translation of that joke

May 12th, 2007

Humour, in my experience, is pretty hard, if not impossible to translate. But still, there are some jokes that make it across the language barrier, and I think that joke I posted at the end of yesterday’s rant might qualify as one of those translatable jokes, so I thought I’d translate it for those out there who don’t read Chinese.

First, the joke itself:

通往èŠ?加哥机场 公路上行驶ç?€ä¸€è¾†å‡ºç§Ÿè½¦ï¼Œè½¦ä¸Šä¹˜å??ç?€ä¸€ä¸ªæ—¥æœ¬æ¸¸å®¢ 这时,一辆出租车超了过去,日本人喊é?“:“瞧,丰田ï¼?日本制造ï¼?多快呀ï¼?“过了一会儿,å?ˆä¸€è¾†å‡ºç§Ÿè½¦è¶…了过去 “看,尼桑ï¼?是日本制造ï¼?太快啦ï¼?“å?ˆä¸€è¾†å‡ºç§Ÿè½¦è¶…了过去 “嗨ï¼?是三è?±ï¼?日本制造ï¼?å¿«æž?啦ï¼?“出租车å?¸æœºæ˜¯ç™¾åˆ†ä¹‹ç™¾ 美国人,看è§?那么多日本车超过自己 美国车,加上那个日本人张狂 语言,ä¸?å…?有些æ?¼ç?« 出租车驶入机场å?œè½¦åœºï¼Œè¿™æ—¶ï¼Œå?ˆä¸€è¾†å‡ºç§Ÿè½¦è¶…了过去 “是本田ï¼?日本制造ï¼?å¿«æž?啦ï¼?没治啦ï¼?â€?出租车å?¸æœºå?œä¸‹è½¦ï¼Œæ²¡å¥½æ°”儿地指了指计价器,说é?“:“1500美金 â€?“这么近就è¦?1500美金 ï¼?â€?“计价器ï¼?日本制造ï¼?å¿«æž?啦ï¼?没治啦ï¼?â€?

Now the translation:

A taxi was on the highway to Chicago airport, this time with a Japanese tourist on board. When a taxi passed them, the Japanese yelled out, “Look, Toyota! Made in Japan! So fast!” A moment later, another taxi passed them. “Look, Nissan! It’s made in Japan! Very fast!” Another taxi passed them. “Hai! It’s a Mitsubishi! Made in Japan! Extremely fast!” The taxi driver was 100% American, and seeing so many Japanese cars passing his own American car, combined with this Japanese guy’s insolent language, couldn’t help but feel a bit irritated. The taxi entered the airport carpark. This time, another taxi passed them. “It’s a Honda! Made in Japan! Extremely fast! Superb!” The taxi driver stopped the car and angrily pointing at the meter, said “1500 dollars”. “Such a short distance and you want 1500 dollars!” “The meter! Made in Japan! Extremely fast! Superb!”

So it’s a pretty loose translation, but I received it over IM, so I don’t think whoever originally typed it up was paying too much attention to the niceties of grammar and style, and more importantly, as any foreign teacher with the misfortune to have taught writing,  or any translator (I presume) in China will tell you, if anything is going to drive you nuts here, it’s sentence structure. But a few other things struck me:

What’s with this 尼桑? I assume that’s a kind of “phonetic” transliteration of Nissan. I don’t really know. I thought the real Kanji was something different. Something like 日产。But googling 尼桑 pulls up Nissan’s China website as the first search result. Odd.

“Insolent language”? Well, when I first saw  “å¼ ç‹‚ 语言” I guessed it meant overblown or wildly exaggerated language. But no, my trusty dictionary defines å¼ ç‹‚ as “flippant and impudent; insolent”. Ok, then. Personally, if I were going to write a Kiwi version of the joke I’d swap it for “overblown” or “over the top”, but I guess “insolent” conveys a little more of the arrogance I guess the original writer wanted us to sense.

没治啦“? I went with “superb” because when I checked the dictionary, I was given three definitions:

  1. incurable; beyond hope.
  2. excellent; beyond description.
  3. cannot do anything with sb.

Clearly the second definition was the intended meaning. I wanted to convey that while using a word or phrase that could fit both car and meter and avoiding “excellent”, which I thought had already been used enough.

Bullshit pretentious textual analysis and comment on what this joke reveals about China:

This joke tells us more about Chinese perceptions of the Japanese than it does about America or Japan, and it helps to reinforce negative perceptions of the Japanese as arrogant, narrow-minded, self-centred people. “100% American” also shows a lot about Chinese perceptions of America: What could such a phrase possibly mean? Native American? Fresh-from-Ellis-Island immigrant? Clearly, being a Chinese joke, it must mean “blond-haired, blue-eyed white guy with a beer gut and a surname that looks half Polish, half Irish, half Italian”.

Wow, it’s amazing what you can read into a joke. Sure, humour does help to highlight certain aspects of a culture, but you really can’t read that much into any one individual joke, so ignore my little paragraph of token pseudo-intellectual bollocks.

And what the hell am I doing? All I needed to do was translate the joke, now I’ve turned it into a proper Chinese study exercise. Dammit.

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