And for those who are sick of hearing about WoolfCamp, it’s now time for something completely different…Winterson.com presents a stunning example of Chinese bootleg American films. He bought the DVD for Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith for less than a buck in Shanghai, and was pleasantly entertained to see that it had English subtitles–subtitles that had been translated from English to Chinese, and then from Chinese to English. No, they were not on target.It begs the question, “What were they thinking?! The original English text must have been available!” And it illustrates an important point that people try to ignore about translation: it’s never perfect. You can never fully capture exact meaning between two languages. To further illustrate this point, I’m going to plug the text of this entry into the Babel Fish Translator from English to Chinese, and then translate that output from Chinese to English. Ready? Go.
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Interesting… now, what if we take that text, translate it into Japanese, and then translate that output back to English?
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There you have it, folks. That you complete it is not never.
If Sarah’s going to accomplish something at home, it’s mostly to succeed if it involves:
- The Internet
- Other People
Problem: How can we get Sarah to practice her Chinese at home on a regular basis?Proposed Solution:Make a new blog, in which she can journal in Chinese and network it with the language-learning community. There’s no guarantee it will work. She might spend more time tweaking the layout and customizing the settings than translating her thoughts into Chinese. But it’s better than trying to disguise a pill in peanut butter.
Whether you’ve studied Chinese or not, check out this site:http://www.newsinchinese.comMouse over any character and it gives you the immediate English translation as well as the pronunciation. You can basically read the whole thing in English if you let your eye follow your mouse. But what’s really neat is that it gives you an idea about how characters form words and words form sentences… which, to Westerners, starts off as a complete mystery.
Somehow, I’m going to learn 1,000 Chinese characters in 3 months. This is the expectation for a class I’m taking, and it is pretty ambitious. Let me put the goal into perspective:There are about 50,000 characters in the Chinese language. Most of these are archaic or uncommon. You need about 4,000 to be literate / fluent. There are two kinds of characters: traditional and simplified. Simplified characters (as you might guess) are much simpler to learn than traditional. They have fewer lines and components. While some characters are the same in both systems, it can be very hard to recognize a traditional character when you only know its simplified version. Much of China has switched to simplified to increase their literacy rate. I have studied simplified characters in the past, and probably know about 500 simplified characters (on a good day). However, the Chinese class I just joined uses traditional characters. They’re big and scary and I hardly know any of them. I was thinking about folding a paper crane for every new character I learn this semester (Ã la Sadako) and storing them in my office. By the end, I’ll be able to measure my success by how hard it is to find my computer.
Chinatown is by far my favorite place in San Francisco. It’s huge, it’s dense, and it’s diverse. You heard me. I called it diverse. Not just because you’ll find an international tourist on every other corner, but because the Chinese people themselves vary so significantly. Mandarin vs. Cantonese: A Quick LessonMandarin comes from Beijing and is the official language of China. Cantonese comes from Hong Kong and is the dominant language of most American Chinatowns. While they’re both “dialects” of Chinese, they’re entirely seperate languages. A speaker of one can’t understand a speaker of the other, but they can write to each other in Chinese characters. I study Mandarin. Cantonese goes right over my head.San Francisco Chinese Linguistics: A Quick LessonA century ago, nearly all of San Francisco’s Chinese households spoke Cantonese. Now, about 50% speak Cantonese, with the other half speaking Mandarin. Cantonese still dominates Chinatown, but most shopkeepers know enough Mandarin to do business with that population. Really, all Chinatown employees and business owners need to be trilingual to get by. In addition to Mandarin and Cantonese, they obviously need a little English in their bag of tricks.For most tourists, Chinatown is a slice of China. For me, it’s a mecca of multiculturalism. I hear various forms of Chinglish, interspersed with both Mandarin and Cantonese. Speakers switch between languages seamlessly. The older generations use loud, heavily accented Chinese, throwing in the occasional “okay” and “bye-bye.” The younger generations lean on their English, but switch to Chinese whenever the need arises. Throw in some multicultural locals, add a handful of African, European, Asian, and American tourists (who just have to see Chinatown while they’re in the city), and you have the very definition of diversity.