By Dr. Biegel
Baby baby wouldn't it be nice,
Baby baby no serŪa lindo,
The politicians in the UN spend their days,
(Pinyin appears below)
The politicians in the UN spend their time,
The story behind the Chinese verse
A long time ago (I'm not even going to say how long) I had this verse translated into Chinese. The translator was a waiter at a Chinese restaurant.
Back then, in the "pre-911" years, when people were filled with hope, and when the currencies of the nations were not on the verge of total collapse, it was far easier to obtain the help and cooperation of other human beings than it is now. Thus, I had no trouble getting my verse translated into Mandarin Chinese:
Since I know almost no Chinese, I placed this into the Google Chinese Translator (a wonderful tool I have only recently learned about), which returned the following English translation...
Love, love, it be nice,
...which seems to me a good translation of the original English.
Well, just before uploading this song to the RightWayMusic site, I decided to check the Chinese translation with a highly-educated professional man whom I know; a man who spoke Mandarin as his first language. All I really wanted was for him to comment on my intonation, since I'm well-aware that every Chinese word has as many as four translations, depending upon the intonation.
To my dismay, however, he dismissed the lyrics entirely! He said that they were "adequate", but merely "Chinese restaurant lyrics", as if the act of working as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant automatically excluded a man from any further linguistic consideration.
Thus, my new Chinese language expert provided me with an entirely different translation, which I labored for weeks to learn and record. Once again, however, before uploading it I decided to check the new tanslation, this time with a highly-educated Mandarin woman I know. To my horror, she rejected both translations! The original, she agreed, were merely "Chinese restaurant lyrics", but the new one, she said, "made no sense at all".
It was at about this point that I had just become aware of the Google translator, and I ran the new lyrics through it. Sure enough, they made no sense - at least not to Google! I won't waste your time reproducing the Google translation, because the story doesn't end here, and I wish to briefly summarize the remainder of it.
Before this nightmare was over, I had consulted with no less than four highly-educated Chinese language experts! Each one said that the work of the previous one was woefully insufficient for one reason or another, and each one wrote a new translation. The Google translator was not able to make sense out of any of them, except one which, however, did not fit the structure of the song.
Eventually I realized that the process would never end, and that no matter how many experts I consulted, each one would say that the last one's lyrics were no good. So I made a bold decision: I decided to reject all the expert advice, and to go back to the original "Chinese restaurant" lyrics. After all, they had been done with no thought in mind except to translate my English, that is, they had not been written to "outdo" a previous translator. Furthermore, when all was said and done, they were (according to Google) really the best translation of the English!
The Chinese waiter won the contest! I guess this strikes a blow for the working class.
There are other issues in addition to the question of translation alone. Chinese has a lot of dialects, and I am not equipped to deal with that aspect of the problem. The consonant and vowel sounds of Mandarin are frequently different than English, and I am not at all sure that I have pronounced the words correctly. Even if I did, I have no idea which dialect I used, or if the song, in its current form, is comprehensible to any large number of native Chinese speakers. If not, I hereby humbly apologize to the people of China for my poor command of their language.
In summary, translating this simple verse into Chinese has been an unbelievably hard struggle, and I hope that at least some listeners will conclude that, in the end, it was worth the effort.