Yesterday in class I was correcting the mistakes in my translation together with my teacher. He gave us an article about the mafia in America and the Lufthansa heist at John F. Kennedy International Airport in 1978, which inspired the film Goodfellas.

Near the end of the article there is this sentence:

导演马丁斯科西斯年拍摄的影片 《盗亦有道》 (又译为 《好家伙》) 即根据博克的真实经历和汉莎航空大劫案改编,该片由罗伯特德尼罗主演,至今仍被认为是继 《教父》 系列之后另一部描述美国意大利黑帮的经典之作。

Which I've translated like this:

The film shooted by the director Martin Scorsese in 1990, Thieves have morals too, (also translated as The Goodfellas) is primarily based on a reconstruction of Burke's true story and the Lufthansa heist at Kennedy Airport. This film, interpreted by Robert De Niro as leading actor, is still considered today another cult movie that describes italian american mafia after the series The Godfather.

My teacher said that 美国意大利黑帮 should be "the italian mafia in America". I've thought about that for a while . . . If it's "in America", why there is no 在 before 美国?

He clarified that if it were "italian american", like I said, it would be something like 美意 or, better, 意美 (like in the title: 中英词典, "Chinese-English dictionary").

I know the two translations are pretty similar in content, but I would appreciate it if someone could explain to me which is better.

Thank you.

P.S. Sorry for my bad English; it's not my native language.

  • 1
    在美国的意大利黑帮 seems possible (look up examples for "在美国的" in jukuu), but (to readers of Chinese) sounds unusual, 美国意大利黑帮 "American Italian mafia" (unusual English?) = "Italian mafia in America" already yields the intended meaning
    – user6065
    Nov 7, 2015 at 11:20
  • I'm keeping the note at the end since there are some errors in the OP's translation to English (from an English standpoint), and I feel like correcting those would be taking things too far.
    – user5714
    Nov 12, 2015 at 3:47

3 Answers 3


Chinese and English express this in different ways. Or better yet, English emphasizes the nuance that these mafiosi are of Italian descent but operate in America: Italian mafia in America.

The Chinese term 美国意大利黑帮 is just "American-Italian" mafia. Chinese has no proper word for demonym-adjectives, Italian will translate as 意大利人 if it is a demonym denoting a person ("Italy-person") and most likely 意大利的 if it is something from Italy (e.g. 意大利的经济 Italian economy) but omitting 的 is more natural in most cases, e.g. 意大利经济 Italian economy. It's a bit like headline style in English: UK minister resigns (where UK is certainly not an adjective) and not British minister resigns.

Since Chinese heavily relies on context, 美国意大利黑帮 requires you to use your knowledge and understanding of the context, and put this together. English on the other hand prefers splitting this up and making clear what role Italian and American play here.

  • 1
    This is a very good answer!
    – thinwa
    Nov 7, 2015 at 13:19
  • I would say that Italian-American is a compound noun in English, and it is this concept that is being translated into 美国意大利黑帮.
    – Michaelyus
    Nov 9, 2015 at 12:52

Drunken Master have given the correct answer in my opinion.

But I'd like to add some details about the phrase 美国意大利黑手党.

As Drunken Master said, meaning of Chinese heavily depends on context. The confusing part of the phrase is the combination of 美国意大利. It could be America-Italy mafia, which means an international criminal group active in both America and Italy. And also, it could be an American mafia has strong connectivity with Italian(lead/control by Italian, or most of the gang members are Italian). From the context in your material, the second one should be correct.

  • Definitely clarifying! Thank you all for your answers!
    – Tochtli
    Nov 7, 2015 at 19:25

I hold similar view with Tochtli's teacher.

"美国意大利黑帮" does mean Italian Mafia in the U.S. The position of the adjectives determines its context. The "outer" one serves geographical purpose while the "inner" one serves demonym purpose when the context of the subject allows it, say "美國意大利公司". This is especially phenomenal if the "inner" adjective and the subject forms a common/well-known term, e.g. "意大利黑帮" in the article. It does require certain level of cultural knowledge.

Confusion raises when they do not form a common term, e.g. "美國意大利幫派". In such cases, we must rely on the context of the whole article.

As for "international criminal group active in both America and Italy", I cannot think of any concise Chinese term either.

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