RiskyTranslation

I was travelling on MRT (Singapore’s Subway) when I chanced upon a Chinese advertisement titled “优质投资避开事端”. Instinctively I knew it was a direct translation from English like “Quality Investment Avoids Troubles”.  I was proved right when I caught the English version of the same advertisement which read “Good Investment Avoids Troubles” two days later.  My comments:

A. Chinese has no tense

In English, tense is straightforward – you just have to “transform” the verbs into the required tense : present or past; or using helping verbs (will, shall etc) to imply future.   In the headline, ‘Avoids’ has a meaning of “keep away from”, so having good investment keeps troubles away, in present tense. But translating into Chinese directly makes the sentence reads like it is hanging in mid-air as it could mean:

a. Good Investment avoided Troubles

b. Good Investment avoids Troubles

c. Good Investment will avoid Troubles

To avoid confusion, we can adopt a 2-phrase approach like “优质投资 避开事端”, with a space in between, since it is generally understood that “the result” of 优质投资 [Good Investment] is 避开事端 [Avoids Troubles].

B. 事端

When in doubt on the meaning of the character/word, do check the dictionary!  事端shìduān, according to the 现代汉语词典 Xiàndài Hànyǔ Cídiǎn [Contemporary Chinese Dictionary], means 纠纷 jiūfēn dispute. So it is not a right word to use if the intention is to mean trouble. 

C. Subject Matter

The right of the picture shows 锦囊福包 jǐn náng fú bāo fortune pouch, which is used to gather good fortune and to ward off bad luck.  I think the underlying meaning is that good investment is like fortune pouch that protects one from bad luck or dangers. Since that is the case, we can use 凶险 xiōngxiǎn [danger] instead of troubles here. 凶险 literally means danger-risk, which is apt for investments since there are risks associated.

The beauty of Chinese is that we can build blocks of equal no. of characters just like buildings (for details, see this).  So if we use 优质投资 as the first 4-character block, then we can create the next 4-character block with the last character in each block that rhymes. One suggestion is “优质投资 凶险避之” Yōuzhì tóuzī    Xiōngxiǎn bì zhī which is “Good Investment   Dangers are avoided”. Here the 资 rhymes with 之 zhī and it makes for impressionable reading.  凶险避之 is a type of Topic-comment usage in Chinese, in English it means “Dangers 凶险 – (we) avoid 避 them 之” .  

Risky Translation
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