Mistranslations are the worst.

Whenever I watch episodes of Bones, Doctor Who and such things in English (which is always, because Chinese voice-dubs are annoying and awful), I can’t help but notice the Chinese subtitles beneath. Of course I can understand English without looking at subtitles, but I’m always curious as to how the videos’ uploaders chose to translate the dialogue (since many subtitles on the internet are translated by non-professional, ordinary internetizens). Sometimes they’re pretty standard, since most dialogue is easy enough to understand. But other times…

The subtitles just make me want to throw my phone out the window and bash my head against the wall.

Because many, many times, something (a word, a phrase, an idiom, a proverb, a slang term) is translated really badly, and you can’t even understand what the original English meaning is unless you can understand spoken English. Which many Chinese people can’t do, so, they just have to suffer at the hands of godless mistranslations.

Sometimes the mistranslations are just misunderstandings of slang terms and taking some words too seriously, so they can be…somewhat forgiven, but sometimes bad English subtitles happen because the translator heard a word wrong. “Therapy” becomes “terribly” in a song; “Because I’ll never give in” turns into “Because I’m never giving in” (which adds a useless syllable), “Call for mine” is supposed to be “Compromise.” It’s AWFUL and I HATE THESE MISTRANSLATIONS because THEY make the Chinese viewers think American/British shows/songs have all these weird scraps of disconnected dialogue and lyrics. “I call shotgun” turns into “我要把手枪”, which means “I want a handgun”, when it obviously means that the speaker wanted to ride shotgun, in the car. Also, “shotgun” should actually be “猎枪”.

Some transliterations are terrible, too. “Northcott”, a name, turns into “洛葛”, which is luò ge”. This, as you can imagine, sounds nothing like the actual name. And it irritates me so much when people translate books. I have an edition of The Catcher in the Rye that’s actually two books in one: one Chinese version, one original English version. I have read (or tried to read) the Chinese translation, but I always get too frustrated. The translator made the entire tone of the story sound wrong. It sounds like he was trying too hard to sound young and angsty. So basically, it sounds phony. Aren’t translations supposed to be as similar to the original versions as possible, in punctuation, tone, and choice of words? I think the translator did a very poor job of that with his translation of Rye. I actually a pencil to correct spots I think he could have translated better. That sounds kind of…I don’t know, condescending and stuck-up, but I hate the translation too much, I can’t stand it.

But then again, Chinese things aren’t easily translated into English, either. Especially old poems–they’re very concise and delicate in Chinese, but you just can’t translate their beauty into another language. Oh well. I suppose some things always have to be lost in translation, because different languages are just too–well–different.


Anyway, I’ve been having a marvelous time…not really. My grandma and uncle have gone back to their home but it was nice, albeit saddening, to see them. Hopefully I’ll write something tomorrow, but you never know, I procrastinate too much and I skip lots of days without any reason.

Have a good week, and stay chill.

One thought on “Mistranslations”

  1. It is the same with my mother tongue, and I also can’t stop making a fuss about it. Of course it is not easy to translate everything in a way that also grasps the original meaning, but often I feel that they don’t even make a lot of effort. It doesn’t help that my native language is not exactly known as being the most funny, light hearted one, so fast-paced, witty stories or dialogues are often totally lost. Not to mention songs, as the language is infamous among singers as being a pain in the ***.

Leave a Comment: