Tag Archives: linguistics

Translating “Linsanity” into Chinese

All sorts of wonderful (All-Star caliber work from Victor Mair, starting shooting guard of the Language Log linguistics team, on translating “Linsanity” into Chinese“):

Línrè 林热 (“Lin craze”) (663,000 ghits, though I can’t guarantee that all of these are about Jeremy Lin)  The problem is that this focuses on the rage and hoopla over Lin, while Linsanity includes his abandoned, exuberant style of play.

Lín shì xuànfēng 林氏旋风 (“Mr. Lin cyclone”) (10,300 ghits)  This expression is popular among certain circles in Taiwan, but it doesn’t capture the flavor of Linsanity with regard to the wildness surrounding Jeremy Lin.

Lín shì fēngkuáng 林氏疯狂 (“Mr. Lin insanity”) (2,200 ghits) dud

Lín shì fēng 林氏疯 (“Mr. Lin crazy”)  (7,490 ghits) sub-dud; a considerable proportion of these ghits include bào 暴 (“storm”) at the end, hence Lín shì fēngbào 林氏疯暴 (“Mr. Lin crazy storm”)

Lín shì kuáng 林氏狂 (“Mr. Lin mad”) (1,280 ghits) sub-sub-dud

For nearly a week, I was in despair.  Such a fantastic phenomenon as “Linsanity”, yet such an unsatisfying rendering of that into Chinese as Línfēngkuáng 林疯狂!

Finally, however, a new translation of “Linsanity” surfaced, namely, Línláifēng 林来疯.  Brilliant!!  I fell in love with this rendering as soon as I encountered it.  Not only does it capture the spontaneity of Jeremy Lin’s moves and the thrills they evoke in the crowds who watch him, it is constructed in accordance with the rules for Chinese word formation.  Moreover, like “Linsanity”, which is modified from an actual English word, Línláifēng 林来疯 is transformed from a real Chinese expression:  rénláifēng 人来疯 (“get hyped up in front of an audience”).  Perfect!

I was particularly pleased and enormously gratified when I noticed that the number of ghits for Línláifēng 林来疯 had soared from 155,000 two days ago to 683,000 today!  This shows that, when an excellent, idiomatic translation is made, people recognize it and approve of it enthusiastically.  So the problem of how to translate Línláifēng 林来疯 into Chinese has been solved, and beautifully so.

Weibo and 星期 vs 礼拜

Just a note to myself that WEIBO IS AMAZING. After throwing up my hands at Twitter’s worthless search functionality* (Google’s discussion search is useful, but no holy grail), it is a pleasure to use something this intuitive, even if I have to re-translate the whole thing into my second language, I daresay it still makes more sense than Twitter does. I’m playing around right now with all sorts of things, including working with my friend on writing some simple code for searching for banned keywords. For instance, searching for “艾未未” (Ai Wei Wei) yields this hilariously transparent message:

根据相关法律法规和政策,搜索结果未予显示。热门微博推荐 (Rough translation: According to laws, legislation, and policies, the search results are not shown. We recommend blogging about popular things. [emphasis mine; literal translation of 热门.)

Pussyfooting around this Weibo is not.

So, interesting results so far?

1) As someone who grew up speaking Taishanese, laibai (pinyin: libai; 礼拜) was my word for week (eg, 礼拜一 for Monday) while sengkay (xingqi; 星期) was reserved for newscasters and certain older speakers. While speaking with my language partner, who is Taiwanese, she almost exclusively used 礼拜 as well. But as any student of Mandarin today, 星期 is the standard word and 礼拜 seems to have developed a religious connotation.** But for the most part, they are semantically equivalent, and thus, variations in usage appear to simply be either a) regional b) generational or c) context (informal or more formal). It’s sort of (emphasis on sort of) like the great American debate between soda versus pop, and with Weibo, you don’t have to actually design and tabulate a survey of who uses what where; the data is all already up online, coded by gender, age, and location.

It’ll take some time to scrape some of this data (no way in hell I’m going to sit here and do this by hand; but the sad thing is that it probably will take me just as long to figure out how to code the script to do what I want… sigh), but preliminary results:

礼拜天: 251748 results 星期天: 2461924
礼拜日: 48962 星期日: 1115494
礼拜一: 272460 星期一: 3436480
礼拜二: 78241 星期二: 1336238
礼拜三: 88890 星期三: 1287634
礼拜四: 91038 星期四: 1272936
礼拜五: 245327 星期五: 3157894
礼拜六: 253894 星期六: 3177002
礼拜七: 2664*** 星期七: 50031***

All right! And because the deputy likes dots, here it is in visual form:

So it’s official, on Weibo, Monday is the most popular day, closely followed by Saturday and Friday. Wednesday and Thursday are in a dead heat for least popularly cited. Curious what a similar chart would be on Twitter… oh wait, I can’t generate one. Dur. (Though I guess you could use Google to get a rough estimate, but those aren’t hard numbers like these on Weibo.)

Future project would be to do similar analysis of paired words like this, and to further dig into the data and figure out where these libai users come from and what similarities they share.

*What is it with Web 2.0 folks and broken search? That was aimed at you Tumblr, get your act together.


***Not a real date, but just curious to see if it’s used. I’ll have to go back and analyze what it actually means when people say Seven-day.

You can pry hanzi from my cold, dead hands!

I first learned about Pinyin.info years ago when someone linked to the much-circulated essay by David Moser hosted on the site, Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard. When I first read it, probably when I was still struggling through my second year of learning Mandarin, the essay heartened me. I remember thinking, “Wow, this grad student has been learning Chinese for 5 years and still can’t read a newspaper! Phew, I shouldn’t feel so bad about myself.” But in the end, it was Dr. Moser who would have the last laugh (over me and Chinese) as he’s become probably among China’s most famous Chinese-speaking White Guys,* up there with Da Shan, Jon Huntsman and the guy who plays the British guy in all the Cantonese imperial dramas and HK cop shows.**

I regularly check up on Pinyin.info, and though some of the posts are rather pedantic to someone outside of the pinyin movement or linguistics world (misuse of apostrophes! non-semantic CamelCaps!), I do think pinyin has great value as a teaching tool and for making Chinese a more inclusive language and deserves to be defended by someone as knowledgeable as Mark Swofford against those traditionalists who bemoan the encroachment of English and Romanization into Chinese. I still remember cackling my way through Swofford’s devastating breakdown of an op-ed by author Ruiyan Xu in the NYT about the usage of Baidu vs 百度.

As I was making my way through my twitter feed today (sometimes it can feel like a chore…), I noticed with interest a new post about a similar topic by China Beat contributor Xujun Eberlein’s on her excellent blog Inside-Out China. In it, she notes how the Caixin website (which I could have sworn Bruce Humes had done regularly pieces about, but now I can’t find them–#googlefail) has included an English word in the headline of an article, the first instance she can think of where a reputable national publication did this. It’s a short little commentary which touches on the debate between those who pushed China to further reform its writing system even more than it had and instead fully adopt alphabetization, and she mentions the Peter Hessler article from the New Yorker which served as the basis for his 2006 book  Oracle Bones. Continue reading