Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The most asked question - why?

This is going to be a bit longer than my usual postings, but the matter is worth every inch ...

I've been lately investing some spare time in trying to figure out what the thought processes of sign makers in China are. As non-relevant or nerdish that might sound at first glance, it is - in my eyes - nevertheless a question that, at least slightly, touches general concepts that China and her citizens and signmakers have about themselves and the world.
近来我花了一点业余时间,想弄明白那些在中国制作英文标识的人,在制作的过程中究竟是怎么想的。可能这听上去不太像一个问题,或者说有一点书呆子气,但是在我看来,至少在一定程度上能出中国和中国百姓,以及那些制作标识的人对自己和对世界的大概想法。

I think it is valid to ask why nobody actually proof-reads many of the bilingual signs in China. Signs that are not only displayed publicly but brightly illuminated by night, enlarged to giant proportions as billboard ads or huge commercials on street-long construction site fences.
我觉得很有必要问一下,为什么没有人去校对一下很多在中国大街小巷的双语标识。那些标识不仅是出现在公众场合,而且还常常被夜晚的霓虹凸现出来,甚至变成大型的广告牌,或一些整条街道长的建筑工地的篱墙上的巨幅广告。

Most of what I say now is influenced by discussions I recently had with Chinese friends and colleagues. Keep this in mind if I may sound arrogant. I can recall many instances where my Chinese friends look down on their tongbaomen and -women much more than I would ever dare to do (including classic utterances like She has no culture at all 这个人太没文化了。).
我现在要说的想法,都是近来和我的中国朋友们,还有中国同事们讨论后形成的。请你们一直记得这点,如果觉得我听上去有些自大。我还记得很多例子,我的中国朋友比我更看不起他们的同胞们(包括经典的口头禅:这个人太没文化了)。

Here we go.
好了,开始吧。

Possible approaches to China's bilingual sign-makers
制造中国双语标识制作人的可能想法


Approach number 1: Nobody speaks English in China.
可能性1:中国没有人会说英语。

I think, we can exclude that right away. There are not only enough foreigners in China who could do the job, but - more importantly - enough Chinese university graduates with excellent language skills, even more so when they return from abroad. That many Chinese students struggle with the English language, hence the abundant literature on classroom Chinglish, is well-known, but not relevant here.
我想,我们能马上删除这种可能性。中国的确有足够的老外来做这项工作,但更重要的是,她拥有足够多的语言水平很好的大学生,而且还有从国外学成归国的留学生。中国学生们如何努力学习英语众所周知,甚至因此衍生出了丰富的课堂中式英语作品。但这个状况,和我们这里讨论的并不相关。

Approach number 2: We don't care.
可能性2:我们漠不关心。

No matter if it is right or wrong, as long as it looks foreign, cool and different (see entry on this Shanghai hairdresser) we are fine with it.
This, of course, wouldn't have much to do with trying to come up with a real translation.
不管标识是否正确,只要看上去是外国字,是很酷的,是不一样的,就行了(参看上海美容美发用品标识)。这样的想法,对于真正做好一个翻译当时是没什么帮助的。

Approach number 3: We don't know better.
可能性3:我们不知道更好的。

Everyone familiar with certain company structures in China knows what I am referring to. Dongfeng Gongsi needs a new company sign, bilingual, international-looking, who is taking charge of that? Of course, Xiao Wang! Why? 因为他的英文是最好的 Because his English is the best!
What does that sentence really mean? Poor Xiao Wang has to deal with something he might not be familiar with at all, but his superiors regard his English to be the best. In the company. So it is naturally him who gets picked for the task. Luckily no one notices the problems afterwards, because his boss's English is nearly non-existent, so he won't bother.
任何了解中国公司一定运作架构的人,都知道我在说什么。譬如东风公司需要一条新的公司标语。需要是中英文都有的,要有国际视野的,谁能负责呢?当然是小王了。为什么?“因为他的英文是最好的。”
那句话到底是什么意思呢?可怜的小王,必须要做一些他可能并没有那么熟悉的事情,就因为他的上司认为他的英语是最好的。意思是在公司里他英文最好。所以很自然的事情就落到了他头上。很幸运的,没人在事后发现问题,因为他的老板英文很烂,根本不愿意费心去看。

Approach number 4: We want to do it ourselves.
可能性4:我们想要自己的事情自己做。

This would be a discussion about "losing face". How come we've built the Forbidden City and now have to rely on red-haired barbarians helping us with their language! An unlikely scenario, but I wouldn't want to exclude anything too early.
这可能是一个有关“面子”的问题。我们曾经修建了多么雄伟的万里长城,还有故宫,怎么可能到现在居然需要依靠野蛮的红毛人来帮我们学习他们的语言。一种不太可能的假想,但是我不想太早排除任何可能性。

Approach number 5: The might of online translation tools
可能性5:使用网上在线翻译工具的力量

In my next posting I'd like to feature some of them trying to show that it is quite likely that many sign makers are actually frequently using free online software to generate their rather characteristic word-by-word translations.
Using these tools for any Chinese sentence is real fun, by the way.
在我下一篇的文章里,我希望给大家看一些这样的例子。你们可以看到不少标识制作人,事实上很有可能经常使用一些的免费网上翻译的软件,来创造出他们极有特色的逐字翻译。
说句题外话,用这样的工具来翻译中文句子,还挺好玩的。

What do you think? What is the most likely approach in your eyes? Did I miss something completely?
I am very much looking forward to any comment!
你们觉得怎么样?在你们看来,哪一种可能性比较大?或者我是不是完全漏掉了一些其他可能性?
很希望你们能告诉我你们的看法。

32Comments:

At 3:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote ...

Generally, we don't say "这个人真的没文化了". Instead, we often say, "这个人太没文化(了)" or "这个人真没文化". ;-)

 
At 3:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote ...

这个人真的没文化了。---You'd better say, 这个人真没文化 or 这个人太没文化了.

 
At 3:48 AM, Blogger olr — 纪韶融 wrote ...

Thanks.
My point remains the same, though.

 
At 11:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote ...

i guess we cannot do better is part of the issue.
You have a pretty good grap of Chinese culture and i really like your blog.
Keep it up!

 
At 7:32 AM, Blogger olr — 纪韶融 wrote ...

Thanks for your support!

olr

 
At 8:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote ...

我知道制造标牌甚至企业介绍的广告小册子很多是被委托给一些标牌或者印务小公司的.他们只知道设计和制作,对英文根本没有了解,常常从朋友里找个他们认为懂英文的人.比如上过大学的,或者是中学的英文老师.很少人能够找到专业的英语翻译来做这样的事情.我的一个做平面设计的朋友原来是个小学的体育教师,他接过一个为一家企业做广告册的生意,就找到邻居我帮他翻译.书面的还稍微能做一点,但是遇到很多中文的中国说法,表达含糊不清,是翻译起来的主要难题,我的英文很一般也就帮他搞了,就是册子里有洋码儿就行了.至于日常标识的翻译如果没有在国外生活的经历,即使英文还好也难翻译成外国人日常习惯的用法,这是缺乏国外经历的原因,另外再加上随便找个连基本英语都不通的人,笑话自然遍地皆是,这样的标志和企业的或者产品的说明最好要有母语为英语的人给审阅一下.但是目前的情况在很多地方很难做到.利用网站做这样的事情最好不过了,比如纪先生可以搜集一些基本的常见的标识翻译提供在网站上让需要的人来查询,也可以BBS的方式有问有答.纪先生应当继续搜集这样的历史性标识拍照加说明,然后印刷成图书发行,这是非常有意义的事情.
多谢

 
At 4:54 AM, Blogger olr — 纪韶融 wrote ...

很感谢你的看法而给大家介绍你个人的翻译经验!

我明白你的意思,除了老板或者小王的英文有问题之外还有印务小公司的翻译问题。
不过我还是觉得在我们现在的数码时代时把双语标识寄给专家也不难。最简单的方式(而且便宜多了)是在天安门广场问一些国外的游客。当然这样也算有点烂,不过比完全不校对稍微好一点。

我会考虑你的常用标识翻译的提供意见。不过现在的问题跟大家都一样,时间不多 :).

再次感谢的意见和看法。

祝好,

纪韶融。

 
At 6:37 AM, Anonymous HellZealot wrote ...

I can recall many instances where my Chinese friends look down on their tongbaomen and -women much more than I would ever dare to do


这句话中的"我的中国朋友比我将来敢得多看不起他们的同胞们"比较难以理解(至少我是那么觉得).

我想您的意思是"我的中国朋友对他们的同胞们乱用英语的现象的鄙视,比我对这些现象的鄙视更加严重".

不过鄙视在中文里的意思是比较重的,比较容易引起别人心理的反抗,不过我觉得在这里用这个词是最恰当的.如果照顾一些情绪的话可以用"轻视"来代替.

如果说错了请多包涵,我只是一个英语四级都没过的学生^_^

 
At 7:08 AM, Blogger AMS金猪 wrote ...

我觉得是中国的英语教学特色遗留的问题.我们学了很多语法词汇句型, 但并没有学到多少真正的日常用语,呵呵,可能这样会导致大部分中国人说英语非常的有特色,也就是老外说的chinglish.
可是这样的情况也不仅仅是发生在中国呢, 那些母语不是英语的国家的人民,说起英语时也经常会用到自家语言的语序语法. 好像荷兰人(95%的人会说英语),你跟他们说Thank you, 他们基本只说no problem,很少听到you are welcome.法国和德国的人民,他们很少说英文,偶尔说出的奇怪的口音和语法经常让人忍俊不禁.意大利就更不用说了...
说来说去最大的问题就是,大家都觉得英语应该是世界语言,但是它还没有完全真正变成一种世界语言,运用自如极少出错的除了语言学者大概还只有英国人和美国人吧~~

 
At 5:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote ...

我觉得“没有更好的”好象更靠谱。A语言翻译成B语言,想翻得最贴切,那还真得找以B语言为母语,又懂A语言的人来干。单靠中国人,英文学得再好,也很难把《红楼梦》翻成水准相当的英文读物。

另外,翻出来,如果有错,中国人也看不出来,外国人看出来了,他也未必说,说了可能也没人听,结果就没改进。

另外,“这个人没文化”的问题,我觉得不能算是看不起别人,最多是一句没礼貌的话——因为每个人都会有没文化的时候,包括言必称“文化”的余秋雨,不也被人指摘得挑脚……

相比中国人,外国人似乎对“歧视”特别敏感,这个问题,可以说中国人麻木不仁,也可以说中国人有涵养,有包容心——关键看什么事儿了。当然,平等、尊重是我们永远的追求。
最后,纪先生,你觉得汉语难学吗?(是不是太无聊了?)

 
At 6:12 AM, Blogger olr — 纪韶融 wrote ...

谢谢你的看法。其实我很高兴你的对“没有文化”的说法的概念跟我的有点不同。

回答你的问题,我觉得good good study, day day up是学中文的最好的方式吧。

中文哪里会让人无聊呢?

 
At 6:24 AM, Blogger olr — 纪韶融 wrote ...

ams金猪,


希望你在阿姆斯特丹玩得开心 :)。

“那些母语不是英语的国家的人民,说起英语时也经常会用到自家语言的语序语法. ”

我同意。因此人家说世界上只有美国和英国的英语我不能不反对。印度和新加坡的英语被科学家经承认为特质的英文,我觉得中国英语 China English 将来也会这样。我看,在中国学英语的人差不多已经四亿个,而且不少中文的说法和生词经进入了英文的词汇,如iron rice bowl, drinktea, kweerboy, four-legged essay, the three representatives 等等。

 
At 11:18 PM, Anonymous pp wrote ...

你好!
看到你所记录的Chinglish老照片,觉得非常有意思!但是在电脑屏幕前笑过之后,感觉并不轻松。
我是一名德语专业大三的学生。三年前从字母的发音开始,一点一点地学习德语,现在作为交换学生在德国大学里学习德语语文学。刚踏上这片陌生的国土是充满了惊恐,“我听不懂他们说什么怎么办?”-“这个怎么说才对?”,每天头脑里总是这些可怕的问题。为什么作为一个通过了所谓的“德语专业四级”,在中国应该进入Hauptstudium的学生会对这些简单的日常交流用语发怵?我想这个问题的答案和这些Chinglish标语的出现的原因有很大的联系。
在中国从小学生到大学生人人都要学习英语;同样地,我发现在德国的大学生们基本上都会英语会话。中国学生英语水平参差不齐,有流利如母语的,有只能通过单词来理解句义的;而德国学生的英语是英语国家式的语言,不是德语式的英语。我身边很多的同学都抱怨过“我们为什么要学英语?”我们学习英语的目的不是把英语当成一种语言来交流,而是把英语当成一种“固定的知识”来学习。我想是这种教育的思维使中国的学生们迷失了方向,对于英语学习产生了抵触或者说是非好感。
翻译那些标语的人们中可能会有像我一样科班出身的语言学生,但是没有人教过我们这样的日常用语该怎样说,我们的知识区域里一片空白,毫无头绪。拿我自己来做例子,在冬季学期里我选了《德语语言学导论》(Einfuehrung in der Sprachwissenschaft des Deutsch)这门课。很黑色幽默的是,我像一个能听懂和看懂不能表达的失语症患者坐在一群不能理解句子补足语(Ergaenzung)和自由说明语(freie Angabe)的德国学生中间。我说的德语对他们来说充满了奇怪的感觉,但是我的考试成绩却是1.0。
这就是中国学生们的语言知识,比外国人还明白他们自己语言的语法,却说出来让外国人费解的外语。
受你的启发,我决定记录下在德国公共场合的标语,学习基本的交流,避免Chingerman(笑,自己造词)的产生。
祝好!
pei

 
At 4:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote ...

my dad went to high school in the late 60s, his first English class was like "Chairman Mao, long life long life long long life!", then the second "Give up, no harm"!
it was just unbelievable when he told me that. sigh...let's pour some civilization back to my homeland...to flood the RED dirt

 
At 10:00 AM, Blogger olr — 纪韶融 wrote ...

Dear Anonymous,

the only reason why I published this comment is because of your father's personal account, in general I don't like political commentary in the form of one-liners, your statement sounds like a relic from the McCarthy era.

Best,

olr.

 
At 2:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote ...

是否注意到北方问题更严重点?:-)
另外,是否注意到很多拼音也是错误的?
别着急,慢慢地,方块字也会错得越来越多的,现在最常见的是同音别字。

 
At 4:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote ...

YOU BLOG IS VERY FUNNY.

 
At 5:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote ...

Living in Beijing on and off for nearly 10 years I think that all of the issues you mention are valid.

The one thing I would say where there is no excuse are in government buildings or "official" announcements. These should be proof-read by native speakers in whatever language they may be. Until recently, there has been a clear sentiment that "we can do this ourselves" and it has worked in some cases, but often not. Now, especially with pressure from the Olympics, to make sure to not "lose face" on the "big day" foreigners have been hired as language consultants and Beijing has begun an initiative to erradicate Chinglish on public signs.

As an example of choice as opposed to correctness, the Beijing and Shanghai subway station names are interesting. Shanghai has official translations of lu as Road and jie as Street and uses these, while Beijing, as the capital, insists on using the official Pinyin transliteration (with exceptions for Tiananmen East/West and Lama Temple...and possibly the future Temple of Heaven?) Shanghai seems more willing to accept English signage.

Great website! Looking forward to seeing more. I will be sure to keep an eye out for interesting English faux pas in Beijing.

 
At 6:10 AM, Blogger olr — 纪韶融 wrote ...

Good point about the governmental signs.

And thank you for bringing up the different street naming systems, let me get back on that after some research.

 
At 9:24 PM, Anonymous Ace wrote ...

Approach number 4: We want to do it ourselves.
Another presumption like the hypothesis above: We are over self-confidence.
May there is some kind of poster had the idea as that "The Chinglish on poster make me clear, so do others". Then no more proof and modify.
Language is changing, Chinglish is just another branch of the Old Anglian. Whereas, some notices which were led to misunderstanding must be avoided.

 
At 10:52 PM, Anonymous xiaolu wrote ...

Hi, jetzt kommt meine erste Frage. Hast du allein den chinesischen Text geschrieben, es ist ... hahahahaha, buguo hai bu cuo la.
Ich habe die fünf Möglichkeiten gelesen, eins und vier finde ich unmöglich, warum? Das weißt du bestimmt mehr als ich.
Nach der Reden mit einer Chinesin bemerkt ich, dass viele Chinesen die Anzeige gar nicht lesen, obwohl die schon Englisch können. Man muss es noch dabei nehmen, dass die Anzeigen meistens von den entsprechenden Ämtern gemacht werden, und zwar schon seit lange her, und damals konnte meiste Chinesen keine Englisch... wo xiang shuo hao duo hua, zhe yang xie tai lei le.

 
At 3:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote ...

偶然从别人的blog上看到你的地址,就过来了。关于这个问题,我的一点看法是:英文标识的实用功能并没有得到完全的重视。人们并没有意识到,或者没有充分意识到,它是给外国人(懂英语的人)看的,而不是给中国人看的。

例子:曾经有外国朋友抱怨,在上海,澳门路路牌下的英文是Macau Road,西藏南路是South Tibet Road。这样完全照搬英文,根本没有考虑过这个英文标识的用途。实际产生的问题就是,如果外国人照着这个发音来问路,不懂英文的中国人还是根本不知道Macau或者Tibet是个什么东西。现在是不是改了,我不太清楚。

我个人对这种现象的一点猜测是,这个可能跟中国的国际化程度有关系,也跟总体上作为一个国家的敬业(职业化)程度有关系。即使在上海和北京,外国人所占的比例也是很小的,具体的数据没有查过,但是主观的感觉很明显。在很多区域,完全看不到外国人的身影。所以在制作英文标识的时候,对这些标识的可能使用者(懂英语的外国人)没有任何情感上的认知,换句话说,这些外国人只是抽象的存在(可能很多人做英文标识时,连这一层也没想过)。
产生的结果:1.反正也不会真的有外国人来看。 2.意思差不多就行了(职业精神不到位)。

 
At 11:24 AM, Blogger olr — 纪韶融 wrote ...

感谢你的看法!
不过我觉得有点矛盾,你先写
"它是给外国人(懂英语的人)看的,而不是给中国人看的。"
然后你说
"在很多区域,完全看不到外国人的身影。"
我还是觉得很多牌子不是给外国人看的,他们是一种专门国内的共广方式。

 
At 11:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote ...

“一种专门国内的共广方式”?
可能我上面说的不够清楚。英文标识的作用理论上应该是为外国人(能看懂英文的人)服务的。但是在中国,外国人所占的比例还是很小的,这个是实际的情况。
制作标识的人(你文章里提到那些人)忽略实际使用者(能看懂英文的人)的需要,这个应该是理论状态与现实之间的差距吧。

 
At 6:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote ...

I can recall many instances where my Chinese friends look down on their tongbaomen and -women much more than I would ever dare to do
...
我很希望那些可以称为是"可笑"的标语消失
但总看了您的东西觉得心里挺沉的

也许是中国人的特性?--损别人以显示自己和别人不一样--更加严重的是--自己鄙视自己--中国人真的不懂得团结么--真的要打自己耳光么

我不知道自己是不是狭隘的弱国心态--应该不是--只是看到某些人,感到悲哀罢了

劣根性...谁能避免呢

我也将去美国读硕士..从我懂事起我希冀的就是人类的平等`真诚`友爱`

呵呵,我也不知道怎么就说的走题了

纪韶融先生,很感谢您费心做的一切


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嘿嘿..还有,俺发现各小小小小的问题..

olr — 纪韶融 说...
谢谢你的看法。其实我很高兴你的对“没有文化”的说法的概念跟我的有点不同。

---嘿嘿,您的"的"用的比较多哦~ 很高兴你"的"这个"的"字一般不用的~~~不过,您的汉语已经好的让我惊讶了..会心的微笑中...
我会常常来您的blog逛的~

 
At 6:29 PM, Blogger ZHUAIZOU wrote ...

呵呵 楼上的6:29 PM 是我啦~

 
At 12:26 PM, Anonymous leng wrote ...

嗯。汉语中会用到很多“的”,如果同时出现在一句话中,会把很多都省略。

 
At 12:07 PM, Blogger 愤青 wrote ...

果然很搞笑 太有才了!

 
At 4:34 PM, Anonymous Cyril wrote ...

Then, olr, I am redirected to this page by your posting.
Your current five approaches are good guesses and I find they are not mutually exclusive, as with Approach 4 and 5.
I would like to vote for Approach 3, “We don't know better” and want to change it a bit by suggesting “We don’t know better or we don’t bother to find better”. This happens so frequently that I tend to think it is the biggest reason behind all wrong or Chinglish translations. Additionally, this is part of what I refer to by saying “lack of serious attitude”. Let’s take the instructions for “龟苓膏”. The first thing comes to the medicine maker’s mind when he is thinking of having the instructions translated must be somebody he knows and is schooled in the foreign language. For most businessmen, if the translation does not mean a lot to his business, I bet they will not bother to find somebody more qualified or a professional translation company. As it can be predicted, the unqualified translator asked in to do the job will find himself challenged, in both understanding the text and putting it in acceptable English. In most cases, the translator would not reject the request, for one thing, to save his own face, and for another thing, to avoid letting down his friend (the medicine maker). Eventually, lack of a serious attitude in the both persons leads to improper translation.
I’m thinking Approach 5, “We want to do it ourselves”, can have the second place. You are right: losing face is the last thing many Chinese would do. Numerous small business owners would have translation done by himself or somebody else they know, using online translation service or translation software.
I also came up with another possible approach – People don’t care. I believe this explains why many translation service seekers end up with poor results when they can afford best translation and have known the translation provider he sends for cannot be relied on for quality work. Yeah, people don’t care and many don’t even read it, then why should I go far to have a professional translator that cost much more time and money?
I’ve got a feeling that these approaches are a bit mutually inclusive. Hope you receive many suggestions, have time to sort them, and make them relatively irrelevant of each other.

 
At 6:49 AM, Blogger olr — 纪韶融 wrote ...

Thanks for your extensive comment, Cyril. You are right, all approaches except number 1 seem to be part of the problem. But lack of attitude is clearly something that will have to change as China opens up more and more.

Best,

olr.

 
At 12:42 PM, Blogger Bingling wrote ...

我很好奇,为什么一定要把语言规范化呢?这本来就不是一个规范的东西,语言的产生本来就是从瞎说开始的,为了让对方更好地理解自己的意思。有些错误确实让人一头雾水,确实应该改。但有些别人看了既然已经知道是错误的了,那就意味着他们明白真正该被传达的意思是什么,那就没有必要大动干戈。
而且我觉得有些比标准英语翻译的更到位,比如英年早逝:Handsome Year, Morning Die. 多帅!不比Too Young To Die生动多了,哈哈!
既然语言是用来交流的,那为什么一定要严肃化呢?没有谁会想总是正儿八经地交流吧?
我也很好奇,为什么很多国人认为CHINGLISH是对自己国家和民族的侮辱,难道他们就不觉得很可爱吗?觉得侮辱只能说明自身对自己文化的自卑。
我觉得保留CHINGLISH最好的方法就是在标准英语翻译的下再标上中国式英语的翻译,虽然有点麻烦,但应该会很有趣,呵呵。
继续支持我可爱的中国式英语,顶起顶起!UP UP!

 
At 11:41 AM, Blogger ramzahn wrote ...

At first I wanted to point at possible malice from the hands of early (last century) native american/english translators.

On the other hand I know from second hand accounts, that, aggravated through heavy bureaucratic structures in universities, the level of lingustic expertise was often dismal even with a certificate. At least in the mid 90's it was that way.

Just some thoughts...

 

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