Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Subtitled Chinese movies

OK, here's your puzzle for the day. Watch carefully. You will be tested on this:

Why -- with the movie dubbed into Mandarin -- is it also sub-titled in Chinese?

Is it because the Chinese like to -- as one TV Simpsons episode said -- "read their movies"?

Probably not. The reason it's subtitled is so the same film can be used all over China. Because we talk about "speaking Chinese" when in reality there are over 10 related but mutually unintelligible "Chinese" languages. This preview is dubbed into Mandarin, but the subtitles are so the same film can be shown in Guanzhou or Shanghai.

I had a lot of trouble wrapping my mind around this, but the following helped me.

What's this: "3"?

You answer, "three," but you're wrong. It's really "tres." In other words, almost everyone uses the same system of Arabic numbers, but we pronounce them differently. I look at the same symbol and say it's a "three" while a man in Madrid would say it's a "tres" or one in Munchen would say "drei."

Spoken Chinese is -- putting it charitably -- not closely related to the printed Chinese lettering. Neither are the numbers we -- and they -- use.

All of which is a tiny slice of why languages are so infinitely interesting. And hard.

(An aside: I admire that the producers of this Chinese re-take got speakers who really sound like they match the characters. Especially President Schwartzenegger. The guy sounds like I would expect a President Schwartenegger to sound. If he could legally be president. Schwartzenegger, of course, faces the same legal barrier to becoming president that John McCain faces: the Constitution, Article 2, Section 1).

1 comment:

Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

"Spider-Man" was pretty funny.