Thursday, November 01, 2007

Pondering the online translation theory - part 2

Based upon my previous post on the might and magic of online translation tools, I’d like to elaborate further on the topic of why so many Chinese-English translations go wrong and how much online translation software is contributing to all this.

The battle plan for a rather thorough investigation (and maybe partial solution) of this huge mix-up of languages and meanings is as follows:

1. Defining a list of the most used English-Chinese dictionaries online.
2. Running a thorough test on all dictionaries using phrases that I’ve found on Chinglish signs.
3. Looking for similarities with the actual Chinglish signs.
4. Contacting the dictionary website and its webmaster directly, addressing the problem.

For doing so, I am seeking my readers’ help first.

Below, I have listed what I think are the most used English-Chinese dictionaries online. The method is disputable, but quick: I used today's top search results for the term "英汉在线词典" both on and
What are your suggestions? Did I miss one?

Top 10 English-Chinese online dictionaries
(developed by Chinese exchange students at the University of Indiana)
(run by popular dictionary company Kingsoft)
(run by China's search engine no. 1
(developed by Beijing-based Jin Hongen software company, the self-acclaimed no. 1 edu-website in China)
(same as Altavista's Babelfish?)
(run by, logo is hilarious)
(private project by H. Xin)
(run by Beijing-based software firm Unics Technology)
(run by Shanghai-based PC manufacturer Inventec)

Although Google's own translation service doesn't show up in the top results, I will include it anyway because of the search engine's ubiquity on the net:
(Google's translation service)

(Although there seems to exist a vast amount of dictionary websites, most of them actually make use of the above mentioned translation engines, mostly, or The ones above all use genuine databases. Please correct me if I'm wrong.)

Thanks for the notebook, Dan!


At 9:49 AM, Blogger Dan wrote ...

Speaking of notebooks, this post should be right up your alley:

At 11:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote ...

这句话:The new state we have just inaugurated is unusual in character, entirely different from the empire of Qing dynasty.

At 3:49 PM, Blogger olr — 纪韶融 wrote ...

Thanks, Dan.
I actually found that myself last week :).

To anonymous:

At 6:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote ...


At 9:40 AM, Anonymous Michael wrote ...

actually, online dictionary is popular worldwide. last week i saw a pack of pasta at supermarket which made in Turkey. there are more than 10 languages on the packing. i don't know others but the chinese was definitely made by online dictionary. for exsample the 'Net'(净含量) go for '网络'(Network). now i can understand something. Powerful Internet urh?!!

At 9:59 AM, Blogger olr — 纪韶融 wrote ...

Hi Michael,

I totally agree with you on online dictionaries being used for every major language around the world, but Chinglish clearly offers the most garbled online translations on public display. And i really want to dig a bit deeper to find out what our beloved sign makers are actually using.
And, please, next time, take a picture of your pasta :).



At 7:52 AM, Blogger King wrote ...

Mr. 纪, this is what is inscribed on a stone tablet in the building of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce:
Pursue Scientific Development
Cultivate a Harmonious World
天圆地方 同在一个星球
心笃人和 缘结五洲友朋
远人如归 相交互惠互利
货殖天下 商海有物有则
The sky is round and the earth square
The same planet we love and care

Faith in heart and peace in mind
Friends we make with all mankind

Afar neighbours feel not afar
Sufficing others so all be sufficed

Global trade flourish and soar
Commerce thrive on rule and law
(by 商务部外事司翻译处)
What do you think of this? You may read this article on my blog ( if you’re interested.

At 8:35 AM, Blogger olr — 纪韶融 wrote ...

King, could you take a picture of that poem, please?

I think it's an interesting attempt in the right direction.



At 1:50 PM, Blogger King wrote ...

olr, in fact, i found that on the Internet (no pictures, just the text), and it's difficult for me to get a picture of that because the stone tablet is in Beijing and I'm in Nanjing. Maybe I cound contact some friends in Beijing, but I'm not sure if they'd help, given the notoriously difficult access to Chinese 'yamen'. Anyway, I'm interested in hearing your comment on the translation.

At 1:33 AM, Blogger Dan wrote ...

two very good online dictionaries that you've missed are: - notable for it's etymological charts - notable for "search by handwriting" -- great for characters that you can't copy/paste and don't know how to pronounce

At 3:17 AM, Blogger olr — 纪韶融 wrote ...

Thanks, Dan!

At 1:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote ...

I found a translator at while looking for your site.


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