Chinese Translation

A technical translation is broadly defined as a translation of technical documents, such as user manuals, instructions and brochures etc. With more and more business and cooperation going on between German speaking countries and China, the translation of technical texts from German into Chinese is increasingly gaining importance.

However, this is not always easy. From a linguistic perspective, Chinese and German are very different. It might be surprising for some people to learn that there is no letter case, tense, gender or plural forms in Chinese. The grammar rules are also extremely different. In German, a lot of information is carried by verb inflections: ich habe / du hast / er hat / Sie haben gehabt / wir hätten etc. Chinese, on the other hand, is an uninflected language. The meaning is conveyed through word order, adverbs or context.

Following aspects can be difficult for Chinese translators:

First of all, some common words in German have adopted special meanings and must be treated as professional terminology in a technical context. For example, if the word “Leistung” appears in physics or engineering context, it should be translated as “功率” (power) instead of “效率” (efficiency) or “成绩” (result).

Secondly, the passive voice is used much more often than in Chinese, especially when it comes to technical texts. “Bei” sentences, which are called “被字句” in Chinese, are a key way to express the passive in modern Chinese. “Bei” sentences are simply sentences which use a passive verb and the preposition “被”.

For example: Im Kühler wird der Dampf zu Wasser verdichtet. 在冷却器里,蒸汽被冷凝成水。 However, “Bei” sentences are not the only solution. To make the translation sound more natural, sometimes we should rewrite the sentence and express the passive voice in another way.

For example: Die Festigkeit des Werkstoffes wird durch diesen Apparat geprüft. 利用本仪器可检验这种原料的强度。(Rewritten into active voice)

The differences between German and Chinese syntax systems may also prove challenging.

Let’s take a look at the following example: Der Freispiegelabfluß hinter Schützen erzeugt einen Luftvolumenstrom, der wenn sich die Einflüsse der Kapillarität und der Viskosität des Wassers ungehindert auswirken können, durch folgende Gleichung beschrieben wird.

It may take a little bit longer for Chinese native speakers to understand this sentence because they are not used to this kind of syntax. We can roughly call it a “tree structure” – the subject, the verb and the object can be seen as the tree trunk, whereas other elements, such as adverbs and subordinate clauses, grow on it like branches or leaves. On the other hand, Chinese sentences are more like bamboos that grow section after section with a verb as a node at each joint of the bamboo, and these sections are usually organized in a chronological or logical sequence. This means that when German is translated into Chinese, the German “tree” has to be reshaped into Chinese “bamboo”. A suitable Chinese translation for the German sentence above would be: 如果不计水的粘性和毛细作用的影响,闸门后自由泄流所产生的空气流量可用下式描述。  

chenhui.yao[at]neo-comm.ch