I have been reading some translation industry reports in the library over the last few days and all the figures reminded me of a little interpreting ‘blank-out’ moment I had before, brought on by the different ways of counting numbers in English and in Chinese.
We were discussing the amount of additives in a chemical toughening process. The Chinese engineer used the phrase ‘qian fen zhi yi’. When interpreting I realized there is only the term ‘percent’ in common English, not a translation of ‘qian fen zhi yi’. After a failure of communication by drawing the symbol ‘1‰’, and 10 seconds struggling with converting, I finally got it right–“qian fen zhi yi” is 0.1%! The very common ‰ symbol in Chinese is not even used commonly in English.
English counts in three digits together, in order of thousand, million, billion…etc; Chinese counts in four digits, goes in order of wan (ten thousand), yi (a hundred million)…etc; I have now discovered the same difference exists at the other end of the spectrum. Poor 1‰ has to be denied its existence and always become 0.1% in English.
This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)