Sunday, October 2, 2005

Firefly's "Electricity Caution" Sign

Reader Norman emailed me this screen capture. The second character (electricity) of this caution sign in the show Firefly is mirrored. It is also interesting to point out that in the future, spaceships will run on Microsoft Windows and don't lose those device driver disks.

Update: I saw the movie Serenity last night. Although there were some Chinese inconsistencies throughout the movie, overall it was very good. I have to say it was definitely one of the few good Sci-Fi movies that I have enjoyed in long time.


  1. That's odd that the traditional version of "dian" is used. In the TV show they used simplified due to the one super-power being a union of the US and China.

  2. Don't lose those driver disks.

    loss (n): Act of losing
    lose (v): To miss from one's possessions

  3. I'd imagine that a set painter was using stencils and didn't pay enough attention. I'm far more inclined to forgive a problem in the background of a minor shot, especially when it was stenciled on by a union worker.

  4. That's my one problem with that show-- the fact that they insist on using Chinese and Asian elements knowing that they're ignorant about it. Using stuff like random Chinese phrases that are badly mangled and pass it off as bilingual fluency in a super-fused future.

  5. Several of the English phrases have been mangled as well -- "gorram" for instance. I guess they must be Russian speakers (no wait, there's Russian on the show as well).

    Perhaps the writers are Basque speakers. That would explain why they can't get *any* language right. Or perhaps they have mangled the languages intentionally?

    (As an aside, the actors aren't fluent in three languages and have said that they had serious problems with some of their lines as a result. I don't suppose that there lies another reason for mangled and garbled words?)

  6. It's just bloody carelessness. They had actors speaking Elvish correctly in The Lord of the Rings and that isn't even a real language. (Okay, okay, it's a real language in the sense that it has a consistent grammar, syntax, etymologies, etc., but it was invented.)

  7. Meh. Firefly is still a great show.

  8. I'm inclined to be forgiving with anything set in the future, simply because I can write it off with the "eh, it's the future, the language evolved" and "if people are using it as a colloquial language, why not just give 'em the benifit of the doubt and say that as the language got adopted by the english-speakers, the pronunciations got mangled."

    I imagine I'd be less forgiving, though, if I actually spoke/understood Chinese.

  9. Howdy Samantha. Small internet.

    I doubt you'd have more of a problem -- think if you saw a science fiction movie made in France or Hong Kong that mangled some English for the sake of trying to have a multilingual future.

    There's a big difference between getting an intensely personal expression (a tattoo) of something you don't understand and a movie or television show messing up a few times when the translators miss that a stage hand used a stencil backwards (or caught it but decided that, for the sake of budget, the shoot went ahead).

    (Evan -- also poster 3 and 5 in this thread).

    xenobiologista -- there's a big difference in what kind of rehearsal and planning you can do in a $300 million movie shoot that is one of the longer shoots in movie history versus a weekly television show. The Firefly actors did their best to try and pronounce the lines they were given, but if they couldn't get it, the schedule had to move forward regardless.

  10. Also, it should be noted that Firefly takes place how mny hundreds of years in the future? I assure you, if one of us went back in time and talked to Thomas Jefferson right now, we'd hardly understand each other, the English language has changed that much. So who's to say that in the future, a more base, gutteral, and "Mangled" combonation of Chinese and English doesn't become standard speak?

  11. Anon, I've heard that argument about how language may have evolved in the future to the point that us fluent Chinese speaker cannot understand them from other Firefly fans. And it is utter hogwash.

    If the Chinese language (and more specifically, Mandarin) had changed so much, then why is it that we can still understand 99.9% of the English that's spoken? Surely it must have changed, as well. The only English slang I remember hearing on the show which do not currently exist are "gorram" and "the 'verse." And what they mean were not very difficult to figure out.

    0.1% change in English, and 80% change in Chinese? Not bloody likely.

    Also, the ship computer's warning system (which can be heard over the PA system in one episode) can clearly speak the "normal" Mandarin that we hear today. If the language really had changed as much as the way the actors are speaking them, shouldn't the ship's Mandarin be mostly incomprehensible, too?

    Considering that Chinese is probably one of the most difficult languages to learn as a second language, I'm just going to chalk up the disparity in recognizability to the technical improbability of the actors being able to learn to pronounce the foreign language in a relatively short amount of time, and let it go at that.

    I mean, the actors themselves readily admit the difficulty they have had in trying to pronounce Chinese for the show, why try to make an argument for "language has changed so much over time," as if the mispronunciations are done on purpose, when we all know that the actors are trying their best not to mispronounce?

    As far as grammatical or other technical errors involving Chinese that show up on the show... I recall seeing on the DVD that the "Chinese advisor" on the show was an ABC, who didn't have a full grasp of the Chinese language (One wonders why they didn't try to find someone knowledgeable enough in both languages--not exactly a rare find in the greater Los Angeles area). If they didn't hire new/more advisors for the movie, that would explain, for instance, how the posted error was missed.

  12. Besides, regardless of how much the spoken language has changed, the written language doesn't just suddenly change to become a mirror image of itself, even if several centuries have passed. ;)

  13. The real reason that the English hasn't been altered too much is because the viewing audience are speakers of English. Chinese has been altered because the actors aren't Chinese speakers and they had a tight shooting schedule so they just had to get it "right enough".

    How is that too difficult to comprehend? There is a limited budget of time and money, and even if somebody noticed "hey, somebody sprayed that backwards", they moved on because most of the audience wouldn't notice and they couldn't afford to delay shooting and pay somebody to fix it.

    There's no strange reason and certainly no disrespect -- the reversal is because the majority of stagehands in the United States are not fluent in Chinese, the audience isn't either and they can only be as accurate as their budget allows.

    Similar to throwing a Windows display up on the screen -- they likely needed something *now* and couldn't wait for a graphic designer. I've directed stage shows for years, and you'd be amazed at the glue, duct tape and safety pins that hold things together... along with the prayers of the entire cast and crew: "Just hold together for this one scene, just for one scene, please!"

    There's a big difference between something that's in the background of a scene for a few seconds and permanently marking your own body. If you think this is egregious, you haven't really watched much film; there are terrible anachronisms and oddball screwups in just about every movie and television show. Heck, it was just recently that people realized that a scene in an episode of Three's Company, shown in reruns for decades, had a character's testicles visible briefly. Nobody noticed for decades. Due to the constraints of the medium, errors are either missed or very often just have to be left in as the production moves on.

    Firefly went out on a limb in being even slightly multi-lingual. Almost every vision of the future is one where an entire universe of humans speak only the language of the country that created the show. This show was clearly for an English speaking audience, but it made clear that there were other cultures and other languages in existence. Given a weekly shooting schedule, they did fairly well.

  14. I didn't notice the mirrored character, m'self, or the Windows application.

    I think that even if the spoken Chinese is somewhat mangled in the series/movie, it could end up inspiring a few people to start learning - or even familiarizing themselves on a basic level - with Chinese, written or spoken. That would be a big win. I'd love to see more American high schools, for example, start offering other languages in addition to the Big Four (Spanish, French, German, Latin) due to popular demand. On the other hand, that might be going on already -- but it wasn't when I was a high schooler in Texas.

  15. Anon, reading and comprehension is not your strong suit, is it?

    Your comment about how language changes over the course of time is the only thing I have a problem with--You were trying to explain the technical limitations the show had to face by trying to justify it with half-assed reasoning, i.e. "the spoken Chinese in Firefly doesn't should comprehensible to current Chinese speakers, because hundreds of years have passed, and the language has evolved."

    A statement like that is trying to suggest that the mispronounced Chinese was done intentionally. Clearly, it was not.

    We all know that Firefly and its cast and crew had limited means when it comes to trying to get a different language spoken/shown properly. I don't take issue with that. I take issue with your "language evolved, that's why you can't understand the Chinese they speak" comment. Capisce?

    On a side note, each episode of Firefly was actually quite costly to produce, and they typically added what the computers display in post production. Which makes the Windows screen all the more... interesting.

    YooHooligan, the high school I attended (South Pasadena High School, California) began offering Chinese langauge classes a few years after I graduated. South Pasadena does have a large Chinese American population, though, so it's hardly indicative of the rest of the country.

  16. You should probably be aware that there are at least three people posting as Anon -- In my case, I was the Anon posting about the limitations of a shooting schedule, and it was a *reply* to the person who made up some guff about it being "hundreds of years in the future".

    We were both replying to the same dumb rationalization about "language changes over time". You're slamming *me* for something somebody *else* said while *we* both agree.

  17. i found it very interesting that they show had insisted on chinese being the other "dominant" language... but in the movie (which i just saw last night. woo) featured walls and doors and signs adorned with katakana. interesting departure.

    perhaps they found them to be simpler to make... and equally cryptic to their mostly english speaking audience?

  18. Yes, I found it quite bizarre that although they all speak English as their main language, all the writing on the computer systems was in Chinese. Or at least, what passed for Chinese.

    On a side note, my little Malaysian cousin who had a Chinese nanny used to do the exact same thing that they do in the show with English for normal speech and Chinese when she was really really frustrated. Is it a pleasant language to shout in or something? She was too young to explain why at the time and doesn't remember now.

  19. Generally speaking, for a person who knows more than one language, when said person is stressed or in an otherwise emotionally straining situation, the person will revert to the languguage he/she is most comfortable with. For most people, that language would be their native tongue.

    When translating from one language to another, you will invariably find certain terms/concepts that cannot translate well. So, when a situation arises and you don't have the time to think about how to express something in another language, you'll most likely just blurt it out in the language you know the most.

  20. I always wondered about their frequent use of "shiney" on the show. From the context, I took it to mean "It's all good." But I don't know if this was Mandarin, a corruption or if it was an effort to coin new jargon. Does anyone know?