August 14, 2009

Keep off a bump on the head

Last week, a friend sent this web link to a site with photos of Chinese signs made funny by the translations into English. While I found the comments about each sign a bit insensitive and lacking understanding of the Chinese, I printed it out and brought it as study material to my Chinese study meetup in Central Square. My intent was not to laugh at the "chinglish", but to understand what the signs say and mean and to decipher what went wrong in the translations. Interestingly, the native Chinese speakers in the group were not always sure of why the English was funny to us, so it was instructive in both directions. Some of what came out sounding ridiculous in English were poetic uses and literary twists of Chinese. We laughed and learned and shared our linguistic experience. We saw many mistranslations in China, took pictures of some which I will share later, and considered fixing translations as a career option.

Keep off a bump on the head




xiaoxin-be careful



Here the translation does not suffer from being too literal, but from the confused use of a dictionary. Xiaoxin. The characters mean small and heart individually, but together mean be careful and might well be used to mean keep off instead of be careful to warn danger. The other two characters mean bump and head. Simple. Be careful bump head. A literal translation might come out in English as "Carefully bump head" or "Caution bump head, which is also odd. We would write, "Watch your head" which if reverse translated into Chinese might come out as "Read your head" or "look at your head". So while this sign translates strangely, we are lucky it didn't say "Small heart, bump head." Sort of Zen koan there.

This sign was at the beginning of the trail up to the Nanshan Waterfall at a place where low hanging pine branches crossed the high trail. I am working on the pictures of the hike and waterfall for the next post.

No comments:

Post a Comment