Tue, Jan 18, 2000 - Page 8 News List


A mulititude of languages

In a recent article ("Ma tries kindergarten Taiwanese," Jan. 14, Page 2), Hakka and the Aboriginal languages are listed with "Taiwanese," as separate languages considered for inclusion in the educational establishment.

Unfortunately the reporter uses the term "Taiwanese" as an equivalent to one of the several languages commonly used in Taiwan: the Hokkien language.

As is well known, Hakka and the Aboringinal languages are also native languages spoken by groups of people in Taiwan; they are as "Taiwanese" as the Hokkien language.

Using "Taiwanese" to refer only to the Hokkien language is a trait of the so-called Hokkien chauvinism, like using the term "Taiwanese" to refer only to people who speak Hokkien in Taiwan.

That practice dates back to when Chiang kai-shek's (蔣介石) KMT regime tried to play one ethnic group (Hakka) against another (Hokkien) by deliberately calling only the Hokkien people and language Taiwanese.

To date, even many Hakka unconsciously calls Hokkien Taiwanese, not thinking of Hakka as Taiwanese also.

To really promote ethnic harmony and the Taiwanese identity, all native languages in Taiwan should be called Taiwanese (Taiwanese Hokkien, Taiwanese Hakka and Taiwanese aboringinal language or simply Hokkien, Hakka and the Aboriginal languages).

Daniel Chan

Irvine, California

Bosses are the bottleneck

In a recent letter, Bunjay Su posed a question common among foreigners here: Why are English translations so bad in Taiwan? ("A last word on language," Jan. 14, Page 12).

Aside from things like insane time pressure, the utter lack of training most of us translators have, the low pay and the fact that the majority of documents we receive are badly-written (few people write well), the single greatest problem is bosses.

Give a Western boss a solid translation and he will be ecstatic to pass it on to a printer without the need to make changes. This is not so of my Chinese bosses.

In Taiwan, being the boss has a moral dimension: his role is to correct employees; hence, if a document passes through his hands without correction, he has failed in his role.

Bosses feel this need to "correct" regardless of their level of English and all bosses in the document's chain of existence will tamper with it.

Consequently, on many occasions I have been handed back documents with "corrections" (all contradictory) from a secretary, her boss and the printer, and told to implement them.

Since none of them speak English, all such "corrections" are errors.

One manager at a government bureau I worked for used to routinely change all verbs to "execute."

A boss at a large-volume retailer used to insist that the order and number of sentences/phrases be the same in the translation as in the original.

I have had documents returned because the English was too "easy." Many bosses feel they haven't gotten their money's worth unless there is plenty of latinate English in the translation.

Moreover, when changes are implemented, the translator is generally not consulted, though our names are on the document! We cannot even read our own work without wincing.

Exacerbating the problem is the prevalence in this society of finding fault in others.

I was fired after one client ran the document through Microsoft's abysmal grammar checker and found that all the passive voice sentences were "wrong." (Although I have worked for many translation companies, at none of these was the person directly responsible for me able to communicate in English. Frequently neither was the owner. Corporate clients are usually more reasonable.)

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