Help assessing quality of translation of emotional expression (potentially offensive language)
Thread poster: Sebastian Wasserzug

Sebastian Wasserzug  Identity Verified
Argentina
Local time: 22:38
English to Spanish
+ ...
Mar 27, 2015

How well do you think the English/Mandarin phrases below match? Phrases come from a study on emotionality with Mandarin-English bilingual subjects (see details below):

Table 5. Examples of English and Mandarin stimuli in each emotional phrase category. Ratings are from the electrodermal monitoring session and are for the indicated item.

Endearments
5.5 / 6.1 I love you / 我愛你
5.2 / 5.5 I miss you / 我想你
3.9 / 3.9 Thanks you so much / 謝謝你

Insults
4.6 / 6.3 Get lost / 你給我滾
5.2 / 5.6 You idiot / 你這個大白癡
5.7 / 4.9 Don’t be a jerk / 你這個無賴

Reprimands
4.3 / 4.3 Shame on you / 真丟臉
4.6 / 4.9 Behave yourself / 太過分了
5.1 / 5.2 Stop that / 停了

Taboo
5.1 / 5.2 He’s an asshole / 他是個王八蛋
6.0 / 5.8 He screwed you mother / 幹你娘
2.6 / 1.3 She’s a bitch / 她是個賤人

Neutral
2.2 / 4.1 I have shoes /我有鞋子
1.8 / 1.1 I bought toys /我買了玩具
1.8 / 1.1 The wooden desk /一張木桌子
1.2 / 1.7 The white envelop /拿你的外套

It came to my attention that there is quite a vast line of research (started around a decade or so ago) that studies emotionality in bilingual speakers by assessing their reactions to verbal input in either their first (L1) or second language (L2). One common way of doing this is with Skin Conductance Resonance (SCR) that measures subtle but significant differences in the levels of sweat in the skin of bilingual experimental participants while they listen to utterances said in either their L1 or L2. A thing one notices right away in these studies is that they don’t seem to use translators to create their bilingual materials and appear to trust bilingual speakers instead (typically one of the authors of any given study). This was also the case for the data in the study from which the “stimulus language” above comes from, whose authors (Caldwell-Harris et al 2010) report:

“Phrases were scrutinized and discussed by a bilingual panel consisting of three of the co-authors […..] and two additional Mandarin-speaking assistants. Phrases judged to be specific to a geographical region were discarded. As phrases from the pilot study were discussed and discarded, the panel asked for suggestions from friends and co-workers. Over several meetings the panel discussed their intuitions about strength of emotional meaning and usage contexts.”

I would appreciate comments from Proz.com members regarding their professional assessment of the translations above. Mandarin/English bilinguals (students at an American university: “64 native Mandarin speakers (19 males, 45 females, aged 18–28); 37 per cent had grown up exposed to another Chinese language”) listened to the phrases above (among others), either in English or in Mandarin while Skin Conductance Resonance was being measured.

Results of “emotional arousal” are shown before the phrases (e.g. “5.5 / 6.1 I love you / 我愛你”, means that ‘I love you’ was less emotional in English than its Mandarin counterpart). If you could comment in English (I do not speak Mandarin!) I’d highly appreciate it! Thanks in advance!


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 09:38
Chinese to English
Seems about right Mar 29, 2015

To my eye, there's nothing in those lists that sticks out as obviously anomalous. Just looking at the neutral phrases, you can see that there's a lot of free variation, so you shouldn't read too much into any of the individual numbers, but in general the numbers given track my sense of how emotionally charged the phrases are very well.

What sort of comments were you after?

Edit:

So, for example, I think your last paragraph is wrong. The 5.5/6.1 readings for "I love you/我爱你" don't mean that I love you is less emotional, because this experiment simply isn't that accurate.

Now, as it happens, I do think that "I love you" probably is slightly less emotionally charged in English, because it is more normalised. But I don't think that a distinction that fine should be drawn from these empirical results.


[Edited at 2015-03-29 14:07 GMT]


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Sebastian Wasserzug  Identity Verified
Argentina
Local time: 22:38
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you! Mar 29, 2015

Thank you Phil!

This is not my research –I had nothing to do with it and it took place in 2004.

I would like comments from people who often translate regarding the general quality of the translated phrases, that’s all –and which you do! (thanks again!).

The research reported above had the aim of establishing if the L1 (Mandarin) was or was not more emotional than the L2 (English) in people who are bilingual Mandarin/English speakers. They did that by measuring the subjects’ “sweat” immediately after they heard the phrases above. The numbers before the phrases simply report on their level of sweat. So, the 5.5/6.1 readings for "I love you/我爱你" mean that the L2 produced comparatively less sweat than the L1, presumably because it produced less emotion…

Actually, one thing that calls my attention is one of the neutral phrases: “2.2 / 4.1 I have shoes /我有鞋子”… Here the disparity is quite big… Is there anything in the Mandarin that would perhaps make it “extra emotional"…? (perhaps it is similar to an expression or “half” of an expression or “我有鞋子” could also have another meaning apart from “I have shoes”…?). Seems weird that such a mundane phrase would be almost twice as emotional as the English “I have shoes”… Any thought on that?

Thanks again!


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 09:38
Chinese to English
On the translations themselves Mar 30, 2015

I see. So far as I know, there's nothing in the Chinese phrase "I have shoes" that would make it emotionally-laden. I don't think it has a specific slang meaning. The variance there is one of the reasons why I say above that you shouldn't read too much into any single result. Just eyeballing those numbers, it seems to me that the error bar for each result is at least 1.

In general, it looks like the researchers sought phrases which would have approximately equal emotional "heat", and were not too concerned with formal equivalence.

Endearments
5.5 / 6.1 I love you / 我愛你
5.2 / 5.5 I miss you / 我想你 - these first two pairs are formally very similar, and have roughly equivalent scores
3.9 / 3.9 Thanks you so much / 謝謝你 - the Chinese just says "thank you", there's no element that means "so much". But I think the researchers were right to use this pair, because this Chinese form is quite emphatic, more so than just a bare English "thank you".

Insults
4.6 / 6.3 Get lost / 你給我滾 - this Chinese is quite harsh. You might say to a friend in jest "你滚" (gloss: you go away), but you would be unlikely to use this full phrase (you for me go away). It's markedly aggressive, more so than the English
5.2 / 5.6 You idiot / 你這個大白癡 - this Chinese phrase say (you such big idiot). I think the Chinese phrase would be more likely to be used affectionately; if you remove the "big", then you'd get a phrase which could be used aggressively or affectionately, as the English could be.
5.7 / 4.9 Don’t be a jerk / 你這個無賴 - formally different, the English says "don't", whereas the Chinese says (you such cheat). I don't think I'd use the English affectionately (but it's US English and I'm a Brit, so not sure), whereas the Chinese could be either aggressive or affectionate.

Reprimands
4.3 / 4.3 Shame on you / 真丟臉 - "shame on you" is rather marked in English. I find "shame on you" much more severe, but at the same time it's rather formal and distant, so less emotional. The Chinese phrase is very everyday, similar to "how embarrassing"
4.6 / 4.9 Behave yourself / 太過分了 - English is imperative, Chinese is descriptive (too beyond-acceptable). You could only really use the English to children, whereas the Chinese can be used to adults as well.
5.1 / 5.2 Stop that / 停了 - very similar, both formally and in tone

Taboo
5.1 / 5.2 He’s an asshole / 他是個王八蛋 - very similar, both formally and in tone
6.0 / 5.8 He screwed you mother / 幹你娘 - ?! something went wrong with the English there. I think they were trying to find an equivalent for a common Chinese curse, and just didn't ask enough English speakers. The Chinese phrase is often said without being directed at anyone, just like the English "fuck". The Chinese 幹 here means "fuck", but is a little less intense. Adding the 你娘 (your mother) makes it more intense, but doesn't necessarily make it targeted - a bit like the English "fucking hell".
2.6 / 1.3 She’s a bitch / 她是個賤人 - the Chinese term used here is much less slangy than the English term "bitch", but it carries very similar meaning and tone. Perhaps close to the English "she's a nasty piece of work".

Neutral
2.2 / 4.1 I have shoes /我有鞋子
1.8 / 1.1 I bought toys /我買了玩具
1.8 / 1.1 The wooden desk /一張木桌子 - Chinese says (a wooden table)
1.2 / 1.7 The white envelop /拿你的外套 - Chinese completely different: (take your coat)


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Sebastian Wasserzug  Identity Verified
Argentina
Local time: 22:38
English to Spanish
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TOPIC STARTER
Thanks! Mar 30, 2015

Thank you Phil –great descriptions!

Mh, still intrigued with the shoes phrase…

4.6 / 6.3 Get lost / 你給我滾 – so this is definitely more aggressive than the English… So we can safely say it is not a good “emotionally matched” expression/translation of “get lost”? Is 你給我滾 also a set phrase, as the English is?

5.2 / 5.6 You idiot / 你這個大白癡 –
Really? More likely to be used affectionately in Mandarin? But in English… I am not sure the English could be used affectionately…? or could it?

6.0 / 5.8 He screwed you mother / 幹你娘 –
That’s super interesting, what you comment on this!

1.2 / 1.7 The white envelop /拿你的外套 - Chinese completely different: (take your coat)
I’m baffled… You mean to say this is not a translation at all?! I had to double check with the paper but I didn’t make any mistake, that’s what they wrote…

What I did make a mistake with is the intensity of the sweating, I just realized now. That was not the one that was so different… The one that is very different is

2.2 / 4.1 I bought toys /我買了玩具

Ii is not *1.8 / 1.1* I bought toys /我買了玩具 as I wrote before… Is there any other meaning attached to this, beyond “I bought toys”? And I promise I'll stop right here pestering you with all this!


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wherestip  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:38
Chinese to English
+ ...
Not all pairs are emotionally matched Mar 30, 2015

Sebastian Wasserzug wrote:

4.6 / 6.3 - so this is definitely more aggressive than the English… So we can safely say it is not a good “emotionally matched” expression/translation of “get lost”? Is 你給我滾 also a set phrase, as the English is?



IMO, there's discernible differences in emotion (and in some cases, in meaning and especially usage) between the English and Chinese for some of the pairs. Take this pair for example(as Phil already pointed out),

Get lost - 去去去 / 走开!/ 滚开
你给我滚 - Go to hell / Get the f out of my sight

Anyway, context is always important; meaning, under what circumstance and in what tone the phrases were uttered could make a huge difference with regard to emotion (e.g., "You idiot!" could certainly be said jokingly between good friends). So IMO, the premise of the study/experimentation could very well be flawed.

Even if the premise were sound, IMO the researchers didn't do a very good job in matching the English to the Chinese(both in emotion and typical circumstance of usage) for some of the pairs, especially those in the insult, reprimand, and taboo categories. I would have expected a lot less discrepancy for what they set out to do their research on.

~*~*~*~*

FWIW, a random example I found on the web for the use of "你给我滚 (远点)" / "get the f*** away from me" ...
http://language.chinadaily.com.cn/news/2014-06/12/content_17582771.htm


[Edited at 2015-03-31 13:25 GMT]


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 09:38
Chinese to English
Some matches, some mismatches Mar 31, 2015


4.6 / 6.3 Get lost / 你給我滾 – so this is definitely more aggressive than the English… So we can safely say it is not a good “emotionally matched” expression/translation of “get lost”? Is 你給我滾 also a set phrase, as the English is?

Like wherestip said above, the 给我 in the middle is an optional add-on. Like in English you can say "get away from me" or "get the hell away from me", the 给我 just intensifies the phrase a bit. Yes, I think it's fair to say they aren't particularly well-matched.

5.2 / 5.6 You idiot / 你這個大白癡 –
Really? More likely to be used affectionately in Mandarin? But in English… I am not sure the English could be used affectionately…? or could it?

Yeah, I would use the word idiot to a friend/family member in an affectionate way. The 大 (big) in Chinese works in much the same way as it would in English. "You idiot!" could be an insult, but "You great idiot!" is more likely a friendly joke.

1.2 / 1.7 The white envelop /拿你的外套 - Chinese completely different: (take your coat)
I’m baffled… You mean to say this is not a translation at all?! I had to double check with the paper but I didn’t make any mistake, that’s what they wrote…

Yeah, don't know what's going on there. Maybe they weren't bothered about translations because all of these are very neutral phrases just to get some baseline readings, so it doesn't matter much if they're matched.

2.2 / 4.1 I bought toys /我買了玩具

Nope, there's no emotional meaning to this phrase, looks like it's just a blip in their data.


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