Pop Songs: From English to Chinese to Chinglish

I understand just enough Chinese to be annoyed at what I perceive to be the stupidity of some of the things said around me. This is especially the case with Chinese pop songs. I hear the same few songs over and over again, at restaurants, at coffee shops, in malls, and even blaring out of open storefronts as I pass by them on the street. I’ll hear a word or phrase that I understand, translate it into English in my head, then think to myself, “Well, that’s dumb.”

But it occurs to me that I’m being unfair. Song lyrics are poetry, and poetry is about finding the exact right words, both in terms of meaning and even in terms of how many syllables they have and which particular vowel and consonant sounds they have and how those work, or don’t, with the surrounding words. So in order to really know whether a song has good lyrics or not, you have to be a native speaker of the language it’s being sung in.

The big song last year in China was Xiao Pingguo – “Little Apple.” The chorus is: “You are my little apple.” “Well,” I thought, “that’s dumb.” But on the other hand, in America we have a classic song where the chorus says “You are my sunshine,” and that song is still taught and sung in grade schools all over the country. Or at least, it should be if it’s not anymore, because it still makes me happy when skies are gray.

But maybe if you translate it into Chinese, it would sound dumb. I don’t know. What I do know is that a lot of the really bad English translations one finds in China are the result of Google Translate and similar computer translators, which Chinese people use in lieu of paying a foreigner like me a few bucks to tell them that “Egg With Fungus” is probably not a good choice of words for a food menu.

So I got to thinking: What if the lyrics to some popular songs in English were translated into Chinese, then re-translated into English using Google Translate or whatever god-awful thing they use to produce the bastard hybrid we know and love as “Chinglish?” I think they would look something like this:

Let It Be – The Beatles

When I discover that I have the era of problems,
Mother Mary comes to me,
Saying smart words:
Allow it to exist.

And in the black time,
She stands directly in front of me,
Saying smart words:
Allow it to exist.

Heartbreak Hotel – Elvis Presley

Since my infant departed from me,
I have discovered a new location to inhabit,
The place is under the end of the lonely road
Called Broken Intestine Hotel*

Where will I be?
I will be so lonely, infant,
I am being so lonely
I will be so lonely I am able to die.

(*The Chinese expression for “heartbreak” – changduan – literally means “broken large intestine.”)

Get Lucky – Daft Punk

We have come very far to renounce Who are we?
Therefore let us lift up the tavern and our cups to the celebrities

He* is awake all night for the sun
I am awake all night to obtain something
He is awake all night for proper amusement,
I am awake all night to become fortunate.

(*The Chinese 3rd person pronoun ta is gender-neutral, hence one cannot know if it refers to a man or woman without context.)

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2 thoughts on “Pop Songs: From English to Chinese to Chinglish

  1. Hahaha, ok, that is awesome. It inspired me to do the same thing for this one, see if you can guess what it is:

    You put my heart to the prosperity of the economy
    You send my soul sky high when you love the “Start
    Jitterbug into my brain
    Go bang – bang – bang ’till my feet do the same
    However, my bother you
    Something is not right
    My best friend told me what you did last night
    Left me sleeping in my bed
    I was dreaming, but I should be you.

    I wake up you go, go before
    Do not leave me hanging like a yo-yo
    I wake up you go, go before
    I do not want to miss it when you hit that high
    I wake up you go, go before
    “Because I was not planning” to go solo
    I wake up you go, go before
    Dance with me tonight
    I want to play high (yes ah, yes ah)

    Like

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