Arts, Culture & Media

Chinese bilingual ballots

On November 4th, voters in Boston's China Town will be offered a bilingual ballot. That's no great news says this Massachusetts politician. He says that means the ballots are translated into Chinese, but the one thing that's not transliterated are the names of candidates. Transliterated is not the same as translating, or corresponding a word in one language with its meaningful equivalent in another language. But if you're transliterating a word in Chinese that means you're trying to represent a word with its corresponding characters of a different alphabet or you match the sounds from one language to another. This professor of Chinese says a lot of the sounds of the two languages are very different. So the problem with writing or saying an English word in Chinese is the two languages don't share a common alphabet or even a common set of sounds. You have to do the best you can, and that's a problem for this official who's in charge of protecting the integrity of the state's ballots. He objects to transliteration, because you can only provide an approximation of an English words. Further, Chinese characters correspond to specific sounds and they can correspond to specific meanings depending on a word's pronunciation. Constructing a Chinese version of an English name is therefore fraught with danger. Candidates names will not be transliterated on Boston ballots, they'll only be in English. That could be a problem for some elderly Chinese-American voters, who are exempt from English language requirements because of citizenship. Many cannot recognize the characters of the English language. So their workaround is often to find out the order candidates' names will appear on the ballot, but that can be problematic if the ballot is complicated. The official from earlier says he's open to other solutions, like putting pictures of the candidates on the ballots. But any solution would have to maintain the integrity and clarity of the electoral process and that's a challenge when dealing with an ancient language like Chinese.

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+++ AG gives an absolutely fascinating report which really gives new insight into the voting experience for minority groups in America. AG does this thoroughly and in an inquisitive but respectful way. Fabulous and fabulously interesting report.