Nov 19

Be aware of the danger of a foreign language

Written by DJ on Wednesday, November 19th, 2008 at 11:43 pm
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When one deals with a foreign language, there is always a chance to produce (sometimes hilarious) errors. This blog has cautioned readers against the danger of relying on automated translation services. Now it seems consulting with a human expert does not necessarily guard one from embarrassment either.

The Max Planck Society in Germany recently released an issue of its research magazine with a theme “Focus China”. The editorial office wanted something Chinese on its cover and the result was the one shown above. However, that Chinese text is really an advertisement for a club of an adult nature. It is also most likely from either Hong Kong or Taiwan instead of the mainland China because of the classical Chinese characters used and its up-and-down, right-to-left arrangement.

The magazine sent out an explanation/apology after, I imagine, some interesting feedback. The cover, meanwhile, has been updated online.

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 an 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.

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22 Responses to “Be aware of the danger of a foreign language”

  1. bt Says:

    Hahaha, that’s funny 🙂
    What is this ‘expert’ that cannot read Chinese? Sounds like a ‘face-saving’ move.
    Next time, they can choose a Classics, to be sure!

  2. A-gu Says:

    Some of the odd characters and phrases make me think it’s likely from Hong Kong? Not sure though.

  3. TonyP4 Says:

    same for english ‘experts’ in china.

    i had one making fun of the signs before the olympics, but i cannot find it. hope some one will post it here.

    one in a tourist area: ‘having fun is prohibited here’.

  4. miaka9383 Says:

    well there’s this website called engrish… it is pretty awesome..

  5. Steve Says:

    Engrish: http://www.engrish.com/

    Most of them are from Japan but some are from China and Taiwan. I’ve had it bookmarked for a long time but forgot about it until miaka mentioned it just now.

  6. sun bin Says:

    more likely from macau 🙂

  7. Wukailong Says:

    @Steve: I remember a favorite from the Engrish page that I think was from a bookstore in Taiwan. Only one letter was wrong: “Sports and hobbits”.

  8. tonyP4 Says:

    Here are some. I’m still looking for the Olympics. I almost died from laughing so hard.


  9. MutantJedi Says:

    So… a post about English speakers being goofy about Chinese quickly turns into poking Chinese about being goofy about English. Absolutely fascinating.

    Which sort of reminds me, after three months in Hebei, of the frustrating arrogance of many foreigners in China. To quote an over used refrain by one of them, “ridiculous.”

  10. Snail Says:

    you have no idea how many Chinese ‘scientific papers’ translate ‘working hard’ (干) into the F word (generally a scientific paper in Chinese is appended with an English version of abstract, some poeple just use google tranlation or something to do that).

  11. yinbinn Says:

    To MutantJedi,
    Yes, exactly. The extent to which some Westerners are unwilling to admit their own failings is amazing!

  12. bt Says:

    Ladies and Gentlemen, I think you are not very fair on this case 🙂
    TonyP4 claims to be Chinese.
    It’s just like throwing something, waiting for the fish to bite and then accuse the fish of biting 🙂

    However, MutantJedi, “arrogance of many foreigners” is something true, for me included.
    Self-correction is good … and this is also a Confucian value!

  13. Clint Says:

    This just shows that it is easy to overlook what the actual meaning of a text might mean, especially when trying to use that text for design purposes without worrying about the context of the text.

  14. dg Says:

    I’m from Hong Kong and have read related news in local newspaper today…

    I have searched on web and seen the following translation (which is accurate in my opinion):

    “We have offered a lot of money to hire two managers — KK and Jaime — to lead the girls stationing in the club during the daytime. Our young girls are elegant northern beauties with attractive physiques. We also have housewives who are coquettish and enchanting. They are appearing here and now.”

    Such wordings are quite common for advertising post for low-class and cheap nite-clubs in Jordan/Yau Ma Tei/Mongkok district…

  15. LittleNicky Says:

    omg… that’s a pretty lame reason… those characters have no ” deeper” meaning other than erotic in nature, even I can read it… very lolz

  16. C.P. Says:

    Being a native of Yau Ma Tei, I’m really proud to see this advertising post of cheap night clubs which can be seen everywhere in my neighbourhood appeared as the coverpage of a journal published by a world renowned institute! LOOOOOOL!

  17. dg Says:

    To #16 C.P.

    Yes, such ads are quite common in Yau Ma Tei even till now. Foreigners may not know/remember where is Yau Ma Tei even they have visited Hong Kong, but should know Temple Street—and Temple Street is in Yau Ma Tei district.

  18. Yong Says:

    I think it is so funny case when I read this news today. I am curious about why the editor office did not ask Chinese in Germany about the meaning of these words? I know in Max Institutes, there are many Chinese working there. It is so unbelievable they made a so interesting mistake on Chinese characters.

  19. SteveL Says:

    The ad was from Macau according to this report.

  20. ttvfwong Says:

    I echo dg and CP. I used to live in the Jordan area of Hong Kong and saw many times similar posters. I think I recognise the handwriting too. I dont think the earlier report about the Macau origin is correct. It is really funny that this particular naughty pastime of Hong Kong is now given international exposure. How it all started would be really interesting to know.

    I have made the following translation to mimic the line structures:

    We paid handsomely to hire Manager KK and Camay full time;
    They personally present young and beautiful girls;
    Northern beauties in million swaying poses;
    Young housewives of fiery figures;
    All bewitching, seductive and are here on board today.
    – translated by ttvfwong, Hong Kong

  21. Berlin Says:

    Haha! It could so easily be avoided if only they had cared to ask one native speaker.


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