translation, transcription, transliteration of foreign names

JLanguage

Senior Member
USA: American English, Learning Hebrew and Spanish
How is it done in written Chinese, since it's a character-based language? Of course you could use pinyin, but is that really the standard way of doing it?

Thanks,
-Jonathan.
 
  • MingRaymond

    Senior Member
    HK Cantonese
    We use Chinese characters to do this.
    For example Bill Gates is 比爾.蓋茲 in Chinese. The pronunciation of 比爾.蓋茲 is bi3 er3 gai4 zi1 in Mandarin.

    We won't use pinyin in a formal Chinese sentences.

    We write this 比爾.蓋茲是美國人。(Bill Gates is an American.) We won't write Bi3 er3 gai4 zi1 是美國人。

    Raymond
     

    giuseppe

    Member
    China/Mandarin,Speaking Fr,En,Es,It,Pt
    For phonetic translation of borrowed words we just try to use the characters whose pronunciations are the nearest to the foreign words:)
     

    Spectre scolaire

    Senior Member
    Maltese and Russian
    The list referred to by demoore is instructive. The information it primarily gives, is that Chinese – from a phonological point of view – is extremely restrictive. Only some 420 syllables make up the whole inventory of the language. Therefore, the interesting point to observe is which syllables are being chosen to provide the most adequate phonetic realization of a foreign word.

    But there is more to it.

    Precisely because of the syllabic “stinginess” of Chinese, two compensations, as it were, are operative. One is the tonemes, but the more important one is the script. The tonemes radically increase the number of admissible syllables – even if far from all possibilities are actually being used. The script, however, increases the number almost ad infinitum – which means that homonyms are not seen as a “problem” in Chinese.

    Given these premisses, I still have to confess that the use or non-use of a particular character [for the transcription of foreign words and names] has never been obvious to me. Lists like the one in question give a hint as to how the Chinese put everything “foreign” into a Chinese mould. A good indication can further be gleaned from a larger Chinese dictionary in which all the countries of the world and their capitals are listed. A closer look at a monolingual Chinese world atlas would give a lot of additional information. The last suggestion implies the ability to analyse Chinese characters.

    The question being asked initially --

    JLanguage said:
    How is it done in written Chinese, since it's a character-based language?
    -- is not an easy one to answer. The choice of a character to be used for transcription purpose seems to be largely arbitrary – and yet, there is often some sort of consensus as to which character to choose. Some characters are even commonly used for transcription purpose in particular.

    In any case, there is a large margin of choice. There are many examples of foreign brand names for which a special transcription has been conscientiously chosen in order to depict the brand in a most favourable light. On the other hand, there are examples of expats in China who initially got their names transcribed in a conveyor-belt way by some Chinese clerk, a name which later proved to be embarrassing because the Chinese pronunciation of it would mean something ugly, obscene or funny in the language of the bearer. Obviously, the clerk should be considered as completely innocent of such a “blunder”.

    The best solution is to dictate one’s own choice of characters, a solution which, however, requires a good knowledge of Chinese in the first place. It is possible to simply translate a foreign name into Chinese, and it is equally possible to choose only some elements of a name thus making up a nice sequence of characters provided with an acceptable semantic content. Such cases are always favourably viewed by the Chinese, even if the name almost invariably will be seen as foreign in whatever way you try to squeeze it into a Chinese mould. The reason is, of course, that in China the naming traditions are very different from those in the West.

    I’d better leave the continuation of this thread to somebody else who is more qualified to elaborate on the question.
    :) :)
     

    Kwunlam

    Senior Member
    Cantonese, Mandarin, English
    There are many considerations indeed when we translate a name into Chinese.

    For famous figures, like Albert Einstein (愛恩斯坦), I. Newton (牛頓), Marx (馬克思) and for famous places, like Paris (巴黎), Frankfurt (法蘭克福), Cambridge (劍橋), Oxford (牛津), these names have long ago been translated into Chinese and are highly stable. People normally would not invent new ways of rendering them. We may call this "約定俗成"(by agreement and common practice).

    But for some other less-so-famous names, diff. levels of variations tend to occur, especially between Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and South-East Asia.

    For some not-really-famous-at-all names, people may freely render them in ways they regard as correct. So sometimes the translated Chinese names are rather difficult to "guess-back" the original name, and indeed difficult for people to communicate.

    Meanwhile, there are some "traditions" within diff. communities. For example, the Catholic Church and the Catholic Biblie in Chinese are use are rather different set of translations from Protestant Church and Protestant Bible. For Peter we have 伯多錄 and 彼得. For Paul we have 保錄 and 保羅. But normally speaking, it is the Protestant translation which is more prevalent or influential in the "secular" realms. So if you ask people how to translate PETER into Chinese, many people will tell you 彼得 intsead of 伯多錄.

    For the philosophical tradition, the famous philosophers normally do not have much different translations. Kant is always 康德, Hegel is always 黑格爾. Well, 50 years ago, some names are not yet so stabilised. So occasionally people will write 黑格耳 ("耳" means "ear").

    Personally, I think that words with least possible connotations would be the better , so that people would not think of unnecessary connotations. So when I saw the translation of Hegel, I don't have to think of an "ear".



    Since it is quite confusing and and not facilitating communication when people invent their own translations, so... in Mainland China, they have a systematic way of transscribing an English name:
    http://img394.imageshack.us/img394/773/translationnameengtg8.jpg
    [ please remove this URL if it is not appropriate to show it here ]

    They have other schemas for translating German and French and other names. According to the schema, virtually every pronunciable name can be rendered automatically into Chinese. And it is highly likely that many users would come up with the same translation.

    With such a standardisation, the same phenomenon does not occur in HK or in Taiwan.




    By the way, I have worked as an editor for 3 years in Hong Kong, but I am very familiar with the Mainland China way of translating names, since my firm [and many other firms] adopts the Mainland China way of translating names.

    True, some people don't like Mainland China system, or some simply don't like anything from Mainland China. But the editors do not have to care about those "ideological"/"political" struggles, they just want to have a convenient set of system of translating names in a good agreement with each other. And that is all.
     

    Kwunlam

    Senior Member
    Cantonese, Mandarin, English
    But, some sinologists and some missionaries do invent their own Chinese names. To honour them, it is advisable to use their own invented CHinese names, instead of finding other ways of rendering them.
     

    palomnik

    Senior Member
    English
    Kwunlam, that's an amazing item you included in your e-mail. I had no idea that such a thing existed!

    I'm making myself a copy.
     

    Kwunlam

    Senior Member
    Cantonese, Mandarin, English
    Kwunlam, that's an amazing item you included in your e-mail. I had no idea that such a thing existed!

    I'm making myself a copy.

    Actually they compiled two massive volumes of 《世界人名翻譯大詞典》. It is convenient mainly for editors and translations. They do not only contain names from ENgland, Germany, France, but from other European countries and some Asian and African and Latinoamerican countries as well. Too big, not convenient to bring it around.

    So, there are some pocket-sized and single-language-based toolbooks. For English, there is 《英語姓名詞典》or some other similar products. So long as it is published in Mainland China. They would always follow the same schema.

    My editor friends like to call it the "新華社 ( = 新華通訊社, "Xinhua News Agency" -- ya, the official news agency) standard".


    But of course, there are always tensions and trade-offs between "traditions/habits/community uses/convensions" and "standardisations/schemas". So even in Mainland China, sometimes not all names would be translated in the same way (esp. when there is not direct equivalence for the same sound to be represented by charactersin Chinese).
     

    Kwunlam

    Senior Member
    Cantonese, Mandarin, English
    How is it done in written Chinese, since it's a character-based language? Of course you could use pinyin, but is that really the standard way of doing it?

    Thanks,
    -Jonathan.
    Oh sorry, when I read again, I realise that you are not asking about "names" but "words" in general. The Chinese people, since the period of translating many many Buddhist sutras from regions within and near India, and since the period of modernisation in the 20th century, have been very actively incorporating Western concepts and words.

    Ignoring the Buddhist translation which is far more complicated, in general, we will generally seek to find the equivalent word in Chinese according to meaning. In the early stage, the Chinese people did import a lot of Chinese translations from Japanese Kanji, or they invented their own better ways if they feel unsatisfied with the existent renderings. Words like 宗教 (from religare, religere, "religion"),經濟 (oikonomia, economics),哲學 (philosophia, philosophy) etc... are imported translations from Japanese. The Japanese even go back to the Ancient Chinese classics and find some suitable phrases like 民.

    For elements, we too invent new words if we originally don't have the character, namely, using the method of 形聲. For the sound Zinc, we got the similar sound "辛", and get "金" to the left to indicate that it is a metal which sounds as "辛". So we have the word 鋅.
     

    Anatoli

    Senior Member
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    This may give some idea about transcribing foreign words, in brackets the traditional characters (if they differ) are shown:

    纽约[紐約] Niǔyuē New York
    华盛顿[華-頓] Huáshèngdùn Washington
    伦敦[倫-] Lúndūn London
    巴黎 Bālí* Paris
    柏林 Bólín Berlin
    马德里[馬--] Mǎdélǐ Madrid
    莫斯科 Mòsīkē Moscow
    堪培拉 Kānpéilā Canberra
    悉尼 Xīní Sydney
    墨尔本[-爾-] Mò'ěrběn Melbourne
    渥太华[--華] Wòtàihuá Ottawa
    多伦多[-倫-] Duōlúnduō Toronto
    蒙特利尔[---爾] Méngtèlì'ěr Montreal
    洛杉矶[--磯] Luòshānjī Los Angeles
    惠灵顿[-靈頓] Huìlíngdùn Wellington
    奥克兰[奧-蘭] Àokèlán Oakland; Auckland
    斯德哥尔摩[---爾-] Sīdégē'ěrmó Stockholm


    Note that Japanese and Korean and some other Asian names are borrowed not phonetically but in their character form because the majority of names in Japan and Korea also have a Chinese character spelling., you won't be able to recognise these words by the sound :) :


    東京 (Jp.) - 东京[東-] Dōngjīng Tokyo
    大阪 (Jp.) - 大坂[-阪] Dàbǎn Osaka
    (Jp.) - 神户[-戶] Shénhù Kobe (note the Japanese character)
    京都 (Jp.) - 京都 Jīngdū Kyoto
    札幌 (Jp.) - 札幌 Zháhuǎng Sapporo
    島 (Jp.) - 广岛[廣島] Guǎngdǎo Hiroshima (note the Japanese character)
    長崎 (Jp.) - 长崎[長-] Chángqí Nagasaki

    平壤 Píngrǎng Pyongyang
    首尔[-爾] Shǒu'ěr Seoul
     

    涼宮

    Senior Member
    Sbaeneg/Castellano (Venezuela)
    Good afternoon everyone.午安每个人

    In Mandarin how do you normally form the names? I mean foreing names, there is a kind of rule what 汉字 you have to use or something? whatever name you want to translate how do you do it?


    Thank you very much in Advance.
     

    indigoduck

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Good afternoon everyone.午安每个人

    In Mandarin how do you normally form the names? I mean foreing names, there is a kind of rule what 汉字 you have to use or something? whatever name you want to translate how do you do it?

    Thank you very much in Advance.
    Well, there is no set rule, but generally names are formed according to sound but "chinese"-ized - either "Mandarin"-ized or "Cantonese"-ized.

    Usually, if the name or part of the name already has a "chinese"-ized equivalent, we'll use that first followed by characters according to sound, and as close to meaning as is possible. And lastly, making sure the final result doesn't have a weird meaning when translated to "Chinese".

    Do you have a name (maybe Spanish name) that you can give me as an example ?
     

    涼宮

    Senior Member
    Sbaeneg/Castellano (Venezuela)
    My name has already an equivalent, so what about to translate the name ''Yoselin''?


    Thank you very much for your help.
     

    viajero_canjeado

    Senior Member
    English - Southeastern USA
    Often in cases like these more commonly-employed "phonetic" characters are used. I think if the characters are chosen for their sound alone, they tend to be easily recognizable. You can also assign characters with nice meanings, like the Chinese did when they named 美國. The etymology of the word America has nothing to do with beauty, as far as I know.

    For the name Yoselin, perhaps you could try something like:
    遊瑟琳
    遊 is a Chinese surname, 瑟 is like an old instrument, and 琳 means "gem". I take it this is a girl's name?
    You could also use the like-sounding "尤" for the surname.
     

    viajero_canjeado

    Senior Member
    English - Southeastern USA
    Whoops! This dictionary accepts 遊 as a surname, but perhaps it's simply way less common than 游. In any case, 遊的簡體就是游,所以在大陸一定要用游.
     

    Jerry Chan

    Senior Member
    Cantonese, Hokkien
    We can't be sure if 遊 is a surname, but 游 definitely is a common one.

    雖然「游」是「遊」的簡體字, 但在需要用「游」的時候,卻不能寫成「遊」
     

    涼宮

    Senior Member
    Sbaeneg/Castellano (Venezuela)
    Thank you very much, so the best way of translating names into Mandarin is by means of phonetics right? and yes, Yoselin is a name for girls, not common indeed.
    But less common is ''Dedubraska'' :D, indeed how can you translate that name if does not exist sounds like bra and a 's' alone in Mandarin? how you in Mandarin give a 汉字 in names that has sounds does not exist?

    Do you add something ?


    Thank you very much.
     
    Last edited:

    indigoduck

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Thank you very much, so the best way of translating names into Mandarin is by means of phonetics right? and yes, Yoselin is a name for girls, not common indeed.
    But less common is ''Dedubraska'' :D, indeed how can you translate that name if does not exist sounds like bra and a 's' alone in Mandarin? how you in Mandarin give a 汉字 in names that has sounds does not exist in Mandarin?

    Do you add something ?


    Thank you very much.
    Then you will notice it sounds pretty weird because it is "Chinese"-ized.

    In chinese, the state of Nebraska in the USA is called 內布拉斯加, Las Vegas is called 拉斯維加斯 and Brasil is called 巴西.

    Dedubraska = 德杜巴西加 or 德杜布拉斯加

    Pronounced 德(de2)(du4)(ba1) 西(xi1)(jia1)

    Pronounced 德(de2)(du4)(bu4)(la1,la2,la3,la4)(si1)(jia1)
     
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    涼宮

    Senior Member
    Sbaeneg/Castellano (Venezuela)
    Thank you very much. So as I can see 'bra' is split up in 'bu la'' the sound 's' alone would become a 'xi/si'' and the sound 'ka' is 'jia' what other sounds are substituted like that in Mandarin? Could you give me the substitution for sounds which do not exist in Mandarin please?

    Thank you very much in advance.
     

    viajero_canjeado

    Senior Member
    English - Southeastern USA
    That's a hard request to fulfill, 涼宮, as there are a massive number of sounds which do not exist in Mandarin. You kind of just have to take it on a case-by-case basis. Are there any particular sounds you had in mind to ask about?
     

    涼宮

    Senior Member
    Sbaeneg/Castellano (Venezuela)
    Okay , understood, particular cases? yes, basics cases, because I am new at Mandarin so I have that doubt.

    'tra' ' cro' 'ble' ' grin' 'ki' 'ko' 'so' 'cy' 'pe'

    Thank you in advance.
     

    indigoduck

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Okay , understood, particular cases? yes, basics cases, because I am new at Mandarin so I have that doubt.

    'tra' ' cro' 'ble' ' grin' 'ki' 'ko' 'so' 'cy' 'pe'

    Thank you in advance.
    Particular cases as in "the entire word" and not just a segment of sound.

    I suppose you are familiar with Japanese Kana. With Kana, you can randomly put sounds together, because that sound can only be expressed with that character alone.

    Although each Chinese character represents a sound, it also has a meaning. Therefore for each sounds, there could possibly be many possbilities of characters for that sound.

    As a result, when it comes to Foreign names, Chinese (Mandarin and other dialects, etc) tends likes to be elegant when forming such, and is not all about factory assembly line of sounds.
    Thank you very much. So as I can see 'bra' is split up in 'bu la'' the sound 's' alone would become a 'xi/si'' and the sound 'ka' is 'jia' what other sounds are substituted like that in Mandarin? Could you give me the substitution for sounds which do not exist in Mandarin please?

    Thank you very much in advance.
    I think the best thing for you to do if you are interested is to familiarize yourself with the Pinyin chart so that you know what sounds exist in Mandarin Chinese.

    Once you know what sounds exist, then you'll have to use your imagination to figure out how to "form" the sounds that don't exist.

    Don't know if there is a formal linguistic term for this, but I like to call it "step wise" composition - ("bu la" = bra).

    Japanese exhibits this phenomenon as well.
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    涼宮

    Senior Member
    Sbaeneg/Castellano (Venezuela)
    Sorry my bad, yes I know Japanese, in Japanese not problem how to form names, but Chinese is very different.

    Okay, names with those sounds.

    tracky, cross, bleim, grimmjow, kikito, kodak, solargelis, lucy, pericles or pedro.

    Those are the examples that come to my mind.

    Thank you in advance.
     

    indigoduck

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Sorry my bad, yes I know Japanese, in Japanese not problem how to form names, but Chinese is very different.

    Okay, names with those sounds.

    tracky, cross, bleim, grimmjow, kikito, kodak, solargelis, lucy, pericles or pedro.

    Those are the examples that come to my mind.

    Thank you in advance.
    Here's some:
    cross = 十字架
    bleim = 布利姆
    kodak = 柯达
    lucy = 露西
    pericle(s) = 伯里克利 (斯)
    pedro = 佩德罗
     

    viajero_canjeado

    Senior Member
    English - Southeastern USA
    Quiero que esté bien claro que ese "十字架" se refiere específicamente a la cruz, como la de Jesús.. si buscas una traducción más semejante al sonido de la palabra "cross", quizá sería algo así:
    苦羅斯 (ku3 luo2 si1)
     

    indigoduck

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Quiero que esté bien claro que ese "十字架" se refiere específicamente a la cruz, como la de Jesús.. si buscas una traducción más semejante al sonido de la palabra "cross", quizá sería algo así:
    苦羅斯 (ku3 luo2 si1)
    Ja ja ja, muchas gracias!
     

    jstuardo

    Member
    Chile Spanish
    Hello.....

    I want to know what criteria is followed by Chinese people to translate foreign names, for example, country names or personal names...

    for example, how is my country name (Chili) translated into Chinese? or my first name, Jaime, pronounced as "ha-eemee" with "ha" beeing the stressed syllable.

    Will all chinese people translate the same way?

    Thanks
    Jaime
     

    Rikkify

    New Member
    English, Mandarin, Taiwanese
    Chinese transliteration of foreign names are notorious for being inconsistent. The general rule of thumb is to either base the translation with accordance to the past examples, or use the characters that best resemble the pronunciation of that foreign name.

    It must be noted that the transliteration of foreign names would differ slightly in different Chinese regions (Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Southeast Asia).
     

    jstuardo

    Member
    Chile Spanish
    Right! Chile is currently participating in Expo Shanghai and the name is written the same way as yours.

    Since each chinese sign has its own meaning, what is the meaning of both separatedly? do them make any sense?

    Cheers
    Jaime
     

    Rikkify

    New Member
    English, Mandarin, Taiwanese
    Since each chinese sign has its own meaning, what is the meaning of both separatedly? do them make any sense?
    Usually it doesn't make sense on its own. Sometimes it may make a little sense on its own, but with little relation to the context. In the case for 智利, it simply means "Wise" and 'Profit" separately.
     
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