Lobby bar, I think

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From Instagram:

The Chinese of the item circled in red reads:

dàtáng ba 大堂吧 ("lobby bar")

With 1,500,000 ghits, this expression may be counted as a genuine term in Chinese.

Google translate

dàtáng ba 大堂吧 ("lobby")

Bing Translator

dàtáng ba 大堂吧 ("lobby bar")

Baidu Fanyi and Baidu

dàtáng ba 大堂吧 ("lobby bar / lounge"; "LL" for short)

The problem arises because bā / ba can, among many other things, be both a transcription for English "bar" and a Mandarin emphatic final particle used at the end of a sentence to indicate a speculation.

Selected readings

[Thanks to Jeff DeMarco]


  1. Jonathan Smith said,

    July 1, 2022 @ 9:44 pm

    Yes but bā in all the translation examples! Above you end up repeatedly writing "lobby, I guess" in pinyin :D

  2. Victor Mair said,

    July 1, 2022 @ 10:26 pm

    One could ambiguate in all cases: bā / ba, but then you'd still have to deal with the problem of parsing to match the three translation examples.

  3. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    July 2, 2022 @ 9:04 am

    Aw, even a neural net can be insecure. Maybe it _is_ sentient?

  4. Jonathan Smith said,

    July 2, 2022 @ 11:38 pm

    I mean under "The Chinese of the item…" and following should be dàtáng bā = 'lobby bar'… mispronouncing the word 'bar' as toneless ba can definitely cause confusion :D (Google Translate knows 酒吧 and 網吧 at least, but annotates and pronounces 'lobby I guess' given 大堂吧…)

  5. John Swindle said,

    July 3, 2022 @ 6:24 am


    @Jonathan Smith: For 大堂吧 Google Translate gives me what it gave Victor Mair, namely "lobby". I can't think of a way to force it to take the toneless reading or for that matter a way to write 大堂吧 in Chinese to make it clearly "Dà táng ba" without rewording it.

  6. John Swindle said,

    July 3, 2022 @ 7:56 am

    And for me Google Translate shows the pinyin as "Dàtáng ba", as Victor Mair indicated, and says it that way. I'm trying to think whether there's a scenario in which "Lobby, I think" could be the work of a human translator.

  7. Peter Taylor said,

    July 3, 2022 @ 9:45 am

    My assumption on seeing the photo and before reading the accompanying text was that it was similar to the road sign which had an out-of-office auto-reply in Welsh: i.e. the person who requested the translation didn't realise that the response they received wasn't simply the translation.

  8. Lance said,

    July 3, 2022 @ 1:32 pm

    Peter Taylor: that's exactly what I expected!

    Wiktionary does confirm that "吧" is a loanword for "bar", in addition to its sentence-final particle status: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E5%90%A7. It's not too surprising that Google Translate gives "大堂吧" as "lobby"; putting a line break before the "吧" does get "lobby" and then "bar".

  9. M. Paul Shore said,

    July 5, 2022 @ 9:15 pm

    I’d say the creation of a new character for this meaning of , one replacing the mouth radical with the water radical, would arguably be justifiable; or, much more conveniently, the existing character 巴 bā could be used.

  10. Francis Boyle said,

    July 6, 2022 @ 3:58 am

    Like Peter Taylor I immediately thought of the Welsh example, but that was a case of sentiment overriding common sense. I can't think of any reason why someone providing translation services to Chinese speakers would insist on doing business in English.

  11. Jonathan Smith said,

    July 6, 2022 @ 3:49 pm

    @John Swindle I meant that, just as you say, when one enters the text "大堂吧" in Google Translate, it provides the pinyin "dà táng ba" and reads it as such (i.e., as the phrase "lobby, I guess"). And yep it translates simply 'lobby' (reasonable given the error).
    Curious about the effect, of context, I tried
    "我們去酒吧吧" >> 'let's go to the bar' (success)
    "我們去大堂吧吧" >> let's go to the lobby' (failure; should be 'lobby bar')
    "我們去大堂吧喝杯酒吧" >> 'let's go to the lobby bar for a drink' (success!)

  12. Mojones said,

    July 22, 2022 @ 4:37 pm

    Late to the party, I know. I was quite amused several years ago when a restaurant in the centre of Coventry, hardly the first place you’d expect to find Chinese wordplay, opened using the 吧 = particle/ 吧=‘bar’ ambiguity in its name. It doesn’t serve alcohol, but it’s only big enough to have a bar with stools along one wall for seating, at which you can eat your noodles, baozi, etc. It calls itself 吃吧: “Eat Bar”/“Let’s Eat”.
    The English name Chi Bar doesn’t capture it, sadly.

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