Wo Shi Laowai – Wo Pa Shui

This Blog was Invented in Xi'an 5,000 Years Ago

Gained in Translation

Posted by MyLaowai on Thursday, June 17, 2010

You will, as you travel about the globe, notice that in every language there are words that have been ‘imported’ from other languages. This is quite normal and understandable. We do it in English all the time. There are many reasons why this happens, but in most cases it’s because the new word expresses something in a way the host language either cannot, or does not do as effectively. The new word eventually becomes part of the host language.

Chinese is no exception, and a great many words have entered their language from abroad. Many of these words were originally English. The Chinese, however, because of the dysfunctional way in which their so-called language ‘works’, are forced to use childish pictographs to represent things, and in the process the actual meaning of the words is irrevocably changed. Thus, “telephone” becomes 电话, which means “electric words”. “Animal” becomes 动物, or a “moving thing”, and “motor car” becomes 小汽车, or “small steam car”, which is ridiculous. The list is long, and sometimes the translation manages to retain some of the meaning, but in most cases it becomes something utterly meaningless.

Why does this happen? Simple: Because a primitive language that cannot easily evolve to cope with new concepts is therefore one that is unable to properly express ideas that are more advanced than it is. It cannot keep up with the times. That is why science, literature, art, mathematics, and all the rest are so poorly expressed in Chinese. It’s why their poems and novels are so childish, why they don’t understand that the stars and the sun are actually the same thing, why melamine is seen to be a nutritious and delicious food additive for the young, and so on. Crikey, they don’t even have a proper way of saying “yes” or “no”.

But at least they try, bless ’em. They don’t actually try in the way that the Koreans or the Vietnamese or the Japanese did, by reinventing their system of little pictures to make allowance for an Alphabet, because that’s what the barbarians from across the big water do, but they do try in the sense that they continue to attempt to force the same square peg into the same round hole again and again. And, sometimes it works.

However, if you listen to folks talking, and especially the young, you soon discover that this tired old method just isn’t enough – some concepts are simply too alien to the Chinese mindset to be incorporated into their ‘language’. When this happens, in many cases they simply insert the English word into the sentence. They have to, because they could never express it in Chinese in a million years. Here’s an example:

什么什么无聊的谈话无聊无聊Cooperation无聊废话什么Working Together什么无聊的谈话无聊无聊Caring无聊的谈话.

Or how about this:

无聊Healthy Food废话钞票钞票钞票钞票Being Nice To Other People房地产无聊Microsoft Excel无聊的谈话无聊无聊.

Or this one:

废话钞票钞票什么钞票什么钞票After You什么无聊的谈话Love废话房地产Personal Hygiene钞票废话房地产.

There’s still some hope, after all. I think there’s something in that for all of us, don’t you?

Advertisements

27 Responses to “Gained in Translation”

  1. DaBizarre said

    My favourite is “style”, as in “I like your style”. Our commmunist collectivisits apparently haven’t had the need, or the capability, to describe such an individualistic thing

  2. 0112337 said

    Here are better translations Laowai,

    电话 = electric language/talking
    动物 = moving entity/object

    motor car is usually just 汽车. 话 does not mean words, 字 means words.

    小汽车 = small gas emitting vehicle.

    汽 does not mean steam. It means steam with the adjective “蒸” in front.

    the term “钞票” is only used in Shanghai by Shanghainese.

    Chinese, and especially classical Chinese is far, far more logical than western languages. That’s why Chinese people are so good at math.

    Western language is, on the other hand, a story of hypocrisy, ignorance, selfishness, confusion, and arrogance.

    English is roughly 1/3 Old German, 1/3 Latin, 1/3 French + Indigenous Celtic language. This happened perhaps because the island nature of England and the British people’s early adoption of sea-faring trade. The end result is absolute confusion with no logic whatsoever.

    Take the word “ancillary”. It means auxiliary or helping, but the latin root is ANCILLA which means a slave girl. So the correct definition should be “like a slave girl”.

    And the popular name “Mortimer”. That actually comes from the latin MORTVVS which means dying. Mortimer actually means “one who is about to die”.

    And how about “Barbara”? That comes from the latin BARBARVS, which means barbarian. Barbara is the female form of that which means a “female barbarian”.

    Oh confused, ignorant hypocrisy…and the list goes on….

    French and Spanish are basically ignorant celtic barbarian’s interpretations of latin. The French celtic barbarians apparently learned the basic grammar from the Romans but failed to adopt the Latin’s enunciative clarity with the result that every word of this language sounds like as if the speaker has something horribly stuck between his/her upper set and lower set of teeth and he/she is trying desperately to spit it out with his/her tongue but without success. (ex. le peau). Why you barbarians find this attractive is beyond me….

    And of course, Spanish. Spanish has retained all of Latin’s illogical, grammatical structures. If you want to say I don’t want anything, you say, “No Quiero Nada” which literally means “I don’t want nothing.”

    German seemed to have been an unpopular language amongst you. Didn’t King Philip of Spain remark that,

    “I speak English to my bankers, French to my lovers, Spanish to my courtiers, and German to my horse?”

    I think he summed it up pretty well.

    • Rapunzel said

      You talk a load of utter crap, 0112337.

      Chinese has no articles, no tenses, no inflection, no preposition, postpositions etc. and grammatically it works like a pidgin language, the Classical language even more so. Chinese grammar basically consists of slapping all the words down and hoping the reader can work out from context the relationship between the words. For example, “The king marched the army into battle in wintertime” becomes “king march army battle winter.”

      • 0112337 said

        1. Most people who can read in the past learned how to read from a tutor/master who would teach them how to decipher the “pidgin language”. Perhaps you should find a better tutor?

        2. Compared to western languages it is lacking in articles, tenses, inflection…etc. That’s the beauty of it. It’s not cluttered with redundancy. The beauty of Chinese language lies in it being able to convey the core or the essence of complex ideas in the most efficient, symbolic, and pictorial manner. It’s abstract, like mathematics.

        Latin and most of the Latin based languages, on the other hand, are at the opposite end of this. It has articles, tenses, inflection, conjugations…etc. and apparently the Romans just decided to place those words anywhere sometimes without spaces between the words. That’s a “pidgin language”.

        Maybe it’s a personal thing, but classical Chinese makes perfect sense to me, as someone with a fairly broad mathematical background.

        Next time when you study Chinese characters, look closely at how the characters are constructed, the way they are put together shows not only meaning but a way of thought as well. Chinese culture is passed down through the language and this language is really the only determinant of who or who doesn’t belong to the Chinese race.

        The character for safety, “安” (pronounced “un” in the English sense), for example shows a distinct way of thought. It shows “女” (notice the extension for the female breasts in the character), the character for a woman underneath the symbol for a tent or some other residence. Apparently, ancient Chinese people thought that a safety is when a woman is underneath a tent not outside of it.

        The character for good, “好” (pronounced “hao”), is a combination of “女” and “子” (pronounced “zeh”), which means son. So this can be interpreted two ways. Good can mean when someone has a son and woman, or when the woman has a son, or both. This is culture. In America, the word “good” could very well be represented by the word, “cash”.

        I am glad you are studying Chinese Rapunzel, you are learning how we think (maybe unconsciously) as a result. The only difference separating a Chinese person and a non Chinese person lies in knowing or not knowing the Chinese language.

    • Rapunzel said

      You said

      | English is roughly 1/3 Old German, 1/3 Latin, 1/3 French + Indigenous Celtic language.

      Oops! I think you missed Greek out of your list, as represented in such words as telephone, anthropology etc. I think you have a bit of a history of discounting Greece, as it seems the Chinese authorities have as well, at least according to this web page:

      http://book.sohu.com/20060105/n241290957.shtml

      I quote:

      | 何以在中国官方的宣传中,希腊的位置消失了,反而变成了晚于其后1000年的中国?

      Yes, that’s right, couldn’t stand the fact that Greece, the root of Western culture, is basically 1,000 years older than the somewhat imaginatively named “Central Kingdom.”

      Anyway, the position of Latin-derived words in English is somewhat analogous to the position of Sino-Japanese and Sino-Korean words in their respective languages, such that they even have two sets of numbers, a native one and a Chinese-derived one in those languages. Where’s your Asian/Western dichotomy now then, Tosh?

      The presence of Latin-derived words in English adds more layers of nuance to the language, so that there are often two words with the same basic meaning, of one Germanic origin and one of Latin origin, but with subtle differences of nuance, such as “amicable” and “friendly,” with the Latin-derived tending to be the more formal term. This has also been a contributing factor to the immense lexical richness of the English language, such that it has far surpassed any other language in sheer number of words, recently passing the one millionth mark!

      You always know when something makes Chinese feel threatened and insecure, as they make such strenuous (and transparently pathetic) efforts to disparage it, though not convincingly.

      • 0112337 said

        Rapunzel,

        I read parts of the link you sent me, and here are my thoughts on this. It is a known fact that historical research in China under communist party rule is questionable. You have to understand that the communist party was really just a party of rural peasant scholars and lots and lots of bandits, thieves, and murderers. They were the masters of historical fact manipulations during the revolution, so after they won, they made sure that people like them, who were also good at manipulating facts, were all squashed. History and political science scholarship in China are very, very questionable. I am not a history or political science scholar, and I grew up in China, but even I would doubt what they tell me as well as all the other educated Chinese people.

        “Oops! I think you missed Greek out of your list, as represented in such words as telephone, anthropology etc.”

        You are right. I was being careless. Thank you for pointing this out.

        “Yes, that’s right, couldn’t stand the fact that Greece, the root of Western culture, is basically 1,000 years older than the somewhat imaginatively named “Central Kingdom.” ”

        No, it’s not that I couldn’t stand this fact. As a banker, I truly don’t care. What I care about is the fact that Greece’s economy is in the dumps and China’s is red hot with lots of opportunities. Teenage fools like you and the other young “fenqings” on here might care though.

        I don’t think I ever said China was older than Greece right? Like I said, I highly doubt what I learned about Chinese history in high school and before. Greece could very well be older than China. That’s great. They have something to be proud of after all the failures they are facing everywhere else.

        “Anyway, the position of Latin-derived words in English is somewhat analogous to the position of Sino-Japanese and Sino-Korean words in their respective languages, such that they even have two sets of numbers, a native one and a Chinese-derived one in those languages. Where’s your Asian/Western dichotomy now then, Tosh?”

        I am sorry, maybe I am slow…but what is your point here?

        Over half of Korean words are derived from Chinese, and “Kanji” in Japanese are archaic Chinese characters probably borrowed from the Tang dynasty. Korea and Japan still use Chinese words for formal occasions as a sign of respect(euphemism), hypocrisy(cynicism), ignorance (realism). Many Japanese people today have no idea what their Kanji’s original meanings were in Chinese so they use it in bizarre ways to the amusement of Chinese people. Many Japanese name their children “big rivers, or three mountains, iron ivies…etc.”

        There’s a popular joke among common Chinese people that the Japanese name their children according to where their fathers first conceived them. We say that Japanese women’s kimono has a little backpack pouch because it contains a convenient little blanket which they spread out on the ground for sex in the wilderness.

        Realize that there’s no pan-asian unity among asians just like there’s no pan-European unity. You fools have always been fighting and hating each other right? The Germans have always fought the French and the French hated the British?

        That’s the same with us. There’s no greater hatred in the world than the one that exists between China and Japan, Korea and Japan, and China vs. Korea. We get along only through trade just like you people learned to get along through E.U. trade and shared democratic values.

      • 0112337 said

        “The presence of Latin-derived words in English adds more layers of nuance to the language, so that there are often two words with the same basic meaning, of one Germanic origin and one of Latin origin, but with subtle differences of nuance, such as “amicable” and “friendly,” with the Latin-derived tending to be the more formal term.”

        Let me tell you why this is. About two thousand years ago, you fools, the Celts, were happily eating each other and swinging from trees in the wilderness. Then the Romans came along and forced you to build cities, learn to pee and shit in toilets, and ultimately die for them fighting other Celts. You fools thought the Romans were the greatest in the world and realized that they were the strongest, richest, and most civilized people you have ever met. So in order to be like them, you all started to migrate toward Rome, to learn Roman ways, and to speak the Roman language. But of course, not all of you succeeded as you can see from the variations in Latin-based European languages today.

        Then the Huns or the Xiongnu came along. They were driven away from their lands by us. And the Huns thought you chumps were fruitcakes. They just ate you up, and forced you south to attack Rome. And you did conquer Rome mostly because at that time the Roman treasury ran dry from buying Chinese silk and funding wars in far away provinces.

        So came the dark ages, where you fools went back to eating each other and swinging from trees with joy, without civilizing forces to restrain you. And the Italians are not stupid, knowing that they no longer have the great cities and legions to restrain you barbarians, they adopted something better…Christianity.

        Before, if you don’t follow what they say, they beat you down. Now, they trick you and say if you don’t follow what they say, they will send you to this mythical hot place called hell and you have no way of getting out or knowing how to seek help because you don’t understand Latin. All catholic sermons and scholarly works were given or written in Latin, to prevent you fools from ever getting out of hell on your own. But with political allegiance, and money, they were willing to share with you a bit insight into the mysterious language.

        So what did you fools do? You learned Latin and you paid the money. But of course, like the first time around, not everyone were smart enough to learn it correctly with the result in different, grotesque, manifestations of the original Latin language as evident in Spanish, French, Portugese…etc.

        “You always know when something makes Chinese feel threatened and insecure, as they make such strenuous (and transparently pathetic) efforts to disparage it, though not convincingly.”

        I am “disparaging” the westerners here because of the westerners’ hypocrisy. I couldn’t care less which culture is better than which.

        But say, chump, why do you pick the screename “Rapunzel”? Are you aspiring to be the dumb lassie who risked having her hair pulled out or are you aspiring to be the chump who risked his life by climbing up?

      • Rapunzel said

        “Yes, that’s right, couldn’t stand the fact that Greece, the root of Western culture, is basically 1,000 years older than the somewhat imaginatively named “Central Kingdom.” ”

        The omitted subject of that sentence is 官方, following on from the quoted text, not you, otherwise it would have been “can’t”.

      • Rapunzel said

        “No, it’s not that I couldn’t stand this fact. As a banker, I truly don’t care. What I care about is the fact that Greece’s economy is in the dumps and China’s is red hot with lots of opportunities.”

        I think you’re right there. I would swap Greece’s per capita GDP of $32,000 for China’s $6,000 any day. If only I could pay $350,000 for some hole in the wall in some polluted dump of a city instead of $50,000 for a house on a beautiful Mediterranean island. The Chinese economy certainly is replete with opportunities. You can build a huge mall, and let it rot – build a huge office tower, and let it rot with most of the offices standing empty – seems what everyone else is doing round here. Or you can start up an AMC, issue bonds to buy all the non-performing loans off state banks at face value and then only collect 20% of the debts, not even earning you enough to pay back the interest on the bonds – what, you’re a banker and you don’t know this stuff – Chinese banks have the biggest portfolios of NPL’s of any other banks in the world. That should please you, you always like to be first.

        The Chinese economy is the world’s biggest joke right now, only, for the time being it’s a joke most people have fallen for. Mind you, it’s not going to be funny when the truth does finally come out.

        “Teenage fools like you and the other young “fenqings” on here might care though.” – How do you know I’m a teenager? Sticks and stones will hurt my bones, but words only hurt insecure Chinese sorts.

    • Rapunzel said

      Barbara means “foreign woman” and has the same root as barbarian, but having the same root is different from having the same meaning. Shirt and skirt have the same root, but that doesn’t mean a shirt IS a skirt.

      Mortimer does not mean “one about to die.” Look it up for yourself, coz I can’t be arsed to explain.

      Confusion arises in any language due to the simple fact that languages change over time.

      But, anyway, so much for the confusion, but whence the arrogance? Or did you just randomly insert that word without accounting for it, hoping that it would just slip under the radar?

      A history of confusion and arrogance, eh? What, your posts? Ha ha ha ha!

      • 0112337 said

        “Barbara means “foreign woman” and has the same root as barbarian, but having the same root is different from having the same meaning.”

        The ancient Greeks most assuredly viewed “foreign woman” the same way modern people viewed “female barbarians” today. Read up on what Herodotus said about the Greek perception of “foreigners” living near the Balkans.

        “Mortimer does not mean “one about to die.” ”

        Ok, you are right, I am wrong.

        “Confusion arises in any language due to the simple fact that languages change over time.”

        Yes, when the barbarians never learned it correctly the first time, of course it will change.

        Just like African Americans are slowly changing English in the United States. Ya dig, dawg?

  3. 0112337 said

    But you are right MyLaowai, due to western influences, Chinese has been bastardized. I was at 中关村 in Beijing a few years ago trying to buy some computer softwares and a saleswoman accosted me asking if I wanted some “叉屁”.

    I later learned that she wanted to scam me into buying Windows XP.

    You fools are ruining my language.

    • Rapunzel said

      I think that “叉屁” is a bastardized version of the original English XP, not the other way round, mate.

    • john said

      0112337, chinese is an awesome, logical language, but you are a huge douchebag. Your use of ‘we’ to talk about asian people/chinese people is so forced. You’re one of those bananas that studies chinese for 3 months and starts ‘accidentally’ saying ‘close the light..oops! I mean turn off the light..’ to a room of all foreigners. Why are you trying so hard to fake a different cultural identity?

  4. Slap2tickle said

    It goes both ways with Chinese learning English and quiet happily bastardizing our language too, for example Software is a non-countable noun which means there is no plural form, but programs for example is countable. So who’s bastardizing what?

  5. MyLaowai said

    I think ‘Numbers’ Wang has misunderstood me – I’m actually pleased at this development. For the first time in history, there’s the chance of the Han ‘language’ moving out of the Neolithic, by the simply addition of a more sophisticated concept: the Alphabet.

    Pretty much everyone else in the world has accepted that this is the way forward, and now the Han are finally beginning to accept it, too.

    Perhaps, with the daily use of advanced concepts such as ‘personal hygiene’ and ‘other people exist’, the Han people themselves will start having such advanced thoughts on their own.

    Which is good, because then we won’t eventually have to nuke them out of existence.

    • Chinese Netizen said

      Notice Jackie “I am a CCP biatch” Chan’s name in this new Karate Kid movie is Mr. Han???

      • Slap2tickle said

        Mr Mylaowai, there was a time when the Han began to develop advanced thoughts such as “Strike” and “Protest” at the end of the 80’s sometime, the actual year has slipped my mind, but it was soon extinguished.

      • Rapunzel said

        Bet he’s pissed off it’s called Karate Kid, and not Kungfu Kid.

  6. Scoobydo said

    I knew a Swedish engineer (I think it was Scania he worked for) who used to complain about the quality of Chinese engineering graduates.

    He told me that part of the problem was the descriptive nature of Chinese engineering language which was too descriptive for its own good. In other words, Chinese engineering terms suggested processes and hence solutions that were often wrong.

    I suppose that would be “Engineering with Chinese characteristics”?

  7. 0112337 said

    WOW…France. Who would have thought you will go out with such flying colors in the World Cup.

    Cheated into the game, a loss against the weakest team on earth during the pre-game, defeat in the hands of the Mexicans, a player forced to retire, a mutiny, a humiliating defeat, and to cap it all… unbelievable stupidity and arrogance on the part of the coach Domenech… caught on TV!!

    Who would have thought…who would have thought the French team would be so….French.

    This is one world cup the world will remember. If I were Domenech, I would dig a very deep hole, jump in along with my family, and never come out again.

    Today must be the greatest day of the year in Ireland.

    GO NORTH KOREA!! HOLD YOUR HEAD HIGH, FINISH YOUR GAME STRONG!!

  8. Slap2tickle said

    Does anybody know if China qualified, or even attempted to?

  9. 0112337 said

    Wow…Italia…who would have thought…

    Looks like the poor, rude peasants of Europe are out too…last in the group…Arrivederci!

    Guess you can’t cheat your way into the next round…

    This World Cup is starting to look like a comedy at Europe’s expense. Italy almost lost to New Zealand and England tied with the U.S.? And the French…

    Good luck Europe! Work hard on making past the Round of 16…hahahaha…

    GO NORTH KOREA!!!

  10. Scoobydo said

    “GO NORTH KOREA!!!”

    Didn’t they get tanked 7 nil by Portugal?

    How come Chinese people are reduced to supporting North Korea when China is such a powerful sporting nation?

    Its all the more surprising as according to some Chinese peasants, China invented the game.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: