Spare the rod, spoil the child. When I was younger and my mother told me this (jokingly) I misinterpreted this to be an imperative to actually spoil children.

  40. Bill Baxter said,

    August 16, 2011 @ 8:48 am

    "Complain" is 埋怨 máiyuàn, not "買怨 mǎiyuàn".

  41. Bill Baxter said,

    August 16, 2011 @ 8:55 am

    I should have said, "According to dictionaries, 'complain' is 埋怨 máiyuàn (and that's what I learned), not '買怨 mǎiyuàn'"; another of Victor's entries gives a photo with an example of 買怨 (in simplified characters: 买怨), so some people definitely write it that way, and maybe say it that way too: some kind of folk etymology? 埋 mái is 'bury'; 買/买 mǎi is 'buy'.

  42. Bill Baxter said,

    August 16, 2011 @ 9:13 am

    Jeez, this is getting complicated.
    1. Actually, even though 埋 in the meaning 'bury' is pronounced mái, the pronunciation of 埋怨 is given as "mányuàn" in both my electronic version of Hànyǔ dà cídiǎn (from the PRC) and the useful online 重編《國語辭典》修訂本 Chóngbiān Guóyǔ cídiǎn xiūdìngběn from Taiwan. I'm not sure where the pronunciation mán came from; in the Guǎngyùn, the only pronunciation given for 埋 is 莫皆切, Middle Chinese "meaj" in the (ASCII-friendly) notation I use. I'm not sure I've ever actually heard "mányuàn".
    2. The written variant "买怨“ is evidently rare; a Google search for "买怨" (the quotation marks are important) gives 10,900 hits; "埋怨" gives 22,700,000 hits.

  43. Chris Waigl said,

    August 20, 2011 @ 7:12 pm

    The instructor may have, and maybe did point out to the students, once the basic correctness of their translation had been established, that colloquial French has the same construction. Especially with the right prosody and gestures: "Pas de parti communiste, pas de nouvelle Chine."

  44. Joel said,

    September 11, 2011 @ 5:36 am

    I'm late here, but I first heard this express in "chinglish" from an English teacher here, which he rendered as "Without CCP, Without China."

  45. John said,

    February 27, 2012 @ 2:24 am

    I'm very late here, but for the benefit of anyone reading Bill Baxter's comments (incidentally, posted on the wrong entry):

    埋怨 can be pronounced mányuàn, though enough people get it incorrect that the "correct" pronunciation may eventually evolve to máiyuàn;

    however, nobody is complaining in those sentences. Bill seems to have misplaced the implied punctuation, which is: 第一次不買, 怨你; 第二次不買, 怨我. Does this count as an eggcorn?

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