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Any solution for Chinglish?
Thread poster: José Henrique Lamensdorf

José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 15:52
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Aug 11, 2012

Translation from Chinglish has become a recurring problem. It's not just a matter of merely turning down such jobs, as the client needs that material translated, and will have to find someone to do it.

I'm not restricting Chinglish to the uncanny English generated in China alone, but as an umbrella for all text generated in ideogram-using Far Eastern countries in a language that purports to be English.

Now I don't know anything about ideograms, just have the vague idea of a logic - as it was briefly explained to me - that goes like (invented example) this ideogram shows three women, so it means "gossip", somewhat mind boggling to a Westerner. I'm concerned about the outcome. If my concocted example were true, imagine this... The original text says "Political gossip says XXX may run for office". The Chinglish translation - as I envision it - could be... "Three women politicians say XXX may dash for bureau". It's easy to see that I'm completely lost.

I am not talking about machine translation, but human translation. The first sign I had of it was long before machine translation, when I bought my second VHS VCR, a JVC, where "J" stands for Japan. The manual had obviously been translated JP > EN, and later EN > PT. There was one switch, labeled Edit-something. Instructions for it in the PT manual said: Try it in either position, and leave it where the unit provides best performance. Best performance doing WHAT, for crying out loud? It is impossible to ascertain in which of the two steps the translators failed to understand what it meant.

A few months ago I received a manual in Chinglish to translate into PT. The (direct) client was quite sensible. He told me to translate whatever I could make of it. His tech guys would only use its structure to develop a whole new manual in Portuguese.

Anyway, here is a sample paragraph, to give the idea.
The cutting process, the actual power is compared with the cutting speed to follow, the speed of low energy is also low, high-speed energy is high, so as to ensure the energy evenly throughout the cutting process. Therefore, the speed of minimum power corresponding to the lowest energy, the minimum speed is usually 0, but if you set a minimum speed of take-off speed of the take-off speed; maximum power corresponds to the layer speed.


I asked for the manual in Chinese. They didn't have that specific one, so they sent me the manual for a somewhat similar machine. I shot it through Google Translate for both CN > EN and CN > PT to get a "second opinion", to no avail. Nothing matched anything. The manual I had to translate EN > PT had possibly been translated using an early version of Babelfish, or something even more primitive.

Anyway, I did what I could, and the client was apparently happy.

Last week I had another Chinglish project. Out of 20 files, 19 were close to reasonable English most of the time. In full compliance to Murphy's Law, the 20th was by far the longest one (about 15% of the entire project), and written in hardcore human Chinglish. Some inconsistent typos led me to believe that it was NOT machine translation, so terminology was likely to be erratic.

It is worth mentioning that I was involved in this project by a colleague of Japanese origin, a top-flight EN translator and ESL teacher who speaks and understands JP just enough to get by, so she is familiar with the ideograms 'logic'. She could even translate and explain a few ideograms that had been accidentally left behind in the EN translation. Nevertheless, she was not able to understand it any better than I did.

A few phrases from it for a sample:
  • Test Criteria: Install the unified regulation of the respect authentication vehicle with lighting device and mere signal installation.
  • It should be parallel in parking the surface on the road of vehicle to light the basic axis with the signal installation. In addition, reply the reflector and side marker light as to the side, Its basic axis must be perpendicular to the longitudinal symmetrical level of vehicle, All other signal installations of basic axis is parallel to it. The difference of permitting in each direction is 3.
  • Before it connect circuit should guarantee location light, behind location light, last lights wide (if install), and license plate light can only more open or more close at the same time side marker light (if install), But it is at present location light, behind location light, it is as staying car light using for marker light side (compound or when not mixing) when, situation described above is not applicable.
  • It connect circuit it is before not should guaranteeing location light, behind location light, last lights wide (if install), side marker light (when install) and the license plate light is turned on, far-reaching headlamp, low beam light and the previous fog light could be opened. But while sending the caution signal in the far-reaching headlamp and low beam light, situation described above is not applicable.
  • Person who hide at the head-light, ascending position its should prevent any from use for, send out intermittence work at the same time by additional head-light of optical signal during daytime only as four installation.
  • Visibility to send grain side (from observe direction seem visibility of area given out light to seem), Must guarantee crowd diffusion that bus bar form at girth its in the area. The contained angle among this area and basic axis of head-light is not smaller than 5°. Send grain side some cross section projection inside border geometric visibility top of corner before not mixing all mirroring the most.
  • Depend on overall arrangement (and 2 respectively after the car before the car, or one respectively of vehicle both sides).
  • The car must be allocated in 6m car and trailer while growing up; The vehicle commander is not greater than 6m car and trailer and select to load.
  • Function of parking lamp can open vehicle and one side ago at the same time. And then the location light is come to realize.
  • Exertion. If select for use, its function should from before, after location the indicators of the lights finish.
  • With after location light compound, and light with applying the brake or after while mixing, at light of applying the brake fog light or after fog light, while lighting, characteristic of luminosity can be revised.


Now I wonder... as Chinese is population-wise the most widely spoken language on our planet, such situations are prone to occur ever more often in all language pairs. Is there any organized effort being made to enable Westerners to decypher the logic behind the Far Easterners' way of using the English language? Taking all this into account, such endeavors on the long run might bear more fruit than e.g. developing CAT tools any further.


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Alison Sparks  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:52
French to English
+ ...
Oh wow! Aug 11, 2012

I don't think I've ever seen quite such complicated texts in Chinglish before, although I have seen a few which took an awful lot of deciphering even to put into basic English.

There was a time when this kind of thing was in "pidgin" English and having spent years in HK I could handle those quite well, but your examples don't even seem to resemble the sort of "human" mangled versions of the past.

I'm not sure there is a solution as I've always understood that these ideograms are hugely dependent on context as well.

Perhaps machine translation is at the root of things, with these then being the basis of alternative human versions. Though I'm sure there's also an element of non-native and let's get this done on the cheap.

Perhaps our colleague Phil Hand could do us a short course on how to decipher Chinglish, or even compile a dictionary of commonly inexplicable phrases?


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 01:52
Chinese to English
Probably mostly MT Aug 11, 2012

The most commonly used MT in China is not used is other countries at all. It is produced by a company called Kingsoft ("Jinshan") and only does Chinese-English. It is absolutely terrible, and riddled with basic errors like spelling mistakes, because the developers don't bother with even the most surface of quality checks.

The quotes look as though they are MT-based, but Google and other tools are sufficiently different from Kingsoft that you might not catch the same texts with your process.

As to whether it's worth learning about Chinese to help you handle this stuff... could be.

1) Forget anything you've read about "ideograms". Firstly, it's almost all complete rubbish. Secondly, it's irrelevant. The Chinese writing system is just a writing system. It doesn't affect the logic of the language.

2) There are a couple of things worth knowing about Chinese syntax.
a) Chinese sentences often follow a topic-comment pattern. For example in your first quote:

"The cutting process, the actual power is..."

"The cutting process" is the topic, and it introduces the theme of the sentence. It is not necessarily the subject of the sentence. Here it looks like it would best be translated with as "During". In general, you can try sticking "With regard to" on the front of the sentence, and see if that helps you to understand it:

"With regard to the cutting process: the actual power is..."

b) Chinese sentences often feel a bit like English paragraphs.
If your Chinglish sentence is way too long, reimagine it as a paragraph. When we're taught how to write English paragraphs, they often tell us:
topic sentence
argument sentence
argument sentence
conclusion sentence

Long Chinese sentences often work that way, too. In your technical texts here, there doesn't seem to be a concluding clause at the end, but they start with a topic, then develop it.



I don't think going into any more detail than that could be helpful - so much gets lost in bad translation that even if you know Chinese grammar, you still can't figure it out.

My dream is that quality in my pair will improve quickly, but don't hold your breath...


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 15:52
English to Portuguese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks, Phil! Aug 11, 2012

As I see it, Chinese MT creates Jinshan-puzzles, which is probably how they call jigsaw puzzles.

The reason I don't think it was MT on the second example is that after a bunch of "fog lights" there was a "frog lamps", and there were several typos of this kind that only humans can commit.

I was trying to get the reasoning behind their verbal expression, and your explanation that "subject comes first" should be very helpful in the potentially undesirable future, viz. if I get more jobs like these.

As a PT speaker, I am quite familiar with such "reasoning behind" issue, as a completely different in shape, however similar in its devastating effect exists between the variants of PT. You may find a short description of this case under #6 - Logic on this page.

As you confirmed (I suspected that, from my Japanese-rooted colleague's attempts) that even if I learned Chinese fluently I wouldn't be able to decypher Chinglish. What you said about the different Jinshan and GT approaches to Chinese confirms my initiative of putting the original Chinese through GT so I'd have two independent attempts - no matter how feeble - that together might help me make some sense now and then. I'll always ask them if my clients can provide me with the original Chinese text as well. They'll be puzzled, but... who cares?

Thanks for the input.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:52
Russian to English
+ ...
Yes, I absolutely agree with Phil. It looks like MT. Aug 11, 2012

No human being, in my opinion, could have come up with something like that, although the quality of source texts keeps deteriorating, for some reason -- not just texts from China.










[Edited at 2012-08-11 16:10 GMT]


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Alison Sparks  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:52
French to English
+ ...
@Phil Aug 11, 2012

Thanks for the input. Very interesting and useful to know that it's topic first - discussion after, and that explains a lot. It's a bit like shoot first and ask questions after! Perhaps we could take this a step further in our profession and ask for payment first - translation and criticism after.

Is Kingsoft free by any chance? At least then I could actually fathom out the user instructions for one or two gadgets.


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 15:52
English to Portuguese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
MT and human beings Aug 11, 2012

LilianBoland wrote:
No human being, in my opinion, could have come up with something like that.


Many years ago (1973-77) I actually worked with one guy originally from Hungary, who spent many years in Sweden, where he went through college. After he had been living in Brazil for almost 20 years, he still spoke Portuguese just about like that. A rare case, though.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:52
Russian to English
+ ...
Yes, he must have been using Swedish grammar Aug 11, 2012

and Portuguese words.

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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 01:52
Chinese to English
Yeah, Kingsoft is free, and I recommend it Aug 11, 2012

Paradoxically, despite the poor quality of the language contained in it, I'm a big fan of Kingsoft. The software is good. And I think everyone cuts their teeth with Kingsoft, so it does give you a little insight into how bad Chinese translators grow, and what good Chinese translators are trying desperately to hide.

The translation software is available here:

http://ky.iciba.com/ - click on the brown button near the top right to start the download

Another great bit of Kingsoft kit which all Chinese learners (used to) use is their dictionary: it gives you an instant translation of any word you hover over on your screen

http://ciba.iciba.com/ - click on the blue button on the right to start the download


That's a great article, Jose. It captures a problem that I wrestle with a lot. I don't think that in Chinese-English there's a pervasive difference like you describe for PT BR and PT PT; rather, it goes two ways. For some topics and some constructions, English prefers to be more explicit; for others, Chinese tends to be more explicit.


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Anna Sarah Krämer Fazendeiro
Germany
Local time: 18:52
Member (2011)
English to German
+ ...
Interesting post and great article. Aug 12, 2012

I had an interesting (and rather funny) experience with some unintelligible source text a few weeks ago, although this one seemed to have been translated into Portuguese from some Asian language. Some example of the text:

Buried cabo, menor deve fazer compras com ≥ 100 milímetros de espessura de solo mole ou areia, carimbado para proteger bordo, a sua cobertura deve ser mais do que os cabos de cada lado da largura de 50mm, de solo mole ou areia não deve ter pedras ou outro duro detritos; cabos enterrados volta ao pré-preenchimento de isolamento devem ser escondidos testes de aceitação do projeto, e depois de passar antes de ser substituído, a compactação do reaterro deve ser hierarquizada, cabos enterrados em um segmento de reta em intervalos de 50-100m. cabo conector Department, legados e introduzir um edifício, etc deve ser definida uma direção clara sinais ou pilhas normais.


I agree that the acceptance tests of this project should certainly be hidden, but I wouldn't want to insert a building into the department. I was asked to translate 3000 words of this mumble jumble into German and asked the agency if they had this text in Portuguese. To which the PM answered that there was no problem, they could find another translator if I considered this text too technical and too difficult for me. o_0

I copy-pasted her an example, stating that nothing here was technical or difficult, but all was utter and complete nonsense. And got the answer that engineers tend to write in a somewhat less than perfect manner. (I gave up discussing with the PM at that point...)

So there is your answer - it's the fault of...engineers! Not MT or bad translators.

And about the Chinglish - it could be a great job opportunity for many to properly learn the language that seems to be developing globally and replacing English as a world language (at least in instruction manuals). We need dictionaries, grammars and an own Kudoz section for Chinglish!

[Edited at 2012-08-12 10:52 GMT]


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 15:52
English to Portuguese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
The lighter side of translation Aug 12, 2012

Anna Sarah Krämer Fazendeiro wrote:
I had an interesting (and rather funny) experience with some unintelligible source text a few weeks ago, although this one seemed to have been translated into Portuguese from some Asian language. Some example of the text:
Buried cabo, menor deve fazer compras com ≥ 100 milímetros de espessura de solo mole ou areia, carimbado para proteger bordo, a sua cobertura deve ser mais do que os cabos de cada lado da largura de 50mm, de solo mole ou areia não deve ter pedras ou outro duro detritos; cabos enterrados volta ao pré-preenchimento de isolamento devem ser escondidos testes de aceitação do projeto, e depois de passar antes de ser substituído, a compactação do reaterro deve ser hierarquizada, cabos enterrados em um segmento de reta em intervalos de 50-100m. cabo conector Department, legados e introduzir um edifício, etc deve ser definida uma direção clara sinais ou pilhas normais.


There seems to be no simple solution for Chinglish, so we may add it to the list of 'diseases' for which there is no cure yet.

Maybe we are ready to replace those classic translation bloopers, the same ones being found in just too many translation agencies' web sites (I mean the Chevy No-va, Parker pens failing to cause pregnancy, nude Branniff passengers... you know the entire stack). It's about time for each agency to have their very own exclusive repository of Chinglish, without having to resort to this site.

One recent thread in Spanish came up here, and I have an example on my own web site, this one:


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Anton Konashenok  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 18:52
English to Russian
+ ...
Some simple tricks Aug 12, 2012

Jose, some of your examples can be deciphered, at least partially, using a few simple tricks:
1. Try reversing the roles of the topic and the comment in a sentence.
2. Try reversing the roles of a noun and its adjective.
3. If a word is clearly wrong, try replacing it with words that could be synonymic to it in other contexts, but not in this one.

The difference of permitting in each direction is 3.

Allowable deviation is 3 [units] in each direction.

Before it connect circuit should guarantee location light, behind location light...

Before connecting the wiring, secure/attach the front and rear position lights...


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:52
Russian to English
+ ...
A translator, however, cannot translate a text similar to this one Aug 12, 2012

(the original text from in the first post), even if they knew what that might mean. Translation has to be accurate -- so a thing that does not mean anything in the original, cannot be translated at all.

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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:52
Hebrew to English
Au Contraire Aug 12, 2012

LilianBoland wrote:
(the original text from in the first post), even if they knew what that might mean. Translation has to be accurate -- so a thing that does not mean anything in the original, cannot be translated at all.


You can if you understand the thought processes and linguistic factors behind the generation of such language - which is the point of this thread.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:52
Russian to English
+ ...
Then maybe Aug 12, 2012

we should just become psychics, Ty, and skip the written part of the translation process.

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