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Lost in translation

While researching Chinese broccoli for a school project, I came across several pages, including its Wikipedia page, naturally. Only, when I saw the Wikipedia page pop up on the Google side bar, I did a double take. I was surprised because the picture of a Chinese cartoon character, the equivalent to an Asian Dora the Explorer was placed next to the words “Chinese Broccoli”. It was in place of where a picture of the vegetable might be. Vaguely recognizing the character, I immediately looked it up; turns out she’s the main character of the show Ni Hao Kai-Lan, a show in which the little girl and her friends teach the audience Mandarin.

I was confused, then started laughing. 

I laughed at first quietly, and then out loud because knowing Chinese is a tonal language, the characters, sound, and context of each symbol/word are crucial to what it means in each sentence and situation, leading many words to sound the same, but mean different things. Since sounds translate differently to English, disregarding tone and critical rules of Mandarin that are non-existent in English, the gap allows the translated Chinese name of broccoli to be spelled in several ways: Cai Lan or Gai Lan, or even possibly Kai Lan—which is the character’s name. *Pause, what? The character's name? Yep. You read correctly. It’s funny to think that her name translated back to Chinese could be confused with the word broccoli, essentially making the show translate to “Hello, Broccoli”. What a funny name that was lost in translation, confusing and funny to Chinese speakers should they be familiar with this show.

Anyway, just remember that if you're bilingual, or trilingual, or all-lingual, to consider linguistic rule changes, tones, and mistranslations when speaking between languages, because you could end up naming your child, "Broccoli". That all being said, I love broccoli. Thus ends your fun fact of the day & a tangent of my mind, you're welcome.

Marina ChoyComment