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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Translating Democracy

The city of Boston has a problem. According to a 2005 ruling by the US Department of Justice’s Voting Rights Division, Boston must translate all of its election ballots into Chinese in areas with prominent Chinese-speaking populations. The ruling came after it was discovered that in previous elections, poll workers who were assigned with the task of helping Asian Americans to vote, had actually mismarked ballots for these citizens. The translation necessity wouldn’t be a problem, except for the fact that the candidates names don’t translate very well.

Since there are no exact translations from English to Chinese for names like “Mitt” and “Romney”, translators are working to sound out the names an pick out Chinese characters that sound most like the name in English. This is where the confusion begins. To translate a name to Chinese using characters that merely “sound” like the name, ends up giving you some rather hilarious translations when read in Chinese. To complicate matters further, there are wide variations on what the names can be translated to mean (some translations make one candidate appear less favorable than another) and because there are multiple dialects of Chinese spoken in Boston, the city is anticipating having to translate the candidate’s names to both Mandarin and Cantonese. The city is fighting the ruling in court, saying that they are happy to translate the ballots, but the candidates names must be written in roman letters.

Here are some of the best ways that candidates could appear on the 2008 Chinese Translated Boston Ballots:

Mitt Romney – Sticky Rice or Uncooked Rice
red Thompson (of Law & Order, and possible 2008 Presidential Candidate) – Virtue Soup
Tom Menino (Mayor of Boston) – Imbecile, Sun Moon Rainbow Farmer, or Barbarian Mud No Mind of His Own (that’s probably the worst of the bunch)
Barack Obama - Oh Bus Horse

2008 will be incredibly exciting in Uncooked Rice runs against Oh Bus Horse. I cannot wait!



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