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Re: USAGE: Do foreign names sound like phrases in Chinese?

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  • Douglas Koller
    ... This has been covered quite adequately by others, but please to indulge me to opine... :) Yes and no. NO, I feel a kind of mental suspension of character
    Message 1 of 15 , Mar 2, 2013
      > Date: Fri, 1 Mar 2013 10:24:51 -0300
      > From: leolucas1980@...
      > Subject: USAGE: Do foreign names sound like phrases in Chinese?
      > To: CONLANG@...

      > Do some foreign names sound like phrases in Chinese? Is it somewhat
      > funny to natives?

      > I have learnt that my name (Leonardo) is 莱昂纳多 in Chinese. Does it
      > sound like "someone who admits being very proud of weed"?

      > 莱 - weed
      > 昂 - proud
      > 纳 - admit
      > 多 - very

      > Naturally, the word order is not syntactically significant, but do
      > these type of association occur?

      This has been covered quite adequately by others, but please to indulge me to opine... :)

      Yes and no. NO, I feel a kind of mental suspension of character meanings when *I* read foreign imports. They have a katakana-y, just-there-for-the-sounds feel to them; there is a quasi-standardized set of these used for such purposes which I *thought*, at least, was something one just internalized along the way through usage, but lo, as George points out, there's an actual Xinhua table:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcription_into_Chinese_characters#Transcription_table

      If you start factoring many proud weeds into the proceedings, it gets very hinky, very unfulfilling, very nonsensical, very quickly. Chinese surnames were apparently capriciously (?) assigned by the emperor pulling characters from a text I-know-not-what, so if you start saying things like, "Well, this surname means 'king' (王) and this one means 'yellow' (黄) and this one means 'horse' (马).", a Chinese person will correct you and say, "No, they don't *mean* anything." There's a disconnect. And that's the level I think one should leave the list of transcription characters at. That said, however, YES. Caveat barbarus: If someone mischievous or malicious, as H.S. points, swapped out "莱" for "癞" ("scabies" -- as in "癞皮狗" "lai4pi2gou3" -- "mangy cur", a less-than-flattering epithet for someone), you should SUE!! :) But clearly, someone would have deliberately gone off-transcription table and off-message.

      But *that* said, however, I don't think one should get too terribly overly weird about this sort of thing. There was much ballyhoo in the Boston Globe a few years back (musta been 2008?) about Chinese translators painstakingly writhing in angst about how to transcribe politicians' names for Chinese-language ballots in Massachusetts lest "inauspicious" characters be chosen (*translators* don't know about the transcription set? -- uh-huh <big wink>). After all, you wouldn't want Obama to be transcribed as doing something untoward to to your mother or suffer the same fate as Pepsi Cola or some such, which apparently on the first market run-through got monikered, "Raises your ancestors from the dead". Hogwash. Stuff and nonsense. And Spanish speakers don't buy Nova's because they analyze it as "No va". And there are forty words for snow. The transcription process is not (or need not be) that mysterious.

      But *that* said, however, if you want someone to plunk down their tael of silver for your product, you *might* want to aim for something that sounds close *and* is commercially upbeat. 麦当劳 for McDonald's looks like it came from the transliteration table -- someone might as well have phoned it in. 赛百味 for Subway isn't bad. 可口可乐 for Coca-Cola is okay. I think "得来速" (de2lai2su4) for (fastfood) "drive-thru" is absolutely brilliant. But I digress...

      Gotta admit, my first visceral reaction to 莱昂纳多 was "Blech!". I would have more expected "列奥纳多" (as in 列奥纳多・达・芬奇 -- Leonardo da Vinci) or "里奥纳多", but a mouse click or two yields:

      http://www.mandarintools.com/cgi-bin/wordlook.pl?word=0x840A&searchtype=trad&where=anywhere

      and "Leonardo DiCaprio" is 莱昂纳多・迪卡普里奥, according to Wikipedia, so what do I know?

      But my "Blech!" comes from other quarters, too. If you are Leonardo DiCaprio, Angelina Jolie, President Obama, or Michael Jordan, and/or you have absolutely no intention of getting down and dirty with the masses and living the China experience, then I think the "莱昂纳多・迪卡普里奥" treatment is perfectly fine and dandy. You come, you do your press junket, you're in the paper, you leave, you're done. Great, who cares. But at the high school/university "Foreign Language Fair" or at tourist sites here, there is inevitably a stall inviting you to get your "Chinese name" in calligraphy, (or if you really want to drop some hard cash, carved into a chop,) and foreigners gleefully come away from the experience with a piece of paper saying: "My name in Chinese is: ". They're characters pulled from the table, but characters *qua* characters, they're swathed in the mystique of the Orient. How to tell starry-eyed "Edie" who has the soundtrack from "Flower Drum Song" playing in
      the back of her mind and wants to know what "依蒂" (yi1di4) *means* that it doesn't really go much of anywhere meaning-wise ("rely-bud", "according to pedicle"?). Sorry, "my little serene lotus blossom", it isn't.

      So the expat route, if you're planning on staying longer than twenty minutes, is most often to adopt a more "genuine" "Chinese name". After all, if Chinese people are going to insist that you call them by their English names ("Andromeda Fang", "Spanakopita Wu", "Cistern Lee"), shouldn't you get in on the fun? Grab a real Chinese surname that comes close in sound (not that difficult), then a character or two that resonate for you (lots more leeway on sound correspondence to English given name here). Take "Conlangery's" own Mike L (won't venture to spell it, sight unseen -- rhymes with "canteen"). Chinese:�~明毅. Don't know where the "�~" (ye4) comes from (isn't Mom part Chinese?), but it's a real surname. 明 (ming2) captures the "M" of "Mike", 毅 (yi4) has the [i] of "canteen". "Bright" and "resolute" -- butch enough for a guy. Looks Chinese, looks like a little thought went into it. If he used it in Taiwan, it's got street cred. I wholeheartedly approve.

      Likewise:

      > Date: Fri, 1 Mar 2013 14:34:02 -0800
      > From: dsamajid@...

      > Choosing a "Chinese written name" with meaningful characters can be very
      > fun. I settled on 安南 (an1 nan4), made up of the characters for
      > "tranquility" and "south" - in part because I'm from the (American) South.
      > However, my Chinese-speaking friend said the name reminded him,
      > surprisingly to me, of a military general since it could also be
      > interpreted as "pacifying or subduing the south." No worries - it seems to
      > be the same combination used to transcribe Kofi Anan's name, so it can't be
      > all that bad.

      安: Legit surname. 南 (nan2 -- nitpick, *second* tone :D ): it resonates for you. *My* mind first went to an old name for "Vietnam", not a general, but hey, generals are butch. Kofi Anan's "Anan" *is* written that way, so it ain't all that bad. Close to Adnan in sound. You have my blessing. Go in peace... (I'm sure you were worried) :)

      Incidentally, I thought, erroneously it seems, that if you were lucky enough to be granted "old friend of China" status, you would automatically be immortalized with a Chinese name. But it ain't necessarily so. While Gladys May Aylward *did* get that treatment with 艾�サ� (Ai4 Wei3de2), the headstones of Edgar Snow and Agnes Smedley read 埃德加・斯诺and 史沫特莱 女士 respectively. Still foreign after all these years... (I think they may have gotten commemorative postage stamps out of the deal, though).

      Kou
    • yuri
      ... I had a linguistics lecturer at uni who told us that when she went to Thailand (I think it was Thailand - it might ve been somewhere else) the locals got
      Message 2 of 15 , Mar 2, 2013
        On 2 March 2013 05:17, H. S. Teoh wrote:
        > So be careful who is transliterating your name, as someone with not the best
        > of intentions may deliberately mangle it in embarrassing ways. And yes,
        > some names do sound very funny, especially if it was not properly chosen
        > to avoid the wrong connotations.

        I had a linguistics lecturer at uni who told us that when she went to
        Thailand (I think it was Thailand - it might've been somewhere else)
        the locals got great amusement from putting tones onto her surname
        "Dawson" to render it as "small penis".

        So yes, be careful about transliterations.

        Yuri
      • George Corley
        ... Actually, I should be corrected. Alex pointed this out: ... I guess my point is that tone languages are quite common, though they aren t actually MORE
        Message 3 of 15 , Mar 2, 2013
          On Fri, Mar 1, 2013 at 6:03 PM, H. S. Teoh <hsteoh@...> wrote:

          > On Fri, Mar 01, 2013 at 04:54:16PM -0600, George Corley wrote:
          > > On Fri, Mar 1, 2013 at 10:17 AM, H. S. Teoh <hsteoh@...>
          > wrote:
          > >
          > > > First of all, due to the fact that Chinese has tone distinction but
          > > > most other languages (like English) don't, means that when
          > > > transliterating names we get a lot of leeway in what characters can
          > > > be used. Second of all, due to the vast difference in syllabic
          > > > structure from, say, English, some degree of mangling is possible or
          > > > even necessary, which gives even more leeway in how a name can be
          > > > translated.
          > > >
          > >
          > > For clarity, according to WALS, tone languages are actually more common
          > > than non-tone languages:
          > > http://wals.info/feature/13A?tg_format=map&v1=cfff&v2=cf6f&v3=cd00,
          > > though complex tone systems like Chinese (with many contours) are less
          > > common, and will differ significantly in their tone inventories.
          >
          > Huh, that's new to me. :) I stand corrected.


          Actually, I should be corrected. Alex pointed this out:

          On Fri, Mar 1, 2013 at 5:38 PM, Alex Fink <000024@...> wrote:

          >
          > How do you get that? I see 307 toneless languages there and 220 languages
          > with simple or complex tone systems.


          I guess my point is that tone languages are quite common, though they
          aren't actually MORE common than non-tone languages, at least according to
          WALS.
        • Leonardo Castro
          2013/3/2 George Corley : [...] ... Of the 526 languages included in the data used for this chapter, 306 (58.2%) are classified as
          Message 4 of 15 , Mar 2, 2013
            2013/3/2 George Corley <gacorley@...>:

            [...]

            > On Fri, Mar 1, 2013 at 5:38 PM, Alex Fink <000024@...> wrote:
            >
            >>
            >> How do you get that? I see 307 toneless languages there and 220 languages
            >> with simple or complex tone systems.
            >
            >
            > I guess my point is that tone languages are quite common, though they
            > aren't actually MORE common than non-tone languages, at least according to
            > WALS.

            "Of the 526 languages included in the data used for this chapter, 306
            (58.2%) are classified as non-tonal. This probably underrepresents the
            proportion of the world’s languages which are tonal since the sample
            is not proportional to the density of languages in different areas."
            http://wals.info/chapter/13
          • George Corley
            ... That doesn t mean that tone languages are actually more common than non-tone languages, which was what I incorrectly claimed earlier. It just means that
            Message 5 of 15 , Mar 2, 2013
              On Sat, Mar 2, 2013 at 10:42 AM, Leonardo Castro <leolucas1980@...>wrote:

              > 2013/3/2 George Corley <gacorley@...>:
              >
              > [...]
              >
              > > On Fri, Mar 1, 2013 at 5:38 PM, Alex Fink <000024@...> wrote:
              > >
              > >>
              > >> How do you get that? I see 307 toneless languages there and 220
              > languages
              > >> with simple or complex tone systems.
              > >
              > >
              > > I guess my point is that tone languages are quite common, though they
              > > aren't actually MORE common than non-tone languages, at least according
              > to
              > > WALS.
              >
              > "Of the 526 languages included in the data used for this chapter, 306
              > (58.2%) are classified as non-tonal. This probably underrepresents the
              > proportion of the world’s languages which are tonal since the sample
              > is not proportional to the density of languages in different areas."
              > http://wals.Ainfo/chapter/13 <http://wals.info/chapter/13>
              >

              That doesn't mean that tone languages are actually more common than
              non-tone languages, which was what I incorrectly claimed earlier. It just
              means that WALS is not entirely accurate. We'd need to find a separate
              study to get more accurate numbers.
            • Roger Mills
              ... I had a linguistics lecturer at uni who told us that when she went to Thailand (I think it was Thailand - it might ve been somewhere else) the locals got
              Message 6 of 15 , Mar 2, 2013
                --- On Sat, 3/2/13, yuri <yuridg@...> wrote:

                On 2 March 2013 05:17, H. S. Teoh wrote:
                >  So be careful who is transliterating your name, as someone with not the best
                > of intentions may deliberately mangle it in embarrassing ways. And yes,
                > some names do sound very funny, especially if it was not properly chosen
                > to avoid the wrong connotations.

                I had a linguistics lecturer at uni who told us that when she went to
                Thailand (I think it was Thailand - it might've been somewhere else)
                the locals got great amusement from putting tones onto her surname
                "Dawson" to render it as "small penis".
                =============================================

                LOL. As I've mentioned before, that's frequently what the Gwr do with other Gwr and foreign names (but not to one's face), though I don't actually have any good examples handy, though I've tried...... Best one sofar-- they refer to Kash people as _ka-h chi-r_ 'lazy awkward' or _ka-h chih-r_ 'lazy lewd'. (The Kash return the favor by calling Gwrs _feliyoç [fe'li(j)oS]_ 'fools' (but using the inanimate plural).
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