Sunday, March 15, 2009

Modern Babel : Is Chinese language too Chinese? ( 1 )


1)"There are some well fed foreigners who have nothing better to do than point fingers at our affairs......."
2)"There are a few foreigners,with full stomachs,have nothing better to do than try to be backseat drivers of our country's own affairs......?"

When I first read the remark of vice-president Xi Jinping,I felt my anger somehow vented because what he said just hit the spot.But later I read the English version and found those sentences were translated literally.I was totally overwhelmed.The second one is way too outrageous!it's common sense that it's wrong to translate Chinese idioms word by word.That journalists must understand Chinese so I think the they did it on purpose.It's one of those cheap means for the media to mislead the mass.

Anyway,I really gave it much thought--is Chinese language too Chinese?I suddenly understand why the government are trying so desperately to spread our language outside China because if you don't understand our language better,you'll never read our mind.Chinese idioms or slangs are really culture-specific,thus I suppose the language itself builds up some kind of invisible boundary between us and the outside world.What sacarstic is that,on several occasions,it's us who mislead others by using inappropriate English words to define us.For example,we always call ourselves "Yellow people/黄种人",but as far as I know,yellow means yellow-belly or something like that.FYI,as for yellow,we also have different definition:a "yellow" joke=a blue joke;"yellow" VCD= blue VCD.

In addition,I think the way we translate other language unconsciously give people some personal impression.When it comes to countries name,basically we just transliterate them.But if you literally translate them back to English,you may find the characters we choose to represent them can make a huge difference to us Chinese people(maybe you think my translation is a bit eisegetical).

1. America=美洲 (continent of beauty)
2. Africa=非洲 (not a continent)
3. Germany=德国 (nation of virtue)
4. the UK=英国 (nation of hero)
5. France=法国 (nation of law)
6. Mauritius=毛里求斯 (seek for something inside a feather)
7. Egypt=埃及 (touched by dust)
8. Madagascar=马达加斯加 (add more motors to this)

The other day,a foreign friends of mine said,50 years later,maybe there was no one speaking Chinese but English in China.I know,nowadays,we say byebye more often than Zai Jian(再见),but it's impossible for any other language to replace ours.If Chinese language died out,Chinese culture would disappear.In English,YES can't be NO,nor NO YES.But in Chinese,YES = SHI (是),NO=NOT YES = BU SHI (不是) .You see that,we don't deny completely--we have to mention "yes" when we say "no".It might be the reason that Chinese people are described as tactful.On many occasions,I caught myself inevitably adding Chinese element in English which make me sound like beating around the bush.

When my foreign friends try to speak Chinese to me,they say Ni Hao(hello) and Ni Hao Ma(how are you) together.Then I have to reply them as "Ni Hao,We Hen Hao,Ni ne",but I feel it really weird.It's because,unlike English,we Chinese just say Ni Hao(hello) and reply Ni Hao(hello) when we greet to each other.It's sorta formalization and we don't actually ask or answer any question.As for me,when I run into someone,the first thing I say is "这么巧!你去哪啊?"(What a coincidence!Where are you heading?) rather than "Ni Hao/你好"(hello).

Some people,including Chinese,say that Chinese are not as good-mannered as Japanese or Korean because we don't have honorific in our language.But I think they're seriously mistaken,we don't have honorific but we show our respect by using or adding different words or names which you're not capable to tell the difference unless you're local.You may understand the complexity when you know there're many ways in Chinese to ask about age:a.你几岁了;b.你多大了;c.你是属什么的;d.你几几年时候出生的;e.您多大年龄了;f.您贵庚;g.您高寿……It could be a joke or an offense if you use the wrong one.Well,don't panic.We don't mind your mistake if you're not Chinese.^^

To be continued......


Satsuki Shizuka said...

Chinese people have no honorifics?!

Thou jest! What is 汝﹑君﹑卿﹑吾﹑渠﹑(先生/小姐/千金/令-郎/堂)﹑內/外/鄙人﹑在/閣/殿/陛下 etc...we SAY that Classical Chinese is 'dead', but too often than not we see it from time to time.

If you want to blame the foreign countries' names sound too good, please go print out a picture of Kang Youwei and torment it in whichever way you please. Afterall, he was the one who pretty much introduced our modern "bakwa" (baihua) vocabulary...from Japanese.

Which in retrospect, don't you just love how the Japanese have effectively made the continental country not a "beautiful" land but a land of 'ricers'? (米國) XD

SHUO said...

Well,those Chinese epressions you listed out are no longer used in daily conversations but it doesn't mean extinction.

Yea,we adpoted a couple of words from Japan when we were sparing no effort to learn from them.But what does it have to do with my "blame"?