Off topic: major racial slur from Chinese into English
Thread poster: Sherey Gould

Sherey Gould  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:56
German to English
Apr 20, 2007

Don't know if this is truly "off topic," since it would appear to have serious legal consequences, but just read this story on cnn.com. Just amazes me that even should the "error" slip through on the Chinese side, someone wouldn't catch it on the Canadian or English-speaking side....


Chinese translation error blamed for racial slur on sofa label

• Chinese software firm cites problem with translation software
• Buyer is consulting with a lawyer and wants compensation

Mrs. so-and-so was shocked when her new couch was delivered to her Toronto home with a label that used a racial slur to describe the dark brown shade of the upholstery.

When the Chinese characters for "dark brown" are typed into an older version of a Chinese-English translation software, the offensive description comes up.

Full story:
http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/americas/04/19/canada.couch.ap/index.html


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Monika Coulson  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:56
Member (2001)
English to Albanian
+ ...
Law suits and machine translation Apr 20, 2007

We live in the era of law suits..., and I hope it does not become the era of machine translation. Nothing can replace the touch of the human thought.


Monika


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RobinB  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 08:56
German to English
Not the fault of machine translation Apr 20, 2007

No, looks like this was a good old human translator screw-up, ably assisted by a dictionary (just shows how careful you have to be with dictionaries - a lesson many translators still have to learn).

http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/004398.html#more


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Denyce Seow  Identity Verified
Singapore
Local time: 14:56
Member (2004)
Chinese to English
Kingsoft Powerword 2005 Apr 21, 2007

I have Kingsoft Powerword 2005. It's true that when you type in "nigger-brown", you get the Chinese term for "dark brown". There are "nigger head", "nigger-lover" and "nigger heaven" in the list too...

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Dr. Jason Faulkner  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:56
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
You can sue for this?? Apr 21, 2007

I heard about this on the Howard Stern Show. Of course, my first reaction was to imagine the cognitive process that lead to such an error. I figured they told the translator/copywriter to come up with an adjective for dark brown and this is what came out of the translation software. One more reason to only translate to one's native language.

I guess it was just a matter of time before one was "shocking" enough to make the news. I just didn't know one could sue for this. If I had a dollar for every time I've been on the receiving end of a racial slur, I'd already be retired.

I see bad translations all over the place. Right now I have the pleasure of seeing a 40 foot billboard near my home in Mexico that reads "Bussines or pleasure?" ANNOYING!!

BTW, who comes up with all the names for the colors of lipstick?

SaludoZ!


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Dagmar Cook
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:56
English to Czech
+ ...
'Nigger Brown' Apr 23, 2007

Come on, mankind... which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Nigger brown has been a valid colour, in artist terms, for centuries, so long, in fact, that it probably pre-dates any racially connected use, and probably even predates the advent of the slave-trade! In fact, the derogatory (and, I must say, unacceptable) word in relation to black people possibly came from the colour of the paint, and not the other way around.

All I can say about the Canadian mother whose daughter's first knowledge of that word was on a furniture colour-label, is that she has severely neglected her child's education in respect of social history. Certainly, my children were educated in their very early years about such matters as man's inhumanity to man, and the fact that all men are equal, regardless of the colour of their skin. My daughter has several black friends, she is fully aware of the derogatory use of the word, and is pleased to be regarded as being on the same level as our black brethren (and yes, they are 'black' and rightfully proud to be so, they are not 'coloured', which I, and they, find just as offensive as any other derogatory term).

Maybe a better choice of words could have come from the translation software, agreed. This is a prime example of the result of relying on computer software, rather than a 'real person' with a social conscience and cultural awareness to do the work, and one of the reasons why I would NEVER entertain any software translation program, and rarely entertain dictionaries.


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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:56
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
You're right, Dagmar Apr 23, 2007

Dagmar Cook wrote:

Come on, mankind... which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Nigger brown has been a valid colour, in artist terms, for centuries, so long, in fact, that it probably pre-dates any racially connected use, and probably even predates the advent of the slave-trade! In fact, the derogatory (and, I must say, unacceptable) word in relation to black people possibly came from the colour of the paint, and not the other way around.

All I can say about the Canadian mother whose daughter's first knowledge of that word was on a furniture colour-label, is that she has severely neglected her child's education in respect of social history. Certainly, my children were educated in their very early years about such matters as man's inhumanity to man, and the fact that all men are equal, regardless of the colour of their skin. My daughter has several black friends, she is fully aware of the derogatory use of the word, and is pleased to be regarded as being on the same level as our black brethren (and yes, they are 'black' and rightfully proud to be so, they are not 'coloured', which I, and they, find just as offensive as any other derogatory term).

Maybe a better choice of words could have come from the translation software, agreed. This is a prime example of the result of relying on computer software, rather than a 'real person' with a social conscience and cultural awareness to do the work, and one of the reasons why I would NEVER entertain any software translation program, and rarely entertain dictionaries.


You're right, Dagmar. When I was a child, the dreaded "nigger brown" was a description of a colour - for school shoes, etc. although it was denigrated by my socially and racially conscious mother, even back then, and we never used it, preferring simply "dark brown". In these delicate days, what about using "chocolate brown" instead, perhaps? Interesting to see that the wretched expression still persists in some dictionaries. Yes, beware of translating out of your mother tongue - it's fraught with pitfalls.
Regards,
Jenny.


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