When Chinese Translation is Controversial

Chinese translation

Chinese people love basketball

In China the Communist party are making a lot of noise about the fact that some brand names and other English words are not translated into Chinese. The phenomenon is called “zero translation” and is common in Chinese publications where acronyms like GDP, WTO, Wifi, CEO, MBA, VIP appear without Chinese translation.

 

“Why is zero translation so prevalent?” asks a the headline in the official Communist party newspaper.

“Why do we have translations for Nokia and Motorola, but not for iPhone or iPad?” they ask.

 

These kind of terms don’t just occur in the media, but also pop up in science journals, much to the fury of the communists. They say this damages the harmony of the Chinese language.

 

They claim that such practices damage the integrity and harmony of the Chinese language, and that not everyone can even understand the English words. But in fact Chinese already has many English words such as 雷达 (leida) for “radar”,巧克力 (qiaokeli) for “chocolate” and 坦克 (tanke) for “tank”.

 

The current lack of Chinese translation for new English terms is due to an increasing interest in and respect for Western culture. More Chinese people can speak English now and they generally want to use English words where appropriate in normal conversation.

 

One area which has caused a great deal of controversy is basketball. Chinese people like basketball and picked up the American term NBA, using it so frequently that it ended up in the dictionary in 2012. But in 2010 the authorities had banned it and replaced it with 美职篮 (mei zhi lan), which means American professional basketball. About 100 scholars signed an open letter complaining about the use of NBA in the dictionary arguing that English terms were damaging the Chinese language. 

 

Others argued that the dictionary should reflect normal word usage in China while their detractors pointed out that the function of a language is communication and that adding foreign words just confuses things. It seems that Chinese translation is taking a backseat to zero translation when it comes to popular media and informal speech in China these days.

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· May 22, 2014

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