It takes a bit of effort to really mangle a translation. A translation, which has really gone wrong, is one where you have no idea how to reconstruct it back without first understanding the language. In this case, Chinese, or more specifically, Mandarin, is one of the best candidates. “Rape when greenstuffs” written on a restaurant menu does not have any related context to food and does not give any clue to what it means.
Translation is not just transferring meaning from one container to another, like water between different odd shaped glasses. Translation should aim to be understandable and logical. Good translation should show an appreciation of the source language and an empathy with the target language. Difficulties in translation stem from disparate roots of the language and words used. Some languages have a history of multiple names for a single object, each name being a descriptive or a poetic rendition of the purpose of the object. Given different environments and culture, there is the possibility of a disjoint between languages. For instance, translating between Inuit and Hawaiian, with the Alaskan talking about snow, is almost impossible to do. In the same manner, a text about a shellfish native to Hawaii would be difficult to translate to the language of a Native American from the Southwest.
In the same manner, a person employed in a Chinese restaurant, located in Beijing, without adequate understanding of English would find the task impossible, especially when nobody is in a position to check for correctness. It is well and good to go ahead and translate words and sentences in signs and menus. However, to do so without training, and even without anyone correcting or doing some form of editing or quality assurance, is a recipe for disaster. It is possible to have as many errors as there are lines in the menu; good thing, Chinese menus are famous for their pictures.
Image credit – 40 Most Bloodcurdling Chinese Mistranslations Ever via seenox.org
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