Bad Translations of Chinese Translations of Orchestral Instruments

By James Chang – Quite comical, yet clearly systematic. These literal re-translations reveal how the Chinese conceptualized these instruments and represented them in their language (often, via a characteristic or a material).

WINDS

Flute long flute 长笛
Piccolo short flute 短笛
Oboe double reed pipe 双簧管
English horn England pipe 英国管
Clarinet single reed pipe 单簧管
Bass clarinet low tone single reed pipe 低音单簧管
Bassoon big pipe 大管
Contrabassoon low tone big pipe 低音大管

BRASS

Horn round horn 圆号
Trumpet little horn, or pee (slang) 小号
Trombone long horn 长号
Tuba big horn, or poop (slang) 大号

PERCUSSION

Timpani low tone drum 低音鼓
Triangle three angle iron 三角铁
Glockenspiel bell instrument 钟琴
Xylophone wood instrument 木琴
Bass drum big drum 大鼓
Snare drum little drum, little military drum 小鼓,小军鼓
Castanet sound plank 响板

MISC

Piano steel instrument 钢琴
Celesta steel sheet instrument 钢片琴
Accordion Russian hand wind instrument 俄式手风琴
Harp vertical instrument 竖琴

STRINGS

Violin little lifted instrument 小提琴
Viola middle lifted instrument 中提琴
Cello big lifted instrument 大提琴
Bass double low tone lifted instrument 倍低音提琴

Of special note is how they translate the stringed instruments as “lifted” instruments, even if it’s just the violin and viola that are lifted to the shoulder. This perhaps implies that they were likely first familiar with the violin (viola works too, I guess, but it probably wasn’t the viola…sorry, violists) and applied size labels retroactively after the introduction of the other instruments of the family.

I also find it interesting how the word that came to mean “instrument” is itself an instrument, the qin, an ancient Chinese zither. It’s interesting to consider how this instrument, so incredibly important to Chinese cultural history, became the “mother,” linguistically speaking, of all other instruments.

Food for thought, as far as thinking about instruments is concerned!

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: