(Roughly) Daily

Traduttore, traditore…


Over at the always-fascinating Langage Log, Victor Mair responds to an amusing– but as he points out, slightly misleading– piece in The Daily Mail.  In “Lost in translation: Hilarious advice signs from foreign airports… where their English leaves a little to be desired,” The Mail features a series of Asian signs awkwardly, if not entirely incorrectly, translated– like this one:

But as Mair observes, some of the signs featured are perhaps even more amusing, precisely because they are perfectly accurately translated:

Though the English may sound strange, neither of these signs is mistranslated. That’s what the Chinese really says:

       yóuyú mǒuxiē yuányīn yánwù 由于某些原因延误
“delayed due to some reasons”

       wénmíng jīchǎng 文明机场
“civilized airport”

These two signs are examples of what might be called “un-Chinglish”. Technically, their “lost” quality is due not to mistranslation but to unfamiliarity with the sociocultural expectations of the circumstances in which they are found…

… which is all just to remind us that the world is even more wonderfully weird than we know.


As we treasure our phrasebooks, we might send epic birthday greetings to a man whose work transcended translation, Akira Kurosawa; he was born on this date in 1910.  One of the most influential filmakers in cinema history, he directed 30 films in a 57 year career.  His Rashomon, a surprise Golden Lion winner at Venice in 1950, went on to commercial success in Europe and the U.S., opening those markets to Japanese film.  He went on to make such masterpieces as Ikiru (1952), Seven Samurai (1954), Yojimbo (1961), Kagemusha (1980), and Ran (1985)… a body of work for which he won essentially every major film award offered in Japan, Europe, and the U.S., including a Lifetime Achievement Oscar (1990).



Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 23, 2013 at 1:01 am

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