Tuesday Olympic Notes - I

1. 北京加油! 空气加油!

It's a nice day in Beijing today! Blue visible in the sky, for the first time in one week. It's warm but not sweltering. It actually feels, dare I say it, good outside. View at 4pm August 12:


The traffic- and factory- shutdown orders, and the weather rockets, and the cold front, and the thunderstorms, and the weather gods, and whoever else helped out, are all now doing the job. Congratulations and thanks to one and all.

2. Good translation!
   Most visitors have already learned the two-syllable foundation of Basic Olympic Chinese: the cheer  jia you! It's written 加油!, and for Americans it would be pronounced more or less "jah yo!" -- yo as Sylvester Stallone would say it in Rocky.

If this were being translated the way a lot of Chinese unfortunately is translated, it would be rendered in English as something like "refuel!" or "gas up!"  加油 is after all what you see on the sign over a Chinese gas station. Therefore the repeated rhythymic Olympic chants -- Zhongguo jia you! Aoyun jia you! -- would sound as silly as other "Chinglish" does: "China Gas Up!" "Olympics Refuel!"  "China More Gas!"

But apparently someone involved with the Olympics had the wit to ask a native speaker about this -- and to come up with the vastly better English counterpart "Let's Go!"  In the roar of a crowd, it almost sounds the same. Congratulations to whoever found exactly the right words here. Maybe this could be a precedent?

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(Oh, yes, the bold-face title on previous section is Beijing jia you! Kongqi jia you! "Let's go Beijing! Let's go air!" In a deliberately hokey way.)

3. Less good translation

Foreigners sometimes (unjustly) make fun of the Japanese language for the way it renders imported words. Hotto doggu for hot dog, and so on. The truth is, with minimal effort outsiders can usually identify exactly what foreign word has been imported. If you can't figure out what konpyuta is after a little while in Japan, you're not trying hard. (Hint: it's the same thing the Chinese call a 电脑, diannao, "electric brain." You see what I mean about the virtues of the Japanese approach.)

Bill Bikales writes to explain how China's approach to transliterating foreign words and names affects the Olympics:

The part that gets me still, after 30 years of Chinese language study, is trying to discuss, say, basketball with a taxi driver and being unable to recognize 90% of the names he mentions because their Chinese transliterations are so different from the originals.  Like listening to the names of the countries in Chinese as the teams marched in on Friday night.  I mean, I thought lebulang janmusi (1) had a great game on Sunday, even better than dehuaite huohuade (2).  But I have a personal fondness for kaiwen jianeite (3) , and although he's a bit old, and played in the 2000 games, I would have loved to see him out there this time.
You have to see learning Chinese names of foreign people and places as a basic part of learning Chinese, which is a real pain, and which for non-Chinese speakers is the same experience as seeing a sign saying aolinpikeshuishanggongyuan, etc...

1 - LeBron James
2 - Dwight Howard
3 - Kevin Garnett

As he points out, place names are their own problem. London is Lundun and Paris is Bali, close enoughBut San Francisco is Jiu Jinshan, and New Zealand is Xin Xilan, and Mexico is Moxige, and Russia is Elousi, and in general if you don't already know it can be hard to guess. France is Faguo.

Enough: time to enjoy to nice air.