Poor label translation sparks anger

(Shanghai Daily)
Updated: 2007-04-24 08:47

A poor translation in an English-Chinese dictionary in China has unexpectedly triggered a complaint from an African-American woman living in Canada, who bought a sofa bearing an offensive label.

Doris Moore was at a loss for words when the sofa arrived at her home in Toronto, Ontario, and her seven-year-old daughter pointed at "nigger brown" on the tag.

"I went over and just couldn't believe my eyes," Western media reports quoted Moore as saying. The label reads as follows:

Item: Abby

Description: Sofa

Color: Nigger-brown

Net weight: 67kg

"My daughter asked me what the N-word meant. I was stunned and didn't know what to say," Moore said, according to the reports.

She also said the furniture set's other pieces (loveseat and chair) revealed the same color description as the sofa.

Moore complained to the furniture store, which blamed the supplier, who also refused to take responsibility for the mistake. The supplier suggested that Moore call the manufacturing company in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province in south China.

Eventually, the problem was blamed on a poor English-Chinese computer translation program, which is made by Beijing-based software company Kingsoft Corp.

Kingsoft acknowledged its translation program was at fault and said it was a regrettable error. Luo Yi, a product manager for the company's translation software, was unavailable for comment yesterday.

But Luo's assistant told Shanghai Daily yesterday that she was authorized to say that Kingsoft was aware of the faulty translation and that the definition came from a English-Chinese dictionary. The assistant said the firm had been using the dictionary for 10 years and that it had likely been updated, but Kingsoft didn't buy a newer version.

In the updated version of the 2007 program, the offensive translation no longer appears when changing from Chinese to English. However, when the N-word is typed into the program in English, the Chinese characters still appear as "dark brown."

Moore said Kingsoft's acknowledgment of a mistake does not make her feel better. She was unhappy at being forced to explain the word to her daughter, news reports said.

She consulted with a lawyer at the Ontario Human Rights Commission about seeking compensation. The commission said the case is in the initial stages now and could take six months to two years to resolve.

Moore reportedly said she was not sure whether to keep the furniture, even with the labels removed. "Every time I sit on it, I can't help but think of the upsetting incident."

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