I caught a couple of episodes of Firefly on TV a bit back. The thing that hooked me was that some of the characters were swearing in Chinese, of a sort. The series is about space smugglers in the far future, and every so often one of the crew will break into Chinese. The Chinese (Mandarin) is not very good, and not very important to the plot. Plus, looking at the on-line glossary of all the Chinese used in the show (I love geeks) it seems that a lot of is stuff that Americans might say that was then translated into Chinese. Or at least it does not sound very slang-y to me. Of course I don’t hang with Chinese space pirates all that much so maybe they really do say things like 太空所有的星球塞盡我的屁股 and 我的媽和她的瘋狂的外甥都
What I found interesting is that according to Wikipedia the explanation for this in the show’s backstory is that the Chinese and the Americans were the main early explorers of space, and thus Chinese is a pretty common language in the future. I’m not really sure the show pulls that off. Nobody seems to really speak Chinese, they just toss in a few words here and there. Still, it was interesting to see the Chinese as the people with a future. The obvious comparisons are Burgess’s nadsat, from Clockwork Orange, which has a lot of Russian in it, and Blade Runner, which I remember as having a bit of Japanese. Now making Science Fiction with Russian in it would seem weird, and even Japanese does not work as well.
I was disappointed by the language mixing in Firefly (and the often bizarre half-Chinese half-who-knows-what characters displayed in various backdrops) though I’m very interested in SF which tries to confront the possibility of language hybridity etc. in the future, including Blade Runner. Another good example I think is the Japanese SF movie Swallowtail Butterfly (I posted some thoughts on the movie here: http://muninn.net/blog/2004/02/swallowtail-butterfly.html).
It was a good concept, according to interviews on the DVDs the idea was that, after Earth was destroyed, American and Chinese are the cominant surviving cultures. Only their language consultant for the show was an ABC, interviewed on the DVD, who spoke equivalent of first-year Mandarin. That’s why it sounds so silly: it was literally translated verbatum from a dictionary.
There have been other, more successful, polyglot futures in the SF literature, several of them (like this)centered on China as a dominant future culture. It’s hard, of course, because you have the same problem of maintaining an audience, but you have a little more time and attention to work with.
I don’t really read chinese, but a glance at your egs show fart-crotches (Chinese did to farts what germans did to shit) and ungrateful nephews (who come in from the country and eat a relative to death) — China, or rather parts of it, may well be one of the world’s greatest cussing cultures. I recall D. Hoffstadter and others upset w/ the translation of interviews with blue collar chinese containing rough and dirty language as it made it seem too English. It is very nice to credit our tongue w/ such and feel it is artificial to grant the same to the chinese, but . . . if you cannot put color into the language to reflect that of the original, where are you? Of course, some more creativity on the part of the translator might be good, but too many newly made phrases will require explanation as to why it is not odd and publishers will not permit it, right? There is a great autobiography by a missionary who grew up in a south china seaport c 1920? 1930? about how even chinese children could outcuss an english sailor (unfortunately i forget the name of the man or the bk.)
None of this deals directly w/ the book/movie mentioned which i have not seen — just some general thoughts for your perusal.