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Lost in Translation

Written By: Usree Bhattacharya on December 11, 2008 2 Comments

The Independent, UK, has an article about how the highly reputed German scientific journal, Max Planck Forschung, unwittingly used a cover image with Chinese text from a Macau brothel to highlight its China issue. In place of what the editors imagined was ancient Chinese poetry, they ended up with some clearly racy text.

The article goes on to tell us:

“The Max Planck Institute was quick to acknowledge its error explaining that it had consulted a German sinologist prior to publication of the text. “To our sincere regret … it has now emerged that the text contains deeper levels of meaning, which are not immediately accessible to a non-native speaker,” the institute said in an apology. “By publishing this text we did in no way intend to cause any offence [sic] or embarrassment to our Chinese readers.”

There’s a great discussion of the incident at the UPenn’s Language Log. Check it out here.

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2 Responses to “Lost in Translation”

  1. daveski on: 11 December 2008 at 9:55 pm

    One of the comments on the Language Log is from someone who points out the blog “Hanzi Smatter“, a welcome rebuttal to all the sites out there that give examples of mistaken English, or “Engrish”…the larger question that’s so fascinating to me is the question of when and how (and to what disastrous effects!!) writing in different script systems is used for purely decorative or aesthetic effects by people who can’t read it. i know I’m guilty of this too…(felt a little guilty for cut-and-pasting katie_k’s favorite Russian word into my last post when I can’t even read it!)

  2. Usree Bhattacharya on: 11 December 2008 at 11:17 pm

    Thanks for sharing. I remember when I came to the I House, they gave us T-shirts with the official logo, and some kind of text translated in multiple languages. Imagine my shock when I saw some random Hindi characters strung together not making sense at all! When I asked about it, I was told it was a mistake, and they had THOUGHT it was Hindi.

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