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I was recently challenged to translate the following sentence from English into Chinese:

You should stay away from that bar. A friend of mine went there before, and he ended up in the hospital after one drink. We think they put fertilizer in the margarita mix to save costs.

I provided two translations:

  1. 你不要去那个酒吧啊!我朋友以前去过一次,才喝一杯酒就被送到医院去了。我们认为酒保为了省钱就把肥料放进玛格丽特混合物里!

  2. 你最好别去那个酒吧!我的朋友去过一次,喝了一杯酒就必须住院。我们想酒保因为要省钱的,所以就把肥料放进玛格丽特里。

Question (Request): I'm wondering if a native Chinese speaker could do the following: (a) correct grammatical errors in each of the above translations; (b) make the translations sound more natural; (c) provide your own translation of the challenge sentence.

If you could explain your thinking behind the corrections (i.e., what was the grammatical error; what sounded unnatural; why did you choose to translate as you did) that would be even better. Feel free to write this explanation in Chinese or English; I can read Chinese far more easily than I can write it.

Also, please do not hold back with your criticisms/corrections.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Overall both translations are fine and fluent, with some small issues below:

Grammatical/Syntactic issues:

I think there is only one issue, in (2) 我们想酒保因为要省钱的. Either use 要省钱 as verb (i.e. remove 的), or use 要省钱的 as adjective (i.e. add 是 before 要).

Semantic issues:

In (1), margarita mix is translated into 玛格丽特混合物. In Chinese, people don't refer food/drink mix as 混合物. You can either just say 玛格丽特, or use the uncommon but well-understood word 混饮.

In (2), "ended up in the hospital" is translated into 住院. 住院 means hospitalization (overnight), while "ended up in the hospital" might be just seeing the doctor. It's fine if 住院 is deduced from contexts not shown in the question.

In both sentences, 酒保因为要省钱,所以... sounds a little weird, because 因为..所以 not only states causality, but also has a weak implication that the reason is valid, as if "if the bartender is poor, it is right for him to adulterate the drink." Using 为了 is much more idiomatic, e.g. 奸商为了赚钱,良心都不要了。

Also "they" in the last sentence is referring to the bar as a whole, not just the bartender, so 酒吧 would be more accurate than 酒保.

Idiomatic/Naturalness issues:

In both translations, 我们认为酒保.../我们酒保... 认为 sounds too formal; 想 sounds unnatural since 我们想 usually means "we want to...". 我们觉得 or 我们猜 are better options.

My version:

你最好别去那个酒吧。我朋友以前去过一次,喝了一杯酒就去医院了。我们觉得酒吧为了赚钱,在酒里掺了化肥。

Notes on word choices:

  • 最好 is optional. With it the tone is softer and more suggestive.

  • 别 vs 不要: people tend to use 别 in Northern China and 不要 in Southern China. Both are correct and natural.

  • 省钱 vs 节约成本 vs 降低成本 vs 赚钱: 省钱 is fine but a bit strange (what money is being saved and why, the ultimate goal is actually 赚钱 not 省钱); 节约成本 is a commendatory word so inappropriate (not a problem if you say it automatically in colloquial language); 降低成本 is clear but too neutral to condemn the misbehavior; 赚钱 is the best fit and indeed the most common word to describe a profiteer's motivation.

  • 酒 vs 玛格丽特/玛格丽特酒: 玛格丽特 seems redundant because it is irrelevant to the point. The line sounds more fluent without it.

  • 把A放进B vs 在B里掺了A: former seems to imply intentional poisoning; latter is a common phrase to describe adulterated product especially food/drink.

  • 肥料 vs 化肥: they are essentially the same, but when put side by side, 肥料 focuses on nutrition value while 化肥 focuses on chemical ingredients, hence 化肥 sounds more inedible and toxic.

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Yes. Exactly what I was hoping for. Thanks again! –  user2251 Jan 1 '13 at 23:57
    
I would think they in the last sentence is referring to the bar as a whole, which usually imply the boss/owner, not the bartender. Maybe use 酒吧(the bar) instead of 酒保(bartender). –  John Siu Jan 2 '13 at 2:30
    
@JohnSiu good point. Will update the answer. –  NS.X. Jan 2 '13 at 3:36
    
我觉得应该说“在玛格丽特混饮中掺了化肥”。不能因为所谓“流畅”而丢失原文的信息。况且这么说也不失流畅,更不存在“redundant”, "irrelevant"一说。 –  shuangwhywhy Mar 9 '13 at 17:04
    
@shuangwhywhy I agree that usually it's inappropriate to judge the original text in a translation task, however, due to the nature difference between the languages, there are always tradeoffs. In this answer, I favored authenticity (making it sound like native speaking instead of translated foreign language) over accuracy because I think that's what the question is about. If you feel differently, you are welcome to provide another answer:) –  NS.X. Mar 10 '13 at 21:50

My translation:

你可别去那个酒吧。我一朋友去过一次,喝了一杯酒就进医院了。我们觉得他们为了省钱,在酒里掺了化肥。

Notes: 1. 你可别去那个酒吧 sounds stronger than 你最好别去那个酒吧. 2. 我一朋友 is more colloquial than 我的一个朋友. 3. 进医院了 means "end up in the hospital (because of sickness)." 去医院 just means "go to hospital," and it may not necessarily infer "to see a doctor."

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