10 Concepts That Are Surprisingly Difficult to Translate

This is one of those Lost-in-Translation words —

JESUS (English into Chinese)

Back in the early seventh century, a group of Christian missionaries began to translate religious texts into Chinese.

However, because they did not have a strong command of the Chinese language, they relied on Buddhist monks to help with the translation. The Buddhists translated the word God by using the Chinese term for “Buddha.”

The transcription of the term Jesus resulted in an even bigger problem. Due to the relative scarcity of syllables available in Chinese, it’s possible to use a multitude of different characters each of which stands for the same-sounding syllable to phonetically transcribe a single foreign word.

Because there are so many to choose from, a translator usually tries to pick characters with a descriptive or positive meaning. The word that the Buddhist translators chose for Jesus was yishu, which sounds similar, but the characters they chose meant “to move rats.”

via Nataly Kelly: Ten Concepts That Are Surprisingly Difficult to Translate.


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