Jump to content
Chinese-forums.com
Learn Chinese in China

Constantly mistranslated Chinese words: Aaargh!


Recommended Posts

I have a couple of words that seem to get mistranslated (in my opinion) that really annoy me every time I see them and I'm just wondering what everyone else can come up with. Hopefully in the process I can learn the real meanings of some new words.

Chinese word: 酒 jiǔ

English mistranslation: "Wine"

Proper translation: "Alcoholic Beverage"

Explanation: In Chinese 酒 jiǔ can really mean any alcoholic beverage, so something like "wine" is too specific of a translation for it. In some places like Taiwan "hard liquor" will only be referred to as 酒.

Chinese word: 白酒 báijiǔ (mainland-only usage?)

English mistranslation: "Wine" or worse, "White Wine"

Proper translation: "Liquor" or "Hard Liquor"

[Note: It's been brought to my attention that in some places 白酒 really does mean 白葡萄酒 but for this I'm assuming the "hard liquor" definition.]

Explanation: I'm guessing most people here have drunk their share of baijiu, and if they have then they know it certainly isn't wine! It sure isn't "white wine" since that's the name of a specific type of wine made from grapes. Most importantly, wine is not distilled and baijiu is. Baijiu is more like gin or vodka. Second, wine is usually fermented from fruit (though some grain which is fermented to the maximum degree possible without distilling is often called wine like "barleywine" and "rice wine.") I'm not sure but I think that baijiu is normally made from grain. [Edit: turns out that it's often made from sugar cane.] There are so many varieties of baijiu that it's probably hard to say that they are all just like vodka or some other specific type of western liquor. It's probably better to just translate baijiu as "liquor."

Chinese word: 圍棋 wéiqí

English mistranslation: "Chinese Chess"

Proper translation: "Go" (Japanese word imported into English)

Explanation: "Chess" is not a general term for all non-chance-based pure strategy boardgames. 棋 however seems to be more of a term for "pure strategy boardgame" and is used to name all kinds of games of that sort. [Edit: Turns out that I'm wrong on that and it's also used for some board games involving luck as well.] Calling weiqi "Chinese Chess" is particularly misleading, because if you tell me you are playing "Chinese Chess" I'm going to think you are playing 象棋 xiàngqí. After all, "elephant chess" as it's sometimes called is almost exactly the same thing as "chess" (which is almost exclusively used in English to mean Western/International Chess.) "Chinese Chess" is a very accurate translation of 象棋 but not anything else. Weiqi is known in the west already but it's known by the Japanese name "go" since it was mostly introduced into the west by Japanese people. Many English-speaking people may not know what "go" is but still, it's basically an official English word now and it is in most English dictionaries. They can go look it up.

So those are two that bother me over and over again, but then again I probably watch too many historical dramas.

Anyone else have any?

Link to post
Share on other sites
Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.

First isn't there already a thread with the exact same topic? I've searched but for the life of me can't find it....maybe I dreamed about it.

I'm sorry but I disagree with you on the Chinese Chess one. From being a child I have never heard anyone say go in the US only Chinese Chess.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Well I guess my point was that I grew up in a an "ignorant of asian cultures" society and so as a kid I didn't even know there was a difference so I thought they were all a form of Chinese Chess.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Shibole,

mistranslate

• verb translate incorrectly.

— DERIVATIVES mistranslation noun.

Perform another search of the Compact Oxford English Dictionary

Had to run it through a few dictionaries. BTW American English is poo.

Link to post
Share on other sites

dncdoor, whatever your "advanced learners" dictionary says, no native speaker would say that mistranslate wasn't a word. Here's a useful reference tool for you.

BTW American English is poo.
Well that's an insightful comment. Care to elaborate?
Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh, and back on topic, another common mistranslation is 橘子 as orange. Orange is 橙子, 橘子 is any one of a number of different terms depending on which variant of English you speak. I would call them mandarins.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Oh, and back on topic, another common mistranslation is 橘子 as orange. Orange is 橙子, 橘子 is any one of a number of different terms depending on which variant of English you speak. I would call them mandarins.

As far as I remember, the character 橙 was obsolete in standard putonghua for long time. At that time, 橘子 means both mandarins and orange. Thanks to the influence of Cantonese, the 橙 takes its rebirth in recent decade, but sometimes 橘子 as an orange is still used.

Btw, 橘 vs 桔 is a very interesting example in Simplified and Traditional Chinese. The more complex character is standard simplified chinese, while 桔 is the most common simplified form used in HK. 繁体字未必很繁, 简单字未必很简, 真古怪.

Link to post
Share on other sites
another common mistranslation is 橘子 as orange
I rarely see people use 橘子 for orange, but quite often 橘子水 for orange juice.
Link to post
Share on other sites
Mistranslate/mistranslation are not words:-

http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=mistranslate&x=0&y=0

If you'd like a more internationally acceptable term for "mistranslate" or "mis-translate," please suggest one instead of just complaining. I'll be happy to change the topic.

Note that my purpose here isn't to bash Chinese translators or something. I'm not even sure if it's Chinese people or non-Chinese who come up with the translations I think are bad/misleading. Many words may just not have very obvious translations. In some case dictionaries are at fault. For example:

http://dict.cn/search/?q=%C6%E5&x=0&y=0

In this case it seems like there's just an overzealous attempt to force a one-to-one correspondence between words. In reality there seems to be no good single English word for 棋 if you were to have to give that a definition.

Link to post
Share on other sites
At that time, 橘子 means both mandarins and orange.
Either way, a mandarin is not an orange, so even if the same word is used in Chinese you still need to use a different word in English (see also brother/sister + cousin). Quite often someone will say something to me like "here, have an orange", and then pass me a mandarin.
Link to post
Share on other sites
I'm sorry but I disagree with you on the Chinese Chess one. From being a child I have never heard anyone say go in the US only Chinese Chess.

What did people call xiangqi then?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh, and another big one is "Normal University" or "Normal School" for 师范大学/学校. I don't know if there's a really accurate corresponding English term (especially because nowadays these schools do more than just teacher training), but if there is, it almost certainly doesn't contain the world Normal.

Link to post
Share on other sites
What did people call xiangqi then?

Chinese Chess :mrgreen:

Okay so maybe there is a correct vs incorrect here but my point being at one point do you have to stop the "translation" for the sake of the ignorance of people. Meaning that "Go" is not native to the states and neither is xiang qi so most people would just think "chinese chess".... Where as we use mandarin or orange in differentiation of the normal university i say teacher's college

Link to post
Share on other sites

Normal School is correct, if archaic. It comes from the French.

See here.

I did read an amusing article published by one local college which claimed that 80% of its students were normal whereas the rest weren't!

Link to post
Share on other sites
Normal School is correct, if archaic
Archaic to the point that I'm sure most native English speakers would have no idea what on earth a Normal School was supposed to be. My first thoughts upon hearing this usage was to wonder where all the abnormal schools were :mrgreen:
Link to post
Share on other sites
Chinese word: 白酒 báijiǔ

English mistranslation: "Wine" or worse, "White Wine"

This is certainly true on the mainland, but in fact in Taiwan, 白酒 is the correct Chinese word for 'white wine'. What is called baijiu in China is gaoliangjiu in Taiwan. (This mistranslation is so widespread that Mo Yan's 酒國 was translated to 'the republic of wine'. Bad, bad.)
"Normal University" or "Normal School" for 师范大学/学校
The Dutch would be something along the lines of 'pedagogic university', not sure if that would also work in English? But 'normal' is probably not going to go away any time soon, many schools have it in their official English name.
Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...