Handsome court — translation / transcription hybrid

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Schematic map of bus stops in the vicinity of Lingnan University, Tuen Mun (below Castle Peak), Hong Kong.  Note the tenth stop outbound, which is "Handsome Court" (to be explained below):

Tenth stop outbound:

héngshùn yuán (MSM) / hang4 seon6 jyun4 恒順園 (Cant.)

This place is listed by the English name "Handsome Court" on many maps, signs, and all sorts of publicity.  It is evident that the developers, realtors, and government treat hang4 seon6 恒順 as the Cantonese sound transcription / equivalent of English "handsome", whereas hang4 seon6 恒順 must also have some felicitous meaning in Cantonese, such as "common / constant smooth / successful / agreeable" that is altogether different from "handsome".

A similar (but not exactly the same) situation is true for hang4 fung1 jyun4 恒豐園 ("Harvest Garden"), the next stop on the route, where "harvest" partially preserves the meaning of fung1, since hang4 fung1 恒豐 implies "bumper / good harvest forever", i.e., "continued prosperity". Both housing estates were developed by the Hang Lung Group (hang4 lung4 zaap6 tyun4 恒隆集團, where lung4 隆 means "prosperous; grand; thriving"), which prefers to name its properties with the character hang4 恒 ("lasting; constant; permanent"). Both seon6 順 ("going smoothly") and fung1 豐 ("abundant") are very common names for housing estates. As for the corresponding English names, it seems that the developer was more interested in finding English words that sound similar and have auspicious meanings than striving for equivalence of semantic exactitude to the Chinese names.

Eva Ng, who is professor of Chinese linguistics and translation at the University of Hong Kong, says she thinks this approach is one of the strategies commonly adopted for translating place names in Hong Kong, as a pure transcription approach is considered "old-fashioned". The English translation of hang4 fung1 jyun4 恒豐園 is Harvest Garden, which has adopted a similar translation approach, except that the translation for hang4 fung1 jyun4 恒豐園 has also preserved part of the meaning in Chinese, because hang4 fung1 恒豐 conveys the sense of good harvest forever. However, in the translation of hang4 seon6 jyun4 恒順園 as "Handsome Court", the original meaning is lost, because hang4 seon6 恒順 literally means "success/smoothness forever".

Scorecard for preserving the Chinese meaning in English:

hang4 seon6 jyun4 恒順園 ("Handsome Court") — transcription win; translation loss

hang4 fung1 jyun4 恒豐園 ("Harvest Garden") — transcription loss; translation win

(although in neither case is the transcription / translation win / loss complete; they are amenable to different strategies for different instances)

You win some; you lose some, but even when you lose, you win.

Selected readings

[Thanks to Abraham Chan, Eva Ng, Oscar Zheng, and Xinyi Ye]



3 Comments »

  1. cameron said,

    February 4, 2024 @ 10:11 am

    does a similar transcription-based approach also account for the English name of the "Aegean Coast" stop?

  2. Chas Belov said,

    February 5, 2024 @ 12:32 am

    Pretty sure I used the LR Town Center Stop when I visited Hong Kong in 1989. The MTR didn't make it to Tuen Mun at that time, so I had to transfer from the light rail to a bus back to Kowloon, thanks to someone on the light rail who was able to direct me to the bus terminal.

    I'm curious about Cafeteria Beach.

  3. John Swindle said,

    February 6, 2024 @ 4:47 am

    @cameron: The "Aegean" part in 愛琴海岸 'Aegean Coast' is a transliteration but also the standard translation for "Aegean." According to a Google search there's a 愛琴海岸 that's a highrise apartment development in Hong Kong, another that's a resort in Taiwan, and another, far down the page, that's a geographic feature in Turkey.

    @Chas Belov: Me too. The Chinese looks like "coffee beach." There seem to be a New Cafeteria Beach and an Old Cafeteria Beach. Websites say that's because Old Cafeteria Beach antedates land reclamation. That doesn't explain the coffee or the cafeteria.

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