Thursday, December 6, 2007

Stir-fried wikipedia, anyone?

The highly estimable Language Log points out yet another instance of Chinese menu translator ingenuity. Wikipedia: now with even more uses!

For more on this phenomenon, see (marginally NSFW), which is devoted to collecting this sort of unintentionally hilarious bad English, mostly from Japan. Aside from just giggling at the bad translations, it's interesting to occasionally catch a nugget of linguistic insight. Well, I mean, the fine folks at Language Log can catch them all the time, but I'm an amateur, so I have to take what I can get.

A while ago, featured a shirt (which I unfortunately can't seem to find now), bearing the sentence "We are dumb and haven't intelligence apes." And I jumped out of my seat, because it made perfect sense to me. In English, that sentence means "we are dumb and do not possess apes of intelligence." Presumably the shirt-writers meant "we are apes who are dumb and do not possess intelligence." (Perhaps dumb here means mute rather than unintelligent -- a relatively subtle distinction, but I've seen Japanese<==>English dictionaries that do very well at this. Or, y'know, maybe it's just redundant.)

What English handles as a relative clause, "apes who do not possess intelligence", Japanese handles by effectively turning the verb "not possess intelligence" into an adjective. To say "we are apes who are dumb and do not possess intelligence" in Japanese, you say something along the lines of "we are dumb and non-intelligence-possessing apes", which is clearly the origin of the T-shirt.

Of course, there's also the complete nonsense, e.g. "I smell the smelly smell of something that smells smell", and the grammatically-correct-but-thematically-inappropriate text, a la this classic example.

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