Complex translation needs teamwork


The more I check complex English to Chinese translations the more I’m convinced that a good result demands teamwork.

Pitfalls exist even for excellent translators who haven’t grown up in the culture they translate from. Pitfalls exist even for translators who have grown up in the culture.

The latest funny one I found was in the Chinese translation of the science novel “No” by Carl Djerassi, translated by Professor Shi Zhikang (史志康) of the Shanghai International Studies University (上海外国语大学), published in 2006 by Shanghai People’s Publishing House (上海人民出版社).

Unfortunately the translation contains many errors that could have been picked up by teamwork – in this case working with someone born into an English speaking culture AND capable of reading Chinese.

In Djerassi’s novel a man comes home after a tough day at work and his wife offers to fix him his “usual nightcap”. Professor Shi translates this as a “wear your sleepy hat”. In fact a nightcap (the drink before you go to bed) is translated into Chinese as “sleepy hat” (睡帽). But you don’t wear it!

It seems that Professor Shi’s check of the dictionary was not enough.

WARNING: This was posted without teamwork, so please let me know if I owe Professor Shi an apology. Then I’ll move on to the next page of his translation and perhaps find a better example which may not be as funny.


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