Another 12 Common Errors in Chinese English Dictionaries

Here’s another 12 mistakes you might find in Chinese English dictionaries. The first blog I wrote on this topic can found here. 这篇文章是我另外收集的12个中英字典中常见错误。我写的第一篇相同题目的博客,可以在这里读到

 

Please note that I have not included in these posts “standard” or “fixed” English translations of Chinese words that are frowned upon by native speakers of English. Take, for example, the translations of 豆腐 dòufu as “bean curd” and 师范大学 shīfàn dàxué as “normal university”. These kinds of foreign-sounding translations are often ridiculed by native speakers of English. 注:在这些文章里,我没有把那些被以英语为母语的人不太赞成的“规范的”,“约定俗成的”汉译英单词包含在内。举例子来说,“豆腐”翻译成bean curd和“师范大学”翻译成normal university。这种具有外国声调的翻译经常会被以英语为母语的人取笑。

 

Yet whether these terms can be truly considered “dictionary errors” or “Chinglish” is highly debatable as they, like “brainwash” and “spring roll”, entered the English lexicon long ago. This is not the case, however, with the 12 errors I have included in this post. They are, quite simply, mistranslations, and should be handled with caution by learners of English and Chinese alike. 反而,这些词是否称得上“字典错误”或“中式英语”存在很大争议,因为它们像brainwash(洗脑)、spring roll(春卷)等词一样,早就变为英语词汇。可是,这篇文章里12个错误并非如此,它们应该是简单的误译,英文和中文学生都该谨慎使用它们。

 

 

Another 12 Common Errors in Chinese English Dictionaries

中英字典中的12个常见错误(下)

1. a building does not a mansion make

大厦不等于豪宅

We start with one of the oldest errors in Chinese-English dictionaries – the translation of大厦 dàshà as “mansion”. This mistranslation is particularly common in Hong Kong: 我们从中英字典的最旧的错误之一说起——“大厦”误译成mansion,在香港特别普遍:

 

  • 重庆大厦 Chóngqìng Dàshà (Hong Kong); in English, “Chungking Mansions”
  • 赛西湖大厦 Sàixīhú Dàshà (Hong Kong); in English, “Braemar Hill Mansions”
  • 侨冠大厦 Qiáoguān Dàshà (Hong Kong); in English, “Kiu Kwan Mansion”

 

And here are some examples which managed to avoid the mistranslation: 如下是些尽量避免误译成份的例子:

 

  • 广晟国际大厦 Guǎngshèng Duójì Dàshà (Guangzhou); in English, “The Pinnacle”
  • 上海银行大厦 Shànghǎi Yínháng Dàshà; in English, “Bank of Shanghai Headquarters”
  • 国贸大厦 Guómào Dàshà (Shenzhen); in English, “Guomao Building (International Foreign Trade Centre)”
  • 新金桥大厦 Xīnjīnqiáo Dàshà (Shanghai); in English, “King Tower”
  • 怡和大厦 Yíhé Dàshà (Hong Kong); in English, “Jardine House”

 

Interestingly, 中银大厦 Zhōngyín Dàshà is translated differently in different cities (Qingdao, Shanghai, Baoding, etc.), as either “Bank of China Mansion” or “Bank of China Tower”. 有趣的是,中银大厦在不同的城市(如青岛、上海、保定等)有不同的翻译,可能是Bank of China Mansion,可能是Bank of China Tower。

 

So why can’t 大厦 be translated as “mansion”? Native speakers of English should recognise the mistake fairly easy. A “mansion” refers to a large and impressive house – it cannot refer to a skyscraper the way 大厦 can. Compare the images in the Chinese and English search engines and you’ll see the difference quite clearly. 那么,为什么“大厦”不能翻译成mansion呢?以英语为母语的人应该很容易看出来错误在哪里。mansion指的是一幢宏伟而豪华的房子,跟“大厦”不一样,它不可能指摩天高楼。你可以比较下中文和英文搜索引擎的结果,区别显得一清二楚。

 

Chinese and English search engine results for 大厦 and "mansion".

Chinese and English search engine results for 大厦 and “mansion”.

 

A “mansion” in Chinese is known as 豪宅 háozhái. mansion可以翻译成“豪宅”。

 

2. one does not eat material

在英文中,是不可食用的

Amazingly, some dictionaries still translate 食材 shícái as “food material” or “cooking materials”. These are bizarre translations. What the Chinese call 食材, speakers of English call “ingredients”. 有些词典还会把“食材”翻译成food material或cooking materials,真是不可思议。这些翻译非常奇怪。中国人所说的“食材”,其实就是以英语为母语的人所称的ingredients。

 

3. ingredients ≠ condiments

成分不等于佐料

Speaking of “ingredients”, many dictionaries, including Youdao, mistranslate it as 佐料 zuǒliào. The word “ingredient” has two meanings – it can either refer to foods that combine to make a particular dish, or a component of something in general. These two senses should be translated as 成分 chéngfèn (or 食材 shícái) and 因素 yīnsù respectively. As for 佐料, it should be translated as “condiment” or “seasoning”. 说到ingredients,很多词典,包括有道,把它误译成“佐料”。ingredient有两个意思,一是指一道菜所组成的成分,二是某物的组成部分。此两者该分别翻译成组成成分(或食材)和构成因素。对于佐料,它应该翻译成condiment或seasoning。

 

4. what makes a novel? and what is fiction?

小说是什么?虚构文学又是什么?

Chinese-English dictionaries usually provide the following translation of 小说 xiǎoshuō: 中英字典通常将“小说”提供如下翻译:

1. novel 2. fiction

 

This can be misleading for Chinese learners of English for two reasons. One, not all types of 小说 could be considered novels in English. For example, a 短篇小说 duǎnpiān xiǎoshuō is a “short story”, not a novel, and a 中篇小说 is known as a “novella”. 这个翻译会误导学习英文的中国学生,有两个原因。一,在英文中,不是所有的“小说”都会视为novel。如,“短篇小说”翻译成short story而不是novel,并且,“中篇小说”称之为novella。

 

Two, “fiction” does not refer to a particular work, but is rather an umbrella term that includes all works that describe imaginary events and people. While a “novel” is a type of fiction, so are poems, plays, comic books, and so on. Thus the translation of “fiction” as 小说 is not ideal as it is too reductive. 二,fiction不指任何著作的类型,而是一种包含所有描述虚构的事件和人的作品的统称。虽然novel可以说是fiction的一种,但是诗歌、话剧、漫画等也是属于fiction。因此,把fiction翻译成小说不大理想,简直是太粗略了。

 

In the West, many libraries are divided into two sections: fiction and non-fiction. There are two ways to translate this dichotomy: 在西方,很多图书馆分两部门:fiction和non-fiction。此二分法有两个翻译:

  1. 虚构文学 xūgòu wénxué and 非虚构文学 fēixūgòu wénxué
  2. 虚构文学 xūgòu wénxué and 纪实文学 jìshí wénxué

 

Though these terms are used in China, they are not understood by all native speakers, since the classification is a Western one. Even the term “literature” in Chinese is a Western import; what we today consider the fields of literature, history, philosophy, poetry, etc. were all one in the same in ancient China. 虽然这些词在中国有人用,但并不是所有中国人都了解它们,因为这种划分法本来是西方的概念。甚至“文学”在中文也是一个西方的舶来品;我们今天所了解的文学、历史、哲学、诗歌等学科领域在古代中国都属于同一个范畴。

 

5. what is “commercial science”?

“商学”有何意?

Students beware! Youdao translates 商学 shāngxué as “commercial science”. I have never heard this term before, and I can find nothing on Wikipedia. In the West we call this discipline “business studies” or “commerce”. 学生要注意!有道把“商学”翻译成commercial science,我从来没有听过这个单词,而且我在维基百科也找不到它。在西方我们把这个学科称之为business studies或commerce。

 

6. another “manufactured” term

又是一个制造的词

Be careful also not to be misled by dictionaries claiming 制造厂 zhìzàochǎng should be translated as “manufactory”. This word is rarely used in English; if you do use it in conversation, the person you are speaking to may not know if you mean “factory” or “manufacturer”. Consider “manufacturing plant” or simply “factory”, since it is not customary in the West to distinguish between factories that manufacture goods and factories that process goods. 小心被那些把“制造厂”误译成manufactory的词典误导,这个词在英文中很少用,如果你在交流中使用这个 词,对方可能不知道你的意思是factory(工厂)还是manufacturer(制造商)。你可以考虑下manufacturing plant,或简单地翻译成factory,因为在西方人很少把制造厂和加工厂分开来。

 

The character 厂 chǎng is translated variously as “factory”, “plant”, “mill”, “workshop” or “works” depending on the collocation in question. Consider the following translations: “厂”字可以有各种翻译,如factory、plant、mill、workshop、works等,取决于搭配的需要。你可以考虑下这些翻译:

 

  • 工厂 gōngchǎng: factory
  • 制造厂 zhìzàochǎng: manufacturing plant
  • 加工厂 jiāgōngchǎng: processing plant
  • 汽车配件厂 qìchē pèijiàn chǎng: auto parts factory
  • 钢厂 gāngchǎng: steel mill; steel works
  • 装配厂 zhuāngpèichǎng: assembly factory; assembly workshop
  • 纺织厂 fǎngzhīchǎng: textile mill
  • 面粉厂 miànfěnchǎng: flour mill

 

On a side note, I have often seen students confused by the difference between “produce” and “manufacture”. Both terms have numerous meanings, but let me provide you a simple way to remember their different usages. If you produce something, you derive a commodity from raw materials; if you manufacture something, you create it using machinery. For example, a farm may produce wheat, while a factory may manufacture computers. 旁注:我通常看到学生对produce和manufacture的区别有所困惑。此两者有各种意思,但我可以给你一个简单的方法来记得它们用法之别。produce(生产)指的是从原料中提取货品;manufacture(制造)指的是用机械制造货品。例如,一家农场可能会生产小麦,而一家工厂可能会制造电脑。

 

7. not all good food is a delicacy

不是所食物都称得上美食

Some dictionaries translate 美食 as “delicacy”. This is not accurate, however, as a “delicacy” has to be a type of food that is peculiar to a certain culture, as well as rare or expensive. So while calling abalone or Peking duck a deliacy is fine, one would not describe one’s own cooking as a delicacy! A more accurate translation of 美食 would be, simply, “good food” or “delicious food”. 有些词典会把“美食”翻译成delicacy。可是,这并不准确,因为delicacy一定是某种文化独有的食物,而且是很罕见或昂贵的食物。因此,把鲍鱼或北京烤鸭称之为delicacy说得过去,我们不会管自己做的饭叫delicacy!“美食”更准确的翻译很简单,good food或delicious food。

 

 

8. how to distinguish between “rude” and “crude”?

如何把rudecrude区别开来?

Many Chinese English dictionaries, especially older ones, mix up the terms “rude” and “crude”, often translating one as the other. This may be because “rude” used to be interchangeable with “crude” a very long time ago, though this is not the case anymore. Moreover, many Chinese learners of English use one where the other would have been appropriate. Here are some example sentences to help you remember the difference between the two in modern English: 很多中英字典,尤其是较旧的中英词典,会将rude和crude混淆,互译。这可能是因为rude很久以前跟crude互换,虽然现在并非如此。而且,很多学习英语的中国学生也会把两者给用错。如下有些例子,可以帮你分辨出两者在现代英语中的区别:

 

How to use “rude”: 如何使用rude:

What a rude man! (here, “rude” means “bad-mannered”) 一个多么粗鲁的男人!(在这里,rude是没有礼貌的意思)

John giggled at the rude joke. (here, “rude” means “vulgar” and “offensive”) 约翰听到低俗的玩笑而咯咯笑了。(在这里,rude是低俗、冒犯性的意思)

 

How to use “crude”: 如意使用crude:

The company sells crude oil. (here, “crude” means “raw” and “unprocessed”) 公司销售原油。(在这里,crude是原始的、未经加工的意思)

The company gave only a crude estimate of its number of employees. (here, “crude” means “approximate”) 公司只提供了一个大概的员工数额。(在这里,crude是大约的意思)

The company developed a crude weapon. (here, “crude” means “simply made”) 公司开发了一个粗制的武器。(在这里,crude是简单制造的意思)

 

Note that in the sentence “John giggled at the rude joke”, “rude” could be replaced with “crude” here – this is the one situation where they share the same meaning. 注:在John giggled at the rude joke这句话里中,rude也可以替代为crude,只有在这种情况下此两者有同义。

 

 

9. mistranslating multiculturalism

误译多元文化

Have you heard of the term “multiculture”? I’m afraid this is another case of the Chinese making up a new word in the English language. The word “multiculture” doesn’t exist – I have never heard of the term, and it is not in the Oxford Dictionary, or Wikipedia. It is a mistranslation of the Chinese term 多元文化 duōyuán wénhuà, known in English as “multiculturalism”. 你听过multiculture这个词吗?恐怕这又是中国人造英文词的情况。multiculture这个词并不存在,我自己从来没有听过这个词,它不在牛津词典或维基百科里,是“多元文化”的误译,在英文中此称之为multiculturalism。

 

 

10. emergent ≠ urgent

Some Chinese English dictionaries, as well as Chinese learners of English, are under the false impression that “emergent” is an adjectival form of “emergency”. It is not. “Emergent” comes from “emerge” and thus means “emerging; coming into being; becoming prominent”. We speak of an “emergent economy”, “emergent industry” or an “emergent market”, though it is more common to say “emerging economy”, “emerging industry” and “emerging market” respectively. 有些中英字典,以及学习英文的中国学生,以为emergent是emergency的形容词形式,并非如此。emergent来源于emerge,所以它的意思是“出现中,形成中,变为突出”。我们会用到emergent economy(新兴经济)、emergent industry(新兴市场)和emergent market(新兴市场)等搭配,或者更常用的是emerging economy、emerging industry和emerging market。

 

Furthermore, both 紧急情况 jǐnjí qíngkuàng and 紧急事故 jǐnjí shìgù can be translated simply as “emergency”. In many cases, “urgent” is not used the way it is in Chinese. It is recommended students remember its common collocations in English: 此外,“紧急情况”和“紧急事故”都可以简单地翻译成emergency。urgent的用法通常跟中文的“紧急”有所不同,我建议学生记得urgent在英文中的固定搭配:

  • urgent need 迫切需要
  • urgent demand 迫切要求
  • urgent treatment 紧急治疗
  • urgent message 紧急消息
  • urgent appeal 紧急呼吁

 

11. there are no fairies in China as we know them
中国没有西方人所熟悉的仙女

One strange Chinese-English translation you may notice during your travels in China is the rendering of 仙人 xiānrén or 神仙 shénxiān as “fairy”. When visiting the scenic spot 西仙人洞 Jiāngxī Xiānréndòng, for example, you may find it translated as “Jiangxi Fairy Cave”. Actually, “fairy” refers specifically to female beings, and so should be translated as 仙女 xiānnǚ instead, though native speakers of English and Chinese speakers have different understandings of the term. 在中国旅游的时候,你可能会注意到“仙人”和“神仙”被奇怪地翻译成fairy。例如,你去江西仙人洞旅游,发现它被翻译成Jiangxi Fairy Cave。实际上,fairy特指女仙人,所以它应该翻译成“仙女”,虽然以英文和中文为母语的人对这个字有不同的理解。

 

Again, the image search results for the Chinese and English terms give you a good visualisation of the difference between the two. 我们再次可以参考中文和英文搜索引擎的结果,以便更形象地了解二者之别。

 

Chinese and English search engine results for 仙人 and "fairy".

Chinese and English search engine results for 仙人 and “fairy”.

 

Xianren and shenxian are terms of Chinese mythology, and thus have no equivalent in European languages. The translations “immortal”, “celestial being” and “supernatural entity” can be considered. No matter what, the word “fairy” should be not be used, as it is highly misleading. 仙人和神仙是中国神话用语,因此两者在欧洲语言中没有对应。我们可以参考immortal、celestial being、supernatural entity等翻译,可是,无论如何,绝对不能用fairy这个词,因为它误导成分很大。

 

One could argue that, by the same logic, the word “dragon” should not be used when translating the dragons of Chinese mythology, since they differ somewhat from their European counterparts. But this is not really a problem, since the average native speaker of English has a good idea of what Chinese dragons look like considering how well-known they are in the West. On the contrary, Chinese xianren and shenxian are virtually unknown outside East Asia, and as students and translators we should be sensitive to that. 你也可以说,按照相同的逻辑,“龙”字不该翻译成dragon,因为中国龙跟欧洲龙有所不同。可是,这并不成问题。普通以英语为母语的人对中国龙的形象有所了解,因为中国龙在西方颇有知名度。 反之,中国的“仙人”和“神仙”在东亚之外几乎没人知道,作为学生和翻译我们都该对此有所敏感。

 

12. in Chinese we transcribe, not transliterate
中英翻译的音译不仅是换字

I was duped myself by this last example. For many years I thought the correct translation for 音译 yīnyì (literally, “sound-translation”) in English is “transliteration”. Indeed, many dictionaries use this term, and when referring to translation between European languages, it can be used. However, when talking about sound-based translation between Chinese and English, the correct term for this is actually transcription. 我也是被这最后的例子给骗了。很多年来我以为“音译”的正确英文翻译是transliteration。确实很多词典会用这个词,而且我们做欧洲语言之间音译的时候,用这个词也是没有问题的。可是,谈到中英音译时,正确的翻译实际上是transcription。

 

The English term “transliteration” refers to transposing one writing system to another, symbol-by-symbol. This is possible for most European languages, but not for English and Chinese, because there is no one-to-one one-to-one correspondence between Hanzi and the Latin alphabet. Thus, when we speak of translating the sound of a word from Chinese to English or vice versa, it is more accurate to call such an exercise “transcription” instead of “transliteration”. See the Wikipedia page for more information. 英文中transliteration的意思是把一个书写系统转换成另一个书写系统,而且是逐符号进行转换。对大部分欧洲语言来说,这样做是可行的,可是在英中翻译中,这是不可能的,因为汉字和拉丁字母没有一一对应。因此,我们谈及中译英或英译中音译的时候,这个工作更准确地称之为transcription,而不是transliteration。想要了解更多信息,可以访问维基百科

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