Carsten Mende explains how loan words are used in China and Japan. These are English words that are commonly used in everyday Chinese, (i.e. loaned) but may not translate correctly if taken literally. He looks at how the ‘Chinese and Japanese languages incorporate English terms and how they are used’ and gives suggestions on what to avoid when translating documentation into these languages.
Difference between English, Chinese and Japanese syllables
He starts by showing the different between how syllables are created in these languages. And as someone who has studied Chinese for a few years, it’s both fascinating and frustrating. Oranges and apples, so to speak.
Latin – allows ‘numerous variations for combining letters and the amount of syllables is extremely large. English has more than 11,000 syllables.
Chinese and Japanese is very different: Chinese (Mandarin) is written in characters; each reflects a syllable and not a single letter.
Adopting loan words in Chinese and Japanese
He shows three mechanisms for the adaptation of English words in both languages:
- Phonemic way
- Semantic way
- Adaptation without any transformation
For example: Coffee 咖啡 ka fei
He cautions that when translating or transferring into a foreign language, ‘even obvious things may shape up as something completely different. So you should always treat your customer attentively, take him seriously and be prepared to communicate in his mother tongue.’
The quality of technical documentation in China is often very poor. It’s not for lack of trying, rather they lack experience technical writers and have had little exposure to international audiences.
For foreigners this represents a huge opportunity. Technical writers who can come to China and test the waters could do very well. The pay is increasing all the time and the cost of living significantly lower than elsewhere.