Translating Aussie rules for Chinese viewers

Dr David Caldwell. Photo courtesy of Mark Piovesan. HUMANITIES
Dr David Caldwell. Photo courtesy of Mark Piovesan.

A speccie, clanger, banana kick, torp or even a mark and a behind are footy terms that Australians who watch Australian Rules Football don’t really think twice about. But for Chinese viewers of the game, these terms can be as hard to understand as the variable game rules.

To help Chinese viewers better understand Aussie football, a UniSA English lecturer is working on a project to construct an online AFL dictionary, in Chinese.

Dr David Caldwell. Photo courtesy of Mark Piovesan.Dr David Caldwell from the School of Education is overseeing the construction of the dictionary, after being commissioned by the Port Adelaide Football Club to undertake the work.

Port Adelaide games have been broadcast into China this year with a Chinese UniSA graduate, Li Jinsong, providing Mandarin commentary for football games, after winning a commentating competition that was run by Port Adelaide last year.

Dr Caldwell is drawing on the translation expertise of Jinsong, as well as Chinese AFL commentators from CCTV in China, and Adelaide-based web developer, studio(c to develop the interactive, online dictionary.

“It’s been an interesting but challenging project to work on as it’s not a simple case of directly translating from the English word to the Chinese word,” Dr Caldwell says.

“Take the word football for example. In China, it is referred to as ‘olive’ ball, based on its appearance, as opposed to its function – a ball that we move about with our foot.

“Translating English into Chinese script is one thing but it’s another thing to speak Australian Rules Football which is full of Aussie slang and often terms that even Australian English speakers can’t agree on.

“Some terms have been simple such as ‘banana’ becomes xiāng jiāo qiú or ‘banana ball’ but most like ‘speccie’ have been tricky.

“We haven’t settled on a translation for ‘speccie’ into Chinese because nothing quite captures the level of intensity of the word as it is used in AFL.”

Even correctly translating what appears to be one of the more basics terms – a mark – has been challenging.

“A mark directly translates to ‘catch’—but I don’t think that really captures the essence of AFL football,” Dr Caldwell says.

“The best translation appeared to be ‘stay ball,’ [dìng qiú] to get across the idea that the ball isn’t moving.

“However, that word sounds like one for the human posterior and I think for China viewers that may sound a bit naughty.”

Despite these obstacles, Dr Caldwell is really excited about the dictionary, and its potential to engage not only a Chinese audience, but also Australian English speakers who have a passion for AFL, and a love of language.

“This is not meant to be an overly serious exercise nor is it only about assisting Chinese speakers to understand the game,” he says.

“It’s about re-exploring the world of AFL speak; to look at the way in which another culture represents a game that is uniquely Australian.

“That’s why it’s so important to re-translate the Chinese translation into English. That’s the fun part! And this is something we will be including in the dictionary.”

The online ‘footytionary’ will be available in early September.