Mistranslation and Related Matters 6
Professor Victor Mair offers an instructive example of a recent language blooper
The following apology does not exactly exemplify Mistranslation, but it does contain an excellent example of the sort of ‘spin’ frequently deployed by officialdom and individuals in damage control mode over egregious language-based errors.
The cover of the most recent German-language edition of MaxPlanckForschung (3/2008) depicts a Chinese text which had been chosen by our editorial office in order to symbolically illustrate the magazine’s focus on “China”. Unfortunately, it has now transpired that this text contains inappropriate content of a suggestive nature.
Prior to publication, the editorial office had consulted a German sinologist for a translation of the relevant text. The sinologist concluded that the text in question depicted classical Chinese characters in a non-controversial context. To our sincere regret, however, it has now emerged that the text contains deeper levels of meaning, which are not immediately accessible to a non-native speaker.
By publishing this text we did in no way intend to cause any offence or embarrassment to our Chinese readers. The editors of MaxPlanckResearch sincerely regret this unfortunate error and would like to offer an unreserved apology to all of their Chinese readers for any upset or distress they may have caused.
The cover title has already been substituted in the online edition, and the English version of MaxPlanckForschung (MaxPlanckResearch, 4/2008) will be published with a different title.”
This and the whole embarrassing translation mishap is brilliantly reported by Victor Mair at:
(And with acknowledgements to Ronnie R. for the timely tip.)
FYI, here is how the formidable Language log collective presents its top quality blog:
“Language Log was started in the summer of 2003 by Mark Liberman and Geoffrey Pullum. For nearly five years, it ran on the same elderly linux box, with the same 2003-era blogging software, sitting in a dusty corner of a group office at the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science at the University of Pennsylvania.
Other more or less regular contributors include Arnold Zwicky, Benjamin Zimmer, Bill Poser, Heidi Harley, Roger Shuy, Geoff Nunberg, Eric Bakovic, Sally Thomason, Barbara Partee, and John McWhorter. And an additional cast of dozens have blogged here from time to time.
On April 5, 2008, the original server suffered a terminal illness, and was replaced by a new machine in an actual server room with professional support, thanks to Chris Cieri, Chad Jackson and others at the Linguistic Data Consortium. The blog posts between 7/28/2003 and 4/6/2008, in the ugly but beloved old format, can be found here.”