June 12, 2010

A look at translation in the news: driving in Taiwan

An article about driving in Taiwan recently appeared on the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei website. It's an excellent article by Steven Crook, and it was featured in local media soon after being published. Just a month or two ago, there was another article critical of Taiwan's traffic that originated from a non-Taiwanese source and made the rounds in local media, so Taiwanese evidently enjoy the criticism, perhaps because they agree with most of it.

But instead of writing about traffic in Taiwan, I wanted to take a look at how the article was translated and summarized by the China Times. There appear to be no mistranslations resulting from a misunderstanding of the text. There are, however, a number of instances where the translator did not bother to accurately reproduce the quotes and ideas of the original article. In no particular order:

Original: ...the way cars are driven and motorcycles ridden here is not quite the same as in North America or Western Europe.
Translation: 「台灣開車、騎機車的方式與北美、西歐大不同」。

Reproduced as "The way cars are driven and motorcycles ridden in Taiwan is very different than in North America or Western Europe."

This type of translation happens all the time. A mitigating phrase (not quite) becomes an intensifier (大, or greatly) when translated between languages. Or intensifiers are added and removed without rhyme and with very little reason.

Original: Nevertheless, there are plenty of destinations and situations where having your own set of wheels makes all the difference between frustration and enjoyment.
Translation: 文中指出外國人在台灣手執方向盤,是「挫折、喜悅,兼而有之」

Reproduced as "According to the article, when a foreigner in Taiwan get behind the wheel, 'there are both frustrations and joys.'"

This is the strangest translation in the article. In Chinese newspaper articles, it often seems that there is no attempt at greater fidelity to a directly quoted source in comparison with an indirect quote. This is not even close to a faithful translation. It uses some of the same words as the original article to make a completely different point. The original article is actually saying that driving your own vehicle is more likely to lead to joy than relying on public transportation (which can lead to frustration). The text quoted in Chinese is a fair summary of the English article as a whole, but the use of quotes (「」) is very misleading.

Original: Highways are well maintained
Translation: 高速公路維修良好

Reproduced as "Freeways are well maintained."

"Highways" is a difficult word to translate when there is little context. In common speech, highway is synonymous with freeway, but in literature provided by the DMV, for example, "highway" refers to all public roads. So, in this article, it is very difficult to be certain of the author's intended meaning. Given the number of potholes in local roads and the patchwork of shoddily resurfaced blacktop in residential areas in Taiwan, I might guess that "highways" refers to "freeways" here, but those potholes are usually repaired within weeks and patchwork residential blacktop seems to get resurfaced every few years.

Original: Taiwan's public transportation is inexpensive, efficient...
Translation: ...台灣交通諸多優點,例如價格低、效率高...

Reproduced as "Taiwan's transportation has many merits, such as being inexpensive and efficient."

The translation has described Taiwan's transportation system with the words originally describing only Taiwan's public transportation.

Original: ...running of amber and red lights...
Translation: ..搶黃燈、闖紅燈...

Reproduced as "Vying for yellow lights and running red lights."

In this case, the Chinese translation makes more sense than the original. (The phrase "running of ... amber lights" was quoted, not written by Steven Crook.) In my dialect of English, "running yellow lights" does not make sense, but it is apparently acceptable in other dialects of English.

Original: ...it doesn't demand any defensive driving techniques.
Translation: ...不必具備安全駕駛所需的技能

Reproduced as "it's not necessary to have safe driving techniques."

A literal translation of "defensive driving" would be simple enough, but "defensive driving" is apparently a concept foreign enough such that it is instead translated as "save driving."

Original: When a car is about to overtake a motorcycle or bicycle, the former usually warns the latter with a short blip on the horn. This is a good idea;
Translation: ...超越機車、腳踏車時,要先短短的按聲喇叭

Reproduced as "when passing a motorcycle or bicycle, one should first give a short tap of the horn."

The original sentence states that honking the horn is a good idea. The Chinese translation goes further by saying that one "should" honk the horn, or to translate it another way, "it is required." This is another common kind of minor mistranslation, done for convenience.


This quote was in the Chinese article, but I was unable to find a similar quote in the original article. It is possible that the sentence was gathered from a different source, or it could be a summary of several statements in the original article repackaged as a quote.


May 05, 2010

Stephen Chow film top in reruns

According to Chinese Television System's general manager Chen Zhengran, a film starring Stephen Chow was broadcast 800 times last year on Taiwan's television stations, setting a record. The 1993 comedy, Flirting Scholar, stars Stephen Chow and Gong Li.



February 20, 2010

Publishing Trend: Recommendations as Preface

A publishing trend in Taiwan that seems to have caught on in only the last few years is the inclusion of multiple recommendations for a book placed at the beginning of a book. This is a logical extension of the blurb usually placed on the cover or dust jacket of a book; if a blurb, which is a recommendation of one or two sentences, helps to sell books, then wouldn't recommendation of one or two pages help to sell even more books?

I'll offer three examples from books I have on hand. The first is the book 好想就醬上班去 by 就醬 and 巧可, published in 2009. Jiu Jiang (就醬) is the author of a popular blog, and the two recommendations are written by other popular author/bloggers, 草莓圖騰 and BO2. The first recommendation is two pages and the second is one page including an illustration. (Incidentally, I noticed that 草莓圖騰's new book, in reciprocation, includes a recommendation written by Jiu Jiang.)

The next example, which is also the most extreme, is from a book called 看不見的角落 by 陳維恭. This book was also published in 2009. It is prefaced by a total of nine recommendations spread across twelve pages! For this book of stories from an emergency room, the first piece is written by Taichung mayor Jason Hu, and the other recommendations are mostly written by medical professionals. Like the book in the first example, the potential reader is alerted to the presence of these recommendations on the book's cover.

The third example is the book 台灣糕餅50味 by 張尊禎. It includes three recommendations over four pages written by other authors who are not apparently associated with the book's subject, which is pastries and other confections from Taiwan. It was also published last year.

The recommendations in these books are all labeled as 推薦序, meaning recommendation preface. Prefaces written by a third party always serve as a recommendation of sorts, but these prefaces are plainly labeled as such to better serve their purpose of selling books.

Although the effectiveness of these recommendations is open to question, it is clear to me that these recommendations are potentially a great way to sell more books with little effort on the part of publishers. And so this trend of including transparently labeled recommendations at the beginning of a book is a phenomenon that doesn't prompt the question "Why?" so much as "Why isn't this the norm?".

The closest thing to this in traditional publishing is when paperbacks sometimes include pages full of blurbs at the front of the book. But there are a few differences. These pages of blurbs are usually only found in paperbacks when the hardback edition was already released to favorable reviews. The blurbs rarely extend for more than a page and they tend to be written by authors and professional reviewers. Also, the position of the blurbs at the very beginning of the book signals that they are advertisements rather than being part of the actual book.

With the recommendation prefaces included in the Taiwanese books I mentioned, the recommendation becomes part of the actual book. Most of the so-called recommendation prefaces do make an attempt at serving as a preface--giving an introduction to the subject or describing the significance of the work. They are not simply recommendations or reviews. (On the other hand, several of the shorter recommendations are simply recommendations and nothing more.) And I will further refute their validity as prefaces by noting that in all three books, the author also supplied his or her own preface, perhaps feeling that the 3-12 pages of recommendation prefaces would not suffice.


October 02, 2009

Experts note Taiwan's lack of porridge

In international news, the TBS and CTS news networks are reporting on the grits-eating competition held in Bossier City, Louisiana last month. Reports translated "grits" as 麥片粥 and 麥片糊, which both mean "oatmeal", despite the fact that grits is made from corn. This translation is not surprising, given the non-availability of grits and other hot porridges in Taiwan.

Grits eating competition

Even at Jason's Market Place, where most foreign foods can be found, I have not found grits, corn meal, Cream of Wheat or Cream of Rice. Taiwanese experts respond by noting that congee, a rice porridge, is the preferred porridge of Chinese peoples. However, foreign experts question whether Taiwanese-style congee is really a porridge or just watery rice (稀飯) and point to reports showing a 60% probability that "congee" is a fake word. In an effort to avoid looking like a food chauvinist, foreign experts also concede that millet porridge, which is a bona fide porridge found in Taiwan, is pretty good.

Millet porridge from flicker user strwang.


March 25, 2009

Movie titles translated into Chinese may be based on starring actor

The conventions for naming movies in Chinese are much different than those for English. For example, one-word movie titles (like Jaws) are thought to be dramatic and punchy in English, but are rarely used in Chinese. To explore some of these differences, let's look at mimetic naming in Chinese movie titles based on a few different factors.

Mimetic titles based on past movies of similar theme

In English, imitative movie titles are only acceptable for B-movies and for parodies (e.g. Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the Thirteenth). For Chinese movies, they are a bit more acceptable. I'll give two examples. The Korean movie My Sassy Girlfriend was a big hit when it was released in 2001. Since then, there have been ten other movies whose titles were translated as "My ____ Girlfriend" in Chinese. It might be true that a lot of these are B movies, and that list includes the American remake of My Sassy Girlfriend, but the list includes a diverse selection of movies such as Friends with Money (translated as "My Wild Girlfriend") and 50 First Dates (translated as "My Amnesic Girlfriend").

Mimetic titles based on no particular former movie

Another example of mimetic naming is the frequent use of the word zongdongyuan (總動員) in movie titles. Zongdongyuan literally means "general mobilization", but to get a better idea of how it is used in movie titles, think of it as "Mobilize!", "Move out!" or "All forces go!". Maybe the most natural translation is just to add the word "Ho!" at the end of the title. None of the movies are actually punctuated with an exclamation mark, but I think that is appropriate as an English translation. For example, the movie Elf was translated as "Elfs, Mobilize!", and the movie Robin Cook's Formula For Death was translated as "Bacteria, Mobilize!" There have been 45 movies titled using "zongdongyuan." I don't know how this meme started, but it is used so widely that it is clearly not seen as a reference to some former movie, it's just a snappy way of titling a movie.

Mimetic titles based on starring actor

Another instance of mimetics in movie titles is when the title of a movie is influenced by the starring actor's past movies. For example, Jim Carrey's Ace Ventura: Pet Detective was the first big Jim Carrey movie. "Ace" was translated into Chinese as wangpai (王牌, which literally means "king card"). When Cable Guy was released, wangpai was used in the Chinese title as a hint to prospective viewers that the movie starred Jim Carrey, star of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Later, wangpai was also used in the titles of Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty, and most strangely, in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is not a comedy, so I find the wangpai in the title misleading. Also, it does not follow that Jim Carrey fans are the most likely audience for it.)

Another example is Will Smith, who has made three movies using the word quanmin (全民, which means "the people"). The first movie was Enemy of the State, which was translated as The People's Public Enemy. Hitch was then translated as The People's Love God, and Hancock was The People's Superman.

The most extreme example of this phenomenon is Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger has made 14 movies that use the word mogui (魔鬼), which means demon. For 13 of those movies, "mogui" is the first word of the movie title; the one exception is the movie Last Action Hero, which was translated as "Last Demon Hero."

The Chinese poster for Terminator 4, or "Demon Terminator 4" as it is translated.

A few more examples are Brad Pitt, who has three movies that use the word huoxian (火線), which means "line of fire"; Matt Damon, who has five movies that use the word shengui (神鬼), which literally means "gods and ghosts", and which, based on its usage in movie titles, connotes stealthiness and intrigue; and Leonardo Dicaprio, who has three movie that also use the word shengui. (When Damon and Dicaprio starred in The Departed together, Damon already had three movies using shengui, and Dicaprio had two movies using shengui, so I suppose there was double motivation for including shengui in that title.)

* * * * *


Movies of the form "My ____ Girlfriend"
  1. 我的野蠻女友 My Sassy Girl 2001
  2. 我的夢幻女友 My Beautiful Girl, Mari 2002
  3. 我的失憶女友 50 First Dates 2004
  4. 我的超人女友 My Super Ex-Girlfriend 2006
  5. 我的好野女友 Friends With Money 2006
  6. 我的恐怖女友 My Scary Girl 2006
  7. 我的雙面女友 Two Faces of my Girlfriend 2007
  8. 我的人魚女友 The Mermaid 2007
  9. 我的機器人女友 Cyborg She 2008
  10. 我去世的吃醋女友 Over Her Dead Body 2008
  11. 我的野蠻女友 My Sassy Girl 2008

Movies of the form "_____總動員"
  1. 汽車總動員 Cars 2006
  2. 未來總動員 Twelve Monkeys 1995
  3. 海底總動員 Finding Nemo 2003
  4. 危機總動員 Outbreak 1995
  5. 鐵男總動員 The Longest Yard 2005
  6. 精靈總動員 Elf 2003
  7. 魔鬼總動員 Total Recall 1990
  8. 奪命總動員 The Long Kiss Goodinght 1996
  9. 晶兵總動員 Small Soldiers 1998
  10. 鴿戰總動員 Valiant 2005
  11. 機飛總動員 Hot Shots! 1991
  12. 終極警探總動員 Striking Distance 1993
  13. 異形總動員 Virus 1999
  14. 機飛總動員2 Hot Shots! Part Deux 1993
  15. 公仔總動員-校園驚魂記 Terkel In Trouble 2004
  16. 靈異總動員 Bless the child 2000
  17. 潛艇總動員 Down Periscope 1996
  18. 危機總動員:疾素攔截 Con Express 2002
  19. 癲瘋總動員 Cool Runnings 1993
  20. 脫線總動員 Naked Gun 33 1/3 The Final Insult 1994
  21. 蟑螂總動員 Joe's Apartment 1996
  22. 綁票總動員 Screwed 2000
  23. 天兵總動員 Renaissance Man 1994
  24. 波霸總動員 Ladies in Operations 1991
  25. 情色總動員 Preaching To The Perverted 1997
  26. 病毒總動員 Contaminated Man 2000
  27. 終極笑探總動員 Rent A Kid 1995
  28. 絕地總動員 Queen's Messenger 2000
  29. 奪寶危機總動員 Legacy 2000
  30. 緝毒總動員 The Base 1999
  31. 小鬼總動員 Bebe's Kids 1992
  32. 全線總動員 Freedom Strike 1998
  33. 整人總動員 Dirty Work 1998
  34. 漢飽總動員 Good Burger 1997
  35. 戰略總動員 The Pandora Project 1998
  36. 細菌總動員 Robin Cook's Formula For Death 1995
  37. 黑金總動員 Montana 1998
  38. 布偶總動員 It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie 2002
  39. 捍衛總動員 Iron Eagle Iv 1995
  40. 神兵總動員 Tall Tale 1995
  41. 截殺總動員 Falcon Down 2000
  42. 瘋狂總動員 Going Berserk! 1983
  43. 賭鬼總動員 Gambling Ghost Are Ready 1991
  44. 黑色總動員 Tinseltown 1997
  45. FBI捍衛總動員 Mistrial 1996

Jim Carrey movies with the word 王牌
  1. 王牌冤家 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind 2004
  2. 王牌天神 Bruce Almighty 2003
  3. 王牌大騙子 Liar Liar 1997
  4. 王牌特派員 The Cable Guy 1996
  5. 王牌威龍2:非洲大瘋狂 Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls 1995
  6. 王牌威龍 Ace Ventura: Pet Detective 1994

Will Smith movies with the word 全民
  1. 全民公敵 Enemy of the State (1998)
  2. 全民情聖 Hitch (2005)
  3. 全民超人 Hancock (2008)

Arnold Schwarzenegger movies with the word 魔鬼

  1. 魔鬼殺陣 Raw Deal (1986)
  2. 魔鬼司令 Commando (1986)
  3. 魔鬼阿諾 The Running Man (1987)
  4. 魔鬼紅星 Red Heat (1988)
  5. 魔鬼總動員 Total Recall (1990)
  6. 魔鬼孩子王 Kindergarten Cop (1990)
  7. 魔鬼終結者2 Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
  8. 最後魔鬼英雄 Last Action Hero (1993)
  9. 魔鬼大帝:真實謊言 True Lies (1993)
  10. 魔鬼二世 Junior (1994)
  11. 魔鬼毀滅者 Eraser (1996)
  12. 魔鬼末日 End Of Days (1999)
  13. 魔鬼複製人 The 6th Day (2000)
  14. 魔鬼終結者3 Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Brad Pitt movies with the word 火線
  1. 火線追緝令 Seven (1995)
  2. 火線大逃亡 Seven Years In Tibet (1997)
  3. 火線交錯 Babel (2006)

Leonardo Dicaprio movies with the word 神鬼

  1. 神鬼交鋒 Catch Me If You Can (2002)
  2. 神鬼玩家 The Aviator (2004)
  3. 神鬼無間 The Departed (2006)

Matt Damon movies with the word 魔鬼
  1. 神鬼認證 The Bourne Identity (2002)
  2. 神鬼認證2:神鬼疑雲 The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
  3. 神鬼剋星 The Brothers Grimm (2005)
  4. 神鬼無間 The Departed (2006)
  5. 神鬼認證:最後通牒 The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

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March 24, 2009

Searching for the title of a movie in Chinese

If you want to rent movies in Taiwan, it is helpful to know the Chinese title of the movie you want. In this post, I will introduce two websites that can be used to search for the Chinese names of a movie. The first site is from Taiwan and only lists the titles used in Taiwan. The second site is a Chinese knockoff of imdb.com (which does not have a Chinese site) found at imdb.cn.

For titles used in Taiwan

Use the search page for atmovies.com.tw. (Just enter the English title.)

  • I noticed mistakes in some titles, so if you can't find a movie here, you might want to try the methods described below.
  • There are also pages where new movies are listed (in theaters and on DVD). Titles of Western movies are in both Chinese and English.

For titles used in China/Hong Kong/Taiwan

There are few ways to search for movies:

First method:

This method is described here.

Step 1: Find your movie on IMDB.com
I found Run Lola Run, an old favorite of mine: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0130827/

Step 2: Now, take that link that you just found, and replace the .com with .cn: http://www.imdb.cn/title/tt0130827/

Second method:

Search by movie title at imdb.cn.

Third method:

Search Google using the "site" operator:
Example: Using google.com to search for the movie The Prestige, I search for:
site:imdb.cn "the prestige"
Then click on the link that looks like a link to the movie.

  • Most movies have different titles in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Some of the entries do not specify which title belongs to which region. Some of the entries may be missing titles for some or all Chinese regions.
  • The info is all in simplified characters, and you cannot search at the site using traditional characters.
  • The site states that it "has no relation with imdb.com", but the web addresses are organized identically to imdb.com, which makes Method 1 possible. Some or most of the information is scraped from imdb.com. Another site that uses almost the same web addresses as imdb.com is mov6.com, so you can uses the trick described in method 1, but mov6.com only lists the title used in China, not Hong Kong or Taiwan.

If you know of a better bilingual movie database, please leave a comment. (Wikipedia is another option but is not as comprehensive as the sites in this post.)

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March 17, 2009

Unpaid leave article in LA Times not cynical enough

I came across this article about unpaid leave in Taiwan via Michael Turton's blog. I wrote about this subject last month. The article does a good job of describing how unpaid leave is used instead of layoffs in Taiwan, and I recommend reading the article, but there is one point that I have a quibble with:

So fearful are some workers that they're going into the offices on their stay-at-home days to impress bosses in the hope of keeping their names off any existing or future layoff list.

The statement implies that this is a spontaneous act on the part of the employees. In reality, I think the motivation for employees working on their days off comes from management exerting pressure. If management hadn't already floated the idea of employees working on their days off, I think very few employees would spontaneously decide to come to work on those days. I mentioned this in the last post, but I will add a bit of explanation.

One method of coercion is for the managers to state that your workload is unchanged, so you can take the day off if you want, but you had better get the same amount of work done. And you are not allowed to apply for overtime pay on the days that you do work. And one more thing, if you do happen to take the day off and still get all your work done, then that shows that your work efficiency during normal times must be low if you can accomplish the same amount of work and still take time off. You might think I added this catch-22 line for comedic effect, but it is what I have personally heard.

A greater degree of coercion is when managers unambiguously state that you should come to work on your days off, and if you don't come, this will be considered when deciding on layoffs.

Like I said in the last post, this is not the kind of thing that is put in writing. That may be why the LA Times will not make this claim.

By the way, I'm not writing this out of bitterness. Personally, I love the unpaid leave and I was disappointed to find that my days of unpaid leave had been cut back. In fact, my secret wish would be that an extended recession period in which employees are forced to take one or two days of leave each week would lead to a change in culture in which part-time careers are possible.

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