Sunday, September 12, 2010

To Run Business / should be OPEN FOR BUSINESS .....DRINK TEA / should read TAKING A BREAK...or ON BREAK

Dr Victor Mair, a former Taichung professor, filing a blog post from Pennsylvania at Language Log under Lost in Translation, notes:

In an earlier post, I surmised that Chinese translators and translation software seemed unable to handle the construction "XX zhōng" "XX 中" ("in the process / midst of XX"). Two more examples sent in by Danny Bloom would seem to confirm that surmise.

The first sign, the one in red, reads:

Yíngyè zhōng 營業中 TO RUN BUSINESS

Idiomatically rendered, that should be "Open for Business" or just "Open."

The second sign, the one in green, reads:

Xiūxí zhōng 休息中 DRINK TEA

Xiūxí literally means "rest," and has nothing to do with drinking tea, unless one habitually drinks tea when one takes a rest (which is what many, but not all, Chinese workers do). A more idiomatic rendering into English would be "On Break," as in the following sign (never mind the second part):

What this tells us about the perils of translation, I believe, is that, if sorting out the meanings of words in a text to be translated is difficult, making sense of grammar and syntax is even more subtle and challenging.

[By the way, Google Translate renders "營業中" as "Business in", and "休息中" as "Rest of". In context, it may be possible to figure out what these translations probably mean (though the same could be said about "To Run Business" and "Drink Tea"). But it's interesting to speculate about how many common idioms there are of the form __中, and what sort of process applied to what sort of training material would allow a statistical MT system to learn them and to apply them correctly.]


[These signs are manufactured in Taiwan by Salmon International Ltd in Kaohsiung.]

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