No space confusion

August 17, 2009, 12:09 PM posted in General Discussion

For some while I've followed the fail blog site and the subsite that  deals with translation issues.   this is often amusing but also educational as quite frequently the translation issues  are English translations of Chinese signs.   As for example this one:

The translation of 天花灯  as smallpox light seems obvious when looked up in MDBG as it lists the following definition

天花  = Smallpox / ceiling

So I can read the intended translation as "ceiling light"

However if I look up 花灯  I get

花灯  = coloured light

So maybe the Translation is "day coloured light"  or "day light" given the context.

Is this because of the translations in the dictionary I am using?  It is just that it seems nuclear to me how I would ensure I understand the intended meaning  and  how two readers would  be sure they were thinking the same.  In English the spaces between the words mark the boundary between the words but Chinese uses no spaces to define the gap.

For example if I write goatherding  when I mean waiting for the noise of a lady ringing a bell before leaving  I would came confusion.

I'm sure this is a confusion every English speaker approaching Chinese encounters but any insights into how I learn to  avoid these pitfalls would be welcome. I suspect the answer will be experience. . .


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August 17, 2009, 12:49 PM

I think that 天花灯 are the small spots on the ceiling of the hotel room.


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August 17, 2009, 01:25 PM

花灯 means "colorfully decorated Chinese festive lanterns". I'm afraid it's not a matter of space, but a matter of a dictionary. I recommend you immediately get a good Chinese dictionary. All of my Chinese dictionaries show a correct definition for 花灯.

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August 18, 2009, 11:57 AM

Changye, do you use any online dictionaries?   If so can you recommend a good one?

I've been using MDBG for some time  but the other day it confused me by translating 女孩儿  as daughter rather than girl so maybe its not good.. . .


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August 18, 2009, 08:30 PM

Trevorb, I use nciku, mdbg and in combination with my two real dictionaries.

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August 18, 2009, 11:52 PM

Hi trevorb

I don't know much about online Chinese/English dictionaries. I usually use (paper) Chinese/Japanese ones. Let me recommend you use online Chinese/Chinese dictionaries edited by Chinese people. I know they are too much for newbie/elementary learners, but you'll find them very useful when you become an Intermediate (and above) learner.

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August 19, 2009, 12:31 AM

another site I have found useful is this one: