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“Origin of Species” Now a Chinese Kids’ Book

Since Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” was published in 1859, it has been translated into more than 35 languages, making it the most translated scientific text in history.  Now, a new Chinese translation, aimed at children, has been added to the mix.

The text was translated by Desui Miao, the collections manager of the Biodiversity Institute at Kansas University. He began the project at the request of a 10-year-old boy who attended one of his lectures in Beijing. The lecture was aimed at promoting Miao’s previous Chinese translation of the book, aimed at adults. Miao told the Kansas City Star that when asked for a children’s version, “I cavalierly said, ‘Sure.’ I didn’t know what this all entailed. But how can you say ‘no’ to a kid?”

It took Miao two years to complete the project, which is really two translations rolled into one: translating the original scientific work into Chinese, and translating adult scientific language into simplified language more appropriate for kids. Plus, since it was aimed at children, it needed to be fun!

The effort has paid off in spades, with the first two printings selling out completely. To date, Miao’s publisher has sold more than 20,000 copies since it was released in January. The book is popular not just among kids, but also among adults looking for a translation of Darwin that’s a little bit easier to grasp.

Miao told the Kansas City Star that both of his translations improve upon earlier versions of the book available in Chinese:

“My translation is easier to read and is overall a more accurate translation. I cannot say there are no mistakes, but I think there are fewer mistakes than in others…Taking complex ideas and making them simple was a great challenge. The children’s book is very fun, and the main concepts still remain.”

“Zero Translation” Causes a Row in China

Slowly but surely, bits of English are creeping into Chinese, Roman alphabet and all. English words and acronyms like Wifi, GDP and NBA now appear untranslated in all sorts of contexts, from spoken conversations to emails to news stories.

But not everyone is pleased with this trend, which is known as “zero translation.” The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, recently weighed in with an editorial attacking the use of untranslated English words.

According to the BBC, the editorial, which bore the headline “Why is zero translation so prevalent?,” claimed that

“[S]uch practices damage the integrity and harmony of the Chinese language, dilute the richness of the Chinese culture and hamper comprehension. “How many people can understand these words?” they ask.”

According to the New York Times, the editorial went on to say that “It’s become so serious that the foreign words are even showing up in regular publications and formal documents, giving rise to resentment among the public.”

But is the public really resentful of these English loanwords?  Surely some are. But not everyone, or the government would have an easier time promoting its list of “official translations.” As it stands now, some translations for commonly used English terms take off quickly. Other zero translation words, like NBA, are much more firmly entrenched. The government has been trying to get people to stop saying “NBA” in reference to American basketball for the past four years, with no success.

That’s not to say that the English words being used in China now will be used forever.  Sometimes, “zero translation” is just a temporary stage. For example, according to the New York Times, “email” was once used in China, but now two separate Chinese words have evolved to take its place:” 电邮 (dianyou), literally “electronic mail,” and 邮件 (youjian), which simply means ‘mail.'”

The People’s Daily editorial has generated a lot of attention and commentary online. Many people feel that trying to preserve the “purity” of Mandarin Chinese is a lost cause. For example, “My brothers name is Ruprecht” commented on the BBC website:

“Having worked in and visited China for 24 years, I can honestly say the people really don’t care how Western culture affects their language or anything else. They are very comfortable with it. Maybe in 20 years time the Chinese Govt will catch up with their own people.”

Meanwhile, DGR in Ithaca told the New York Times that while some of the editorial’s concerns were valid, others were misplaced:

“I fully share the concern about loanwords that are transliterated into a meaningless string of Chinese characters, for example the popular 巴士 ‘bashi’ for “bus”, with a literal meaning of handle/knight — i.e. gibberish. The evolution of the e-mail from this to a native combination is correct. Using a foreign-derived word or name in Latin script at least preserves the meaning of Chinese characters. I have no problem with “NBA”.”

It’s probably impossible to stem the tide of English loanwords into Chinese, but that doesn’t make translation any less important for companies looking to expand into the Chinese market. The cachet of “zero translation” may fade over time.   A well-translated brand will endure.

Map Shows Chinese Translation of European Place Names

Start your weekend off with something awesome: this map of Europe showing the literal Chinese translations of European country names.

Here are some of the more amusing, if bizarre,  translations:

  • Norway: Move Prestige
  • Sweden: Very Lucky Soldiers
  • Finland: Orchid Fragrance
  • Portugal: Grapetooth
  • Italy: Meaning Big Profit
  • Latvia: Pull-off Via
  • Belgium: Billy Time
  • Ireland: Love Your Orchid
  • Hungary: Hun’s Tooth Profit

 Wow. The map was made by Haonowshaokao, who is learning Chinese, and his Chinese wife. He explained why they decided to make the map to Buzzfeed News:

“This is not a serious translation by any means – I’ve translated the names in a pedantic, literal way, character-by-character, which wouldn’t make sense to most Chinese people.

I don’t want to make fun of Chinese people or the Chinese language, it’s just a funny way for me to remember the names of countries as I learn the language. Chinese people don’t really think of America as Beautiful Country or the UK as Brave Country any more than we think of Turkey as a bird. Any language unlike your own looks strange from the outside, but I hope people can use this as a stepping stone to learning Chinese rather than laughing at it.”

Also, as Buzzfeed notes but I’d like to second, go read the comments on the original map! There are several interesting, in-depth and very-much-worth-reading discussions of Chinese history and how the various countries got their names.

This map is a lot of fun, but it also demonstrates why translation is such a difficult art. Literal, word-to-word translations of text often come out awkward at best and meaningless at worst.  If the material you are translating matters at all – to your business or to your customers – you need to hire a reputable, professional translation service.

New Chinese Translation Guidelines: Is This the End of Engrish?

Over the years, China has become famous around the world for culture, food, industry . . . and funny translation mistakes. “Engrish” may have been born in Japan, but China has been exporting memes of hilariously bad translations for years now.

Except that the Chinese government is officially over it. Last week, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine issued a new set of guidelines regarding the use of English in public places. Is this the end of “Engrish?”

To find out, let’s take a look at the history of English translation in China, and why the new Chinese translation guidelines are needed.

A Brief History of Translation in China

Translation in China has a long, respectable history that dates to the Zhou dynasty in 1100 BC. At that time, Chinese translators were government clerks. Their goal was to “to replace one written language with another without changing the meaning for mutual understanding.”

Centuries later, translators would bring Buddhist scriptures to China. In the 7th century CE, during the Tang Dynasty, the famous monk Xuan Zang translated 1335 volumes of Buddhist manuscripts.

Later on, during the Qing Dynasty, translator Yan Fu brought Western political classics like  Thomas Henry Huxley’s Evolution and Ethics and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations to China. His criteria were “Faithfulness, Fluency, and Elegance.”

So, what happened? How did we get from there to today, where “roasted wheat gluten” often shows up on menus as “roasted husband.”

Why Do So Many Funny Translation Fails Come From China?

It’s nobody’s fault, really. Chinese and English are two very different languages. The number of English-speaking tourists in China has increased over the past two decades, and that gives small business owners a reason to cater to them.

However, these small businesses don’t always have the funds to have their signs, menus, and documents professionally translated. Machine translations are often inadequate. Mistakes will be made, and the results will be hilarious.  And meme-worthy.  Websites like Engrish.com showcase these translation mistakes. Pictures go viral. (It’s also worth noting that while most Western businesses have access to better resources, translation mistakes go both ways. ) Read more

“Guardians of the Galaxy” Chinese Translation Fail 

You’d think that if you were distributing one of this year’s biggest blockbuster movies in a market the size of China, you’d be willing to spend the money to get a good Chinese translation.

Or not. Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” was released in China last week, and apparently the subtitles got lost in translation. China Daily called reception of the film “lukewarm,” citing poor translation as one reason:

Weibo user “Gudabaihua,” who has become popular for uploading and subtitling video clips on social media, said he hasidentified at least 80 translation mistakes in the Chinesesubtitles. “Aside from a lot of mistranslations, the subtitles failedto show the original feel of the movie, such as jokes, puns andhomophones. We cannot help but doubt the professionalism of the translator.”

A few of the highlights, via The Mary Sue:

  • When other characters insult Rocket by calling him “weasel” or “rodent,” the Chinese subtitles merely say “small raccoon.”
  • “We’re the Guardians of the Galaxy, b***!” was translated “We’re the Guardians of the Galaxy, slut!”
  • “Turd blossom” became “big face.”
  • “Pelvic sorcery” became “rhetoric sorcery.”
  • Instead of teaching people how to dance, Kevin Bacon teaches them how to “twist a**.”

Humor, jokes and puns are all notoriously difficult to translate into another language and another culture. However, it’s certainly not impossible. And when your product is entertainment, you can’t afford to have your translators miss the punchline.  Despite the errors, Wikipedia notes that China is the third-highest international market for the film — but how much better would it have done if Chinese viewers felt properly catered to?

Marketing messages, product packaging and other business communications can suffer from the same sorts of problems. That’s why it’s so important to get the job done right the first time. At K International, our experienced, professional translators translate your company’s voice into your customer’s language, so they can laugh with you (when applicable), not at you!

Photo Credit: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by theglobalpanorama

Chinese Sign Sparks Controversy in Canada

Sometimes, even the most seemingly innocent translations can end up causing controversy.

For example, in Richmond, British Columbia,  a Crest ad targeted at Chinese-speaking residents caused a minor uproar last month.

The ad features a Chinese bride posed on a mouthwash-blue background next to a selection of Crest “3-D White” products. The accompanying text is all in Chinese, and translates to “In a nutshell, it’s a good thing this bride used Crest because now her teeth are shiny white.”

Why use a Chinese translation for a billboard in Canada? The area where the ad is located is heavily populated by Chinese immigrants. According to CTVNews, almost half of Richmond’s population speaks Chinese (Cantonese, to be precise.)

With such a large Chinese-speaking population, it just makes sense to target them with advertising. However, the campaign has left some English-speaking residents feeling left out.  For instance, one local resident told the Richmond Review that she would be boycotting Proctor and Gamble products, and some have pushed for legislation requiring all signs to be in one of Canada’s official languages.

One woman asked CTVNews, “How can I understand what they’re talking about or what they’re marketing?”  though it seems like this particular ad is fairly self-explanatory whether you can read Chinese or not.

Meanwhile, Richmond Councilor Chak Au told the Richmond Review:

“I think it reflects a certain level of insensitive on the part of the company or the advertising agency. That’s very unfortunate. I don’t think this is the right thing, but on the other hand I think this is understandable in terms of a marketing strategy…In a free society like Canada, where we treasure freedom of expression, I think it’s very difficult to use any legislation to forbid this kind of targeted marketing. Actually, if we do that, it may even create more problems.”

In a statement to  CTVNews, a Crest Canada spokeswoman said

“We deeply value the rich diversity of Canadians and continuously strive to connect with all consumers in relevant ways. “While the vast majority of our advertising remains in one or both of Canada’s official languages, this unique ad was created to reach a new audience of diverse consumers.”

What do you think? Should advertisements target local language minorities without including those who speak the country’s official language?

Chinese Translation Services: A Beginner’s Guide

Is your business looking for Chinese translation services? The potential benefits are tremendous:

Chinese translation can also help you reach communities of Chinese speakers closer to home.

But while the potential benefits are real, the potential pitfalls are, too. To avoid mishaps, read our beginner’s guide to Chinese translation services for businesses.

What language do they speak in China, anyway?

If you answered “Mandarin,” then you only get partial credit. Mandarin (often called Standard Chinese or Putonghua), is an official language in China, Taiwan, and Singapore.  But it’s not the only language people speak in China. Far from it. According to Ethnologue, there are 299 living languages spoken in China today.  Around 70% of the Chinese population speaks Mandarin, although the government would like to increase that to 80% by 2020.

The bottom line? It’s important to know your audience.  Depending on the content you’re translating, the medium you’re using, and the audience you’re trying to reach, Mandarin may be sufficient. But in some areas, like Hong Kong, it’s important to show respect for local languages like Cantonese, too.

And referring to standard Chinese as “Mandarin” is, in itself, a bit of an oversimplification. “Mandarin” also refers to a group of dialects used across northern and southwestern China. When spoken, these dialects are not all mutually intelligible. Read more