comscore Chinese translation of election ballot was poorly done | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Editorial | Island Voices

Chinese translation of election ballot was poorly done


As a former Chinese translator of election materials for the Honolulu City Clerk’s Office, I found the Chinese translation of the latest election ballot very unsatisfactory.

This is because the translations contain a number of inconsistencies, mistranslations and unintelligible parts.

Examples of inconsistency include:

» The rendering of "the City and County" as shì and jùn (city and prefecture), or as shì zhèngfǔ/xiàn zhèngfǔ (city government/county government) in different contexts.

» "Will not be counted" is often translated into something that sounds like "will not be included in the statistics." Only in a few occasions was it translated as "will make your vote invalid," which I consider to be better.

Mistranslations are plenty.

» In the amendments to the state Constitution, "tax rebate requirement" is rendered as "mandatory tax rebate."

» The word "credit" in "tax credit" is rendered to mean the same credit as in "loan on credit" or trustworthy.

» "State" is rendered several times as guójiā, a country.

» The "close" of a fiscal year is rendered as mìqiè (intimate; not far apart).

» In amendments to the Charter of the City and County of Honolulu, the fǎtiáo comes out of nowhere in the translation and does not seem to mean anything.

» "Appointed" is rendered pàirèn, yet the correct term is wěirèn."

» "Entity" is rendered shítǐ (a substantial body), which would be much easier to understand if rendered into "a firm or agency" in the given context.

» "Independence of judgment" is rendered into the funny "independent judgment-ness."

» In the ballot, "vote for not more than one" is rendered into "the number of people voting is not more than one."

Several of my Chinese friends called to tell me that they were frustrated trying to understand the Chinese translation of some of the constitutional amendments and city charter amendments, especially the tax rebate requirement and the one about conflicts of interest of city officers.

Admittedly, the amendments are clumsy and twisting as many legal documents are. Yet the unintelligible Chinese translation suggests to me that the translator did not fully understand the original texts. It just slavishly followed the English text and gave us a mechanical translation totally un-Chinese, even though it is written in Chinese characters.

It is my sincere hope that future translations will be done by a competent translator (not just a bilingual anybody or a scholar) and that another translator will review the translation and give suggestions for corrections and improvements.

I also suggest that voters who get translated materials also get the English version, so that when they are frustrated by the translation they always have something to fall back to.

I heard that this year some registered Chinese voters gave up voting because they could not understand the Chinese translation and had no English version to help them.


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