‘Pledge’ documentary dubbing lost in translation

From ‘Channel 8 documentary on Singapore’s history to be redubbed’, 3 Aug 2012, article by Walter Sim, ST

An hour-long documentary on the history of Singapore containing at least 10 translation gaffes will be re-edited and retelevised on Monday, Aug 6, Mediacorp has said….The Day I Said The Pledge, which aired in Mandarin on Channel 8 last Sunday, July 29, contained errors in the names of Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and the late Mr S. Rajaratnam, who was deputy prime minister from 1980 to 1985.

…Mr Paul Chan, the vice-president of channel branding and promotions for Mediacorp Channel 8 and Channel U, said the translation was outsourced to an external company which has done dubbing and subtitling for regional and international channels. He said: “It is unfortunate that the delivery of the Mandarin dubbing was not up to standard, and we regret that certain inaccuracies were overlooked.”

In the original broadcast, since removed from video site Catch-Up TV by xinmsn, Singapore Mandarin turns of phrase for “public housing” (zheng fu zu wu) and “secondary school” (zhong xue) were replaced by terms used in Taiwan or mainland China, namely guo zhai and guo zhong respectively.

Didn’t anyone in Mediacorp check before releasing the programme to the masses, especially one as austere as the history of the Pledge, and during the National Day festivities too? Comic relief aside, inaccurate translation can also be an embarrassment when it confers a completely different meaning to the subject matter, sometimes with painfully ironic, even tragic, consequences. But any attempt to dub one language with another will always face resistance from purists. Fans of Hong Kong classic serials like Heavenly Sword and Dragon Sabre objected to the dubbing over of Cantonese with Mandarin in the late seventies. Now a thing of interest only to media historians, the Dubbing Unit was first formed in 1978, when Mediacorp was then known as RTS. We had local professionals then performing what always has been an unenviable task of taking the ‘flavour’ out of dialects. Today if you tell anyone that you work as a ‘dubber’, you would get no less than a blank, awkward stare and the general impression that you are in the business of rubbing lubricants.

But it’s not just the television industry that gets ‘lost in translation’. In 2002, the Singapore Tourism Board, in promoting Chinese versions of tourist guidebooks, turned the Hungry Ghost Festival into HUNGARY Ghost festival, and London ‘cabs’ were ‘horse-drawn carriages’. In fact, Hungary Ghost is a double mistake, the first is the genuine human error of misreading ‘hungry’ for the country, and second is not realising that there’s no such thing as a Hungary Ghost Festival (well at least not in Singapore). The Chinese Garden became the ‘Garden of China’, and River Hong Bao became ‘red packet’ of the Singapore river.Things were taken a bit too literally and churned out hastily without any use of common sense syntax at all. A free online ‘Sino-centric’ translator would do no worse than a hired goof.

Earlier this year, STB succumbed to lazy translation yet again, referring to the Chinese New Year as ‘CHINA New Year’ and Chinatown as ‘Tang Ren Jie’, or ‘Chinese street’, in their website.  Therein lies the problem of outsourcing translation services to people who don’t bother to do their local research, or are sneakily dependent on Google Translate, passing it off as the work of a thinking human professional when they’re really cheating. But it’s not just statutory boards who rely on translation software without proofreading. The Malaysian Mindef blamed Google Translate for publishing blooper text such as ‘clothes that poke eye’ on its staff dress code webpage, which in Malay means ‘revealing clothes’. If no one had tweeted about the cock-up the site would have continued to read like the crazy English bits on a restaurant menu in Guangzhou. It even included the bizarre phrase ‘collared shirts and TIGHT MALAY CIVET BERBUTANG THREE‘, and this is the ARMY you’re talking about here, not bushmen. Husband and wife’s lung slice, anyone?

So just how well does Google Translate fare in converting English to Chinese then? I ran a test and this is what I got:

Teo Chee Hean – 张志贤 (sounds right)

Rajaratnam – 拉贾拉特南 (sounds right)

Chinatown – 唐人街 (wrong)

Secondary School – 中学 (correct)

Hungry Ghost Festival – 中元节 (correct). Shame on you, human!

Conclusion: Save the money. Might as well Google translate.


One Response

  1. GOOD ESSAY! The shame. Oh the shame. I guess the Chinese language is getting lesser and lesser attention here in SG

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