August 20, 2014 Leave a comment
From the Language Log Blog, by Victor Mair
For chǎo shuǐlián 炒水蓮, which is straightforward, Google Translate, Baidu Fanyi, Bing Translator, and even iciba correctly give “fried lotus”, so there’s no excuse for saying “I can’t find on google”.
So what’s going on here?
In the first half of the menu, aside from the zany “I can’t find on google but it’s delicious”, the other three items, although translated somewhat sloppily, are within the ball park. In the second half of the menu, simply looking at the English, you can tell that the translator was just playing games and wasn’t making a serious effort to render the names of the Chinese entries. They also were careless about the Chinese inputting.
A couple of examples:
Where they typed huāzhī quān 花芝圈 (lit., “flower fungus circle”), which they translate as “Mermaid in Deep sea”, it should probably be the homophonous huāzhī quān 花枝圈 (“squid rings; deep-fried calamari rings”).
Where they typed màikè Jíkuài 麥克吉塊 (“Mike’s lucky pieces”), which they cutely translate as “McDonald’s best friend”, it should probably be the near-homophonous màikè jīkuài 麥克雞塊 (“Mike’s chicken pieces [i.e., nuggets]“).
The other two items are of a similar goofy, slipshod quality.
How do we account for this strange combination of slapdash Chinese and hit-or-miss English? My surmise is that this menu might have been put together by Koreans or Japanese (or some other group who are not native speakers of Mandarin) in Taiwan.
First of all, the prices are in New Taiwan dollars, so this menu is from Taiwan. Second, the menu twice refers to cabbage as “Gāolí cài” 高麗菜 (“Korean vegetable”), whereas I know at least half a dozen other Chinese words for cabbage that, at least to me, are more common than “Gāolí cài” 高麗菜 (“Korean vegetable”). Third, huāzhī 花芝 (lit., “flower fungus”) doesn’t really mean anything in Mandarin, but it is at least a pronounceable name in Japanese: Hanashiba. Fourth, érzǎisū 兒仔酥 is a rare expression for a mock oyster crisp (hézǎisū 蚵仔酥) such as might be found in a vegetarian restaurant associated with Japan (see the caption to the 14th photograph here for an explanation of the name of this dish).
Or maybe the menu was made by some Taiwanese person who was lazy or tipsy, in which case there might be some interference from Taiwanese language which I haven’t been able to detect. Overall, though, this menu seems to be quite an inept way for a restaurant to present itself to the public.