Sushi, Gator Tail, and Knee Banjos. (Editorial)

Article excerpt

I came from old Osaka, with a banjo on my knee.


Sometimes things get a little lost in translation. Perhaps one of the most classic translation blooper legends involves the report that when Coca-Cola was first sold in China it was given a similar phonetically based name; but the characters used for the name allegedly meant "Bite the wax tadpole."

Other international corporations have stumbled as well. Bacardi marketed a fruity drink with the name Pavian to suggest French chic, but Pavian apparently means "baboon" in German. A Swedish convenience store named Servus discovered that their minor problem with Hungarian shoplifters could be traced to the translation of Servus as "yours for free" in Hungarian. Chevrolet's marketing of the Chevrolet Nova in South America ran into some sales resistance that may have been related to the fact that no va in Spanish means "doesn't go." An American t-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market that promoted the Pope's visit. Instead of the desired "I Saw the Pope" in Spanish, the shirts proclaimed "I Saw the Potato."

We recently had our own experience with translation idiosyncrasies during a visit here at Florida State University by a contingent of professionals in health care from Japan, headed by Dr. Isami Kumakura of the Kawasaki University of Medical Welfare. Dr. Keiichi Takeda, of the Osaka University of Education, has coordinated previous exchanges. The expertise of this group's translator, Kayoko Shigamatsu ensured that our lectures were translated with amazing adeptness. During the social events, however, we experienced one of the most enjoyable aspects of cross-cultural exchange, that of trying to communicate subtleties and nuances to people who learned English as a second language. (Needless to say, the English speakers were for the most part monolingual and offered very little proficiency speaking Japanese ... except for sushi.) During a conversation at the farewell reception I was asked to explain the phrase, "I came from Alabama, with a banjo on my knee."

The phrase of course was from the American folksong "Oh, Susannah," which was given an impromptu rendition by our Dean, faculty, and student hosts. The confusion seemed to arise from the perceived difficulty of a traveler condemned to journey with "a banjo on my knee." I don't think the explanation attempt did much to clarify the crosslanguage confusion, but at least it provided some good laughs and conviviality at the social event. This reception capped what had been an enriching visit from our Japanese guests. After a stop with lectures at the University of Florida coordinated by Dr. Jay Rosenbek, the group traveled to Florida State University in scenic Tallahassee to enjoy the hospitality and expertise of our students and faculty in the Department of Communication Disorders. We had lectures and demonstrations presented by our faculty on the topics of current research in our NeuroCom-NeuroCog Laboratory; the use of memory books to enhance communication in dementia; objective measurement of lingual function in neuromotor speech disorders and swallowing; and the acoustics and laryngeal pathologies associated with the professional singing voice. …