Found in tranfree
Contributed by Christian Faucheux
More of an interesting translation story than a joke...
Transliteration of Coca-Cola Trademark to Chinese Characters
by H.F. Allman, formerly Legal Counsel in China for
The Coca-Cola Company
The introduction of Coca-Cola in China back in 1928 presented
some unusual problems to the late P.S. (\"Red\") Lewis and
associates. The potential market was the 500 million Chinese, or
a reasonable number thereof, and the large foreign community in
China. For ages the Chinese had been accustomed to drinking
their own delightful green tea -- hot and straight. The social
customs of the foreign communities had long been set by the
British -- and who had ever heard of any Colonial Britisher
drinking anything but Scotch, gin, or black tea?
\"Red\" had no delusions that all of these people would suddenly
become customers for Coca-Cola. Nevertheless, he firmly
believed that an ever-increasing number of Chinese would come
to like Coca-Cola and -- he was right. Before long, Coca-Cola
appeared at the Shanghai Club and the Country Club, both utter
British strongholds but frequented by Americans in the
community. They convinced the British that Coca-Cola was
indeed delicious and refreshing.
It was obvious that the Coca-Cola trademark had to be
transliterated into Chinese characters in order to reach the
millions in the market. Chinese, both written and spoken, is so
completely alien to any European language that the simplest
foreign word or term is a tongue twister to the Chinese.
To find the nearest phonetic equivalent to Coca-Cola required a
separate Chinese character for each of the four syllables. Out of
the 40,000 or so characters there are only about 200 that are
pronounced with the sounds we needed and many of these had to
be avoided because of their meaning.
While doing the research for four suitable characters we found
that a number of shopkeepers had also been looking for Chinese
equivalents for \"Coca-Cola\" but with weird results. Some had
made crude signs that were absurd in the extreme, adopting any
old group of characters that sounded remotely like \"Coca-Cola\"
without giving a thought as to the meaning of the characters
One of these homemade signs sounded like \"Coca-Cola\"
when pronounced but the meaning of the characters came out
something like \"female horse fastened with wax\" and another
\"bite the wax tadpole\". The character for wax, pronounced La,
appeared in both signs because that was the sound these
untutored sign makers were looking for. Any Chinese reading the
signs would recognize them as a crude attempt to make up an
arbitrary phonetic combination.
Although we were primarily concerned with the phonetic equivalent
of \"Coca-Cola\", we could not ignore the meaning of the
characters, individually and collectively, as the free-wheeling
sign makers had done.
The closet Mandarin equivalent to \"Coca- Cola\" we could find was
K\'o K\'ou K\'o Le^. The aspirates (designated by \') are necessary
to approximate the English sounds. There is no suitable character
pronounced La in Chinese so we compromised on Le^ (joy) which is
approximately pronounced ler. We chose the Mandarin because this
dialect is spoken by the great majority of Chinese.
Incidentally, Chinese has to be interpreted into English rather
than translated, and vice versa. All Chinese characters have more
than one meaning but the [four chosen] (depending on context)
K\'o = To permit, be able, may, can
K\'ou = Mouth, hole, pass, harbor
K\'o = as above
Le^ = Joy, to rejoice, to laugh, to be happy
It would seem that the Chinese trademark means to permit mouth
to be able to rejoice -- or something palatable from which one
Not once in ten million times could a company
literally pronounce their trademark in English and have the
sounds mean something desirable in the Chinese language.
The mainland of China is out of the market indefinitely
[not true now, but this was probably written years ago] but
fortunately most of the 2,000,000 Chinese in Hong Kong and the
9,000,000 in Taiwan understand Mandarin. Even the 10,000,000
overseas Chinese, who mostly speak Cantonese or Fukienese,
realize that K\'o K\'ou K\'o Le^ is the Mandarin Chinese trademark
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