Thursday, June 28, 2007

"Sticky Rice" Romney and "Idiot" Menino

Please read this article.

It would be incredible (and awesome) if they could transliterate the presidential candidates names into characters which expressed some of their character (the closest listed is Menino with "Imbecile" - not that he isn't a good mayor, that's just the way he comes across sometimes). I think they got Menino's wrong though with "Barbarian Mud No Mind of His Own." That should have been Bush.

I wonder if translating their names into Chinese characters could easily render itself to bias. I mean, which translation do you use, "Imbecile" or "Barbarian Mud No Mind of His Own"? Which would be more negative to a Chinese person? Would the candidates get the final say as to how their name was depicted on the ballot? If, for instance, they used "Imbecile" for Menino, would that affect his chances of being reelected Mayor, regardless of how good a Mayor he has been? If voters aren't familiar with a politician's history (in any demographic), they're either going to vote party line or they're going to vote in the moment. And who would choose "Imbecile" for public office? This is not to say that those voting off the Chinese names would not know what they were doing. If they are able to vote, they've obviously gone through the naturalization process and care enough about the process to come out and vote, so they are possibly even better informed than the apathetic Americans who stay home in droves on voting day. But would having a negative transliteration work against the candidates in some subconscious way?

Don't most Chinese people also learn pinyin (Chinese words with English letters and accent marks) in school, and could the candidates' names be written in pinyin instead?

To go off tangent, one of the things I find fascinating about Chinese and Japanese (kanji) is the fact that their written language is linked to the meaning of the word and not just to the sound. Written in furigana (phonetic characters rather than pictorial), the Japanese word hana can mean "nose," "cherry blossom," and "story" or can be turned into a verb meaning "speak," depending on what character is used. In English we distinguish homonyms through context (think present (n) and present (v)). We do also spell words different according to definition (your and you're, too, two and to) which would be the English version of this Japanese convention. But in English, they're just letters on a page, and many people confuse them (pet peeve, pet peeve). But in Japanese, even if the word sounds the same to the ear, if you look at it, you're not going to confuse a character with radicals for a plant with one with radicals for speaking or a part of the face. It seems much clearer that way.

Languages that have some kind of pictorial element seem vastly more rich to me, even as they can be harder to learn. I don't remember much of the Aeneid from my years of Latin in high school. But one phrase has stuck with me through the years (and I've been looked for the exact Latin and very frustratingly I can't find it now). It basically was something like: in the dark Dido and Aeneas took shelter cave (purple-verb, blue-subject, green-prepositional phrase). There were some other mixed in adjectives that I'm not remembering. But the point being, the sentence structure literally put Dido and Aeneas in the cave, for visual as well as contextual emphasis. It creates a richness of meaning, an artistic way of conveying exactly the meaning you want and placing the reader right there with you.

1 comment:

Gopi Rajaseharan said...

Menino hasn't done anything special for the city. He is what I call a transitional Mayor: just someone keeping an eye on things until a visionary (along the lines of a, say, John Hynes) comes along. I do agree, however, that Menino is a colorful dude in his own way :)