Friday, February 3, 2012

Chinese translation: tea; chess

These are a few examples I happened upon in casual conversations with native Chinese speakers.

On one occasion, Mr. A mentioned "red tea", which puzzled some other folks who were also present. He was referring to 紅茶 (hóng chá), whose two characters indeed represent "red" and "tea", respectively.  However, in English we call the same drink black tea.  I could see the color of the tea being considered red (it's typically not black, really), but context trumps piecemeal translational validity, so he would have done better to say either "black tea" or just "tea".

On a separate occasion, when referring to chess, Mr. B called it "international chess".  In China it's called 国际象棋 (guójì xiàngqí; 國際象棋 in traditional Chinese characters) where the first two characters represent "international" (probably in all other contexts) and the last two characters represent the game called "Chinese chess" in English.

Chess is known by a different name in Taiwan:  西洋棋 (xīyángqí).  The first two characters represent "Western", while the last character represents any "chess-like" game (Go, incidentally, is 圍棋 wéiqí in Chinese; the first character represents "to surround", which I gather is what you seek to do to your opponent's stones in the game).  I tried to clarify for Mr. B that in the English language context it doesn't make sense to call the game "international chess" and that he should just refer to it as "chess".  When I subsequently contrasted Chinese chess vs chess, I called the latter "Western chess" to further distinguish it.  Although I was perhaps influenced by the Taiwan name for chess, I was thinking along the common idea of describing Chinese things as from the East and, e.g., American things as from the West, e.g., Eastern religions vs Western religions.

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