February 17th, 2008

Partly because I should be studying, and partly because I wanted to check out the Firefox add-on recommended here, I opened up Nanfang Daily and the first article I saw was about an oil spill on the Xijiang. Yes, Guangdong has very imaginative, poetic names for its rivers, names like “West River”.

Anyway, I installed Chinesepera-kun yesterday, but didn’t try it out. Then, wondering about this new add-on and how exactly it works (it’s one thing to read somebody else’s review; it’s another thing entirely to actually use it yourself), I clicked “Tools” and started scrolling down to “Add-ons” when I realised that two new items had been added to the menu- “Toggle Chinesepera-kun” and “Look up using Chinesepera-kun”. Ok, so I opened up Nanfang Daily, like I said, clicked “Toggle Chinesepera-kun”, and started playing…

My first impression is that although it seems very useful and the definitions are quite good, I’m not yet ready to join KMM in describing the definitions as “often excellent”. Now, KMM provided screenshots showing how Chinesepera-kun works, so I won’t bother, I’ll just say I like how it deals with character compounds, be they danci or chengyu or whatever. It starts with the longest compound, say a standard four-letter chengyu, then gives a danci formed by the first two characters of the chengyu, then the first character of that chengyu. Pretty cool, pretty useful.

And I will second kmm’s advice: If this is going to be a study tool and not just some aid for navigating Chinese-language sites (and what the hell are you doing on Chinese language sites if you need some linguistic aid to navigate them but you aren’t studying Chinese?), then you need some way of noting down new words for future reference, otherwise you’re not studying. KMM’s method of pasting new words into an HTML document for future use as a kind of Chinesepera-kun flash card is cool, but I’d prefer a good old fashioned pen and notebook.

Now to put it to the test properly. Here’s the first section of that article, paragraph by paragraph, using only my knowledge (weak as it is) of written Chinese and Chinesepera-kun to translate it. If you spot any mistakes, let me know in the comments.

[But first, a minor tangent: Chinesepera-kun will interefere with selecting/highlighting things to be copied and pasted. Turn it off first.]

昨天上午7时许,西江高明水厂取水点附近发现一条长约2公里的较薄的油污带,覆盖范围近千平方米。为保证供水安全,佛山市高明区水厂在上午9时许停 止向中心城区及该区部分镇区供水,近20万居民的正常用水一度受到影响。直到昨天下午3时,高明区受影响的区域生产生活用水才全面恢复。

At about 7 o’clock yesterday morning,  a comparatively thin oil slick 2 kilometres long, covering an area of almost 1000 square metres, was discovered near the Xijiang Gaoming Water Works intake.  To guarantee the safety of the water supply, Foshan City’s Gaoming District Water Works stopped water supplies to the central city area and some townships at about 9 am. Nearly 200,000 regular water use was affected for a time. It was not until about 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon that water supplies for production and daily life were restored to affected areas of Gaoming District.

Notes: Chinesepera-kun does not help me translate the 许 in all those times, I’m just guessing there. And yes, I really fudged the 生产生活用水 in that last setence, but “water supplies for production and daily life” really was the best I could think of. Chinesepera-kun does not help me polish that up any.

  事发后,为确保居民用水,高明区停止了向工业企业供水,并紧急启动第二水源明城水厂、西安水厂和合水水厂向高明城区供水。高明区海事、环保、卫 监等多个部门接报后,迅速赶到现场化验水质、处理污油,并对污染源头展开调查。执法人员在沿江上下游巡查后,发现在高明与鹤山交界的西江江面也有大量油污 带。

Afterwards, to ensure water supplies for residential use, Gaoming District stopped supplying water to industry and enterprises, and immediately started supplying water to the Gaoming city area from the secodary water sources at Mingcheng Water Works, Xi’an Water Works, and Heshui Water Works. After the Gaoming District Maritime Affairs, Environmental Protection, and Health Inspection and many other Bureaux received reports, they hurried to the scene to test the water quality, treat the polluting oil, and carry out investigations into the source of the pollution. After investigations by law enforcement personnel along the length of the river, another large oil slick was discovered on the surface of the Xijiang along the border of Gaoming and Heshan.

据初步调查,污染源来自下游,受到江水回潮影响,倾倒在江面的油污倒漂至取水点附近,导致水厂被迫停水。目前,佛山市已将掌握的情况知会给鹤山 市环保部门。经过6个多小时的吸油清污后,昨天下午2时许,该水厂吸水口附近的油污清理工作完成,高明水厂开始恢复取水、制水。截至昨天下午3时许,高明 区受影响的区域,生产生活用水已全面恢复。

According to preliminary investigations, the source of the pollution comes from the lower reaches, and was influenced by the incoming tide, pouring out the oil pollution on the river surface and floating it up to the vicinity of the intake, forcing the water works to stop water supplies. At present, Foshan City has already passed its knowledge of the situation at hand on to the Heshan City Environmental Protection department. Having undergone over 6 hours of removing the oil and cleaning the pollution, the work of cleaning the oil pollution near the water works was complete at about 2 yesterday afternoon, and Gaoming Water Works resumed taking and treating water. By 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon water supplies for production and daily life in the affected areas of Gaoming District had all been resumed.

Notes: Why does Chinesepera-kun tell me 据 means “sickness of hand”?

The person in charge of the district’s water supply company expressed that the water piped after the resumption of water supplies had not been polluted. Currently, the district’s Environmental Protection, Water Supply, Maritime Affairs and other bureaux are closely following the situation at the scene, and are maintaining close communication with the Heshan Environmental Protection and other bureaux, are thoroughly investigating the source of  the pollution, and are monitoring the cleaning and water quality work.

Note: Surely 正 has more meanings than “Chinese 1st month of year”?

Alright, despite some obvious problems with its vocabulary, I would say Chinesepera-kun could be useful for reading, particularly when speed is important, and combined with some way of taking note of new words, could help to build vocabulary. I wouldn’t rely on it for more than a basic understanding of the article, though, and I certainly won’t be relying on it for translation. And after that “sickness of hand” incident, I’m certainly not using it as a replacement for the dictionary. Assistant to the dictionary, perhaps, but nothing more.

Now to try the “Look up using Chinesepera-kun” function. I’ll take a few random words from the article, past them below, and then add the definitions from Chinesepera-kun.

初步 Initial, preliminary, tentative.

记者 Reporter, journalist.

员工 Workforce.

推测 Conjecture, speculate, speculation, surmise.

发稿 To investigate.

Alright, not too bad. But I’m surprised, and pleasantly so, by how the “look up” function works. Notice all the words above are 2-character danci. Well, highlighting them then clicking “look up” causes a pale blue band divided into three sections to appear across the top of the browser. In the left-hand section is the definition exactly as it appears in the “Toggle Chinesepera-kun” function: At the top, a definition for the word. Below that, a definition for the first character. The other two sections are separate explanations for each character, including definitions, stroke order, Mandarin and Cantonese pronunciation (Hanyu Pinyin for the Mandarin, of course), and Unicode… code.

Conclusion: Don’t abandon your dictionaries, but give Chinesepera-kun a go. It looks like being useful, if somewhat limited and in need of some patching up in places.

9 Responses to “chinesepera-kun”

  1. kmm Says:

    Chris, thanks for going much more in-depth on the functionality of Chinesepera-kun. I suppose that you’re right about the definitions being far from perfect (据 as “sickness of hand” is just downright bizarre). Perhaps I was a little too giddy with excitement when I said the definitions were “often excellent.” What I was more impressed with was the breadth of the vocabulary–it has a lot of slang and proper nouns that even my proper dictionary doesn’t have. But, anyway, you’re right–you definitely need to keep a real dictionary on hand, and you should only use Chinesepera-kun as a tool for quick reading, not translating.

    But . . . that’s also what’s so cool about it. The amount of Chinese I’m now able to browse through has increased pretty dramatically, and this is really important. Since words I don’t know just pop up with a rollover, I can skim through huge amounts of text, which not only helps to reinforce the new words (for instance,in the article above 供水 was new to me, but was repeated enough times so that by the end I didn’t need the rollover to remember it); but it also means that other vocabulary, which I may have learned but not learned well, is constantly repeated and absorbed in many different contexts.

    Your translation looks good to me, but I am also no Chinese expert. Here’s another possibile way to translate this sentence: “直到昨天下午3时,高明区受影响的区域生产生活用水才全面恢复.”

    “It wasn’t until 3pm that the production of public water in the affected areas of Gaoming district was finally restored.”

    生产生活用水=”public water?”–I dunno, I can’t think of anything other than this or “normal water supplies” that sounds acceptable in English.

  2. Barking at the Sun || Blogging from China, Sichuan, Chengdu. 中国. 四川. 成都. Says:

    […] at bezdomny ex patria, Chris Waugh has a much more in depth review of Chinesepera-kun. His conclusions?  Good for speed reading, not so great for translating (keep a real dictionary on […]

  3. wangbo Says:

    Cheers, KMM. I agree totally with your assessment of Chinesepera-kun’s functionality and use. I’m enjoying having it handy for reading through Chinese newspapers, and it’s helpful and certainly speeds the process up and it is (I’m using it at this very moment) helping me retain vocab.

    As for that sentence, I’m seeing 生产 and 生活 as two different usages/用 of water, which is why I said water supplies for production and daily life. I think we need an expert to show up and offer an opinion.

  4. Matthew Stinson Says:

    Great rundown on the functionality of Chinesepera-kun there, Chris. I’ve been using it for awhile now and think it’s best for skim-reading emails and Chinese blogs, while something like nciku is far better for translating work. I’m using it for my bad Chinese miniblog, though even it has de-contextualized translations now and then.

  5. wangbo Says:

    Actually, this afternoon I found the combination of Chinesepera-kun and nciku with a dictionary for backup pretty good for translation this afternoon. I was actually surprised by how little time I spent reaching for the dictionary (and I’m pretty old fashioned when it comes to such things).

  6. kmm Says:

    By the way, I forgot to mention that you can cut and paste with pera-kun on, you just need to make sure you don’t roll over any other Chinese words. It’s a pain, but it is possible, especially with bigger chunks of text.

  7. wangbo Says:

    Yeah, I did manage to do that once, but I can’t figure out how. Still trying, though.

  8. Matthew Stinson Says:

    About copying and pasting: you should also be able to use Ctrl+C to do it. Also, in my version of the extension, I can always copy and paste by clicking a second time on the words highlighted by Chinesepera-kun. What I can’t do, however, is use quick nciku and Chinesepera-kun together and copy and paste, since nciku automatically looks up any words you highlight.

  9. wangbo Says:

    Yeah, that’s what I think I did accidentally, I have to figure out how to do it deliberately. Small teething problem, really; I’ll figure it out or find my own work-around.