Retain the Meaning, the Sound, Or Both? Effectiveness of Brand-Name Translations in a Chinese-English Bilingual Context

EXTENDED ABSTRACT - As linguistic labels, brand names should be subjected to structural differences among language systems. Thus, the unique linguistic characteristics which govern each language may potentially affect the effectiveness of brand-name translations. Along this line, Zhang and Schmitt (2001) prescribed a framework to elucidate issues in English to Chinese brand-name translation, highlighting the notion that brand naming should take linguistic factors into consideration. Following this effort, our study investigates bilingual consumers’ evaluation of brand-name translations from logographic Chinese characters to alphabetic scripts. We propose that the effectiveness of four possible methods of translationCsemantic-English translation, phonetic-English translation, phonesemantic-English translation, and Hanyu Pinyin (a Romanized phonetic system of Chinese) translationCmay vary with bilingual consumers’ chronic differences in language proficiency as well as the presence of situational primes.



Citation:

Yih Hwai Lee and Cheng Qiu (2005) ,"Retain the Meaning, the Sound, Or Both? Effectiveness of Brand-Name Translations in a Chinese-English Bilingual Context", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Yong-Uon Ha and Youjae Yi, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 87-88.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2005      Pages 87-88

RETAIN THE MEANING, THE SOUND, OR BOTH? EFFECTIVENESS OF BRAND-NAME TRANSLATIONS IN A CHINESE-ENGLISH BILINGUAL CONTEXT

Yih Hwai Lee, National University of Singapore, Singapore

Cheng Qiu, National University of Singapore, Singapore

EXTENDED ABSTRACT -

As linguistic labels, brand names should be subjected to structural differences among language systems. Thus, the unique linguistic characteristics which govern each language may potentially affect the effectiveness of brand-name translations. Along this line, Zhang and Schmitt (2001) prescribed a framework to elucidate issues in English to Chinese brand-name translation, highlighting the notion that brand naming should take linguistic factors into consideration. Following this effort, our study investigates bilingual consumers’ evaluation of brand-name translations from logographic Chinese characters to alphabetic scripts. We propose that the effectiveness of four possible methods of translationCsemantic-English translation, phonetic-English translation, phonesemantic-English translation, and Hanyu Pinyin (a Romanized phonetic system of Chinese) translationCmay vary with bilingual consumers’ chronic differences in language proficiency as well as the presence of situational primes.

We extend the bilingual perspective (Zhang and Schmitt 2001, 2004) to include a complete and in-depth examination of language proficiency effects. We hypothesize that consumers who are proficient in both English and Chinese tend to engage in both phonological and semantic processing of words and hence prefer phonosemantic-English brand-name translation to other translation methods. On the other hand, consumers who are proficient in English but weak in Chinese tend to engage in phonological processing and hence prefer phonetic-English translation to other translation methods. In contrast, consumers who are weak in English but strong in Chinese tend to engage in semantic processing and regard Hanyu Pinyin translation most highly since Hanyu Pinyin translation not only provides immediate mapping to the precise semantic meaning of the original brand name but also involves orthographic rules that this group of bilinguals are familiar with.

Furthermore, we suggest that bilingual consumers’ preference for brand-name translations may be affected by situational primes which create contexts for the subsequent evaluation of brand names. We examine two factors in the marketplace that may serve as prior contexts for influencing consumer’s sensitivity towards phonetic/semantic features of a translated brand name. The first is the prior translation methods used in the marketplace (adapted from Zhang and Schmitt 2001) and the second is the target market of the brand (whether the consumers are predominantly English- or Chinese-speaking). We propose that an English "prior context" will prime phonological encoding whereas a Chinese "prior context" will prime visual encoding. The effects of these temporarily activated processing modes may be additive to or outweigh bilingual consumers’ chronically nurtured inclinations, leading to another set of hypotheses regarding the interplay between primed and innate preferences.

A 3 (Bilingual Language Proficiency: strong in both languages vs. strong in English weak in Chinese vs. weak in English strong in Chinese) X 3 (Prime: phonological prime vs. semantic prime vs. without prime) X 4 (Translation Type: Hanyu Pinyin vs. phonetic-English vs. phonosemantic-English vs. semantic-English) X 5 (Product Category: shampoo vs. apparel vs. floor detergent vs. vitamins vs. furniture) mixed-factorial experiment with translation type and product category as within-subjects factors was conducted among bilingual students from an Asian university. Hypotheses about the main effects of language proficiency on consumers’ preference for brand-name translations are supported. Regarding the interaction between situational prime and language proficiency, the results are mixed. As predicted, with subtle phonological priming where participants were informed that the product’s target customers were proficient in English, those who were strong in English, regardless of their Chinese proficiency level, were found to evaluate phonetic-English translation most favorably; those who were weak in English but strong in Chinese were found to evaluate Hanyu Pinyin translation most favorably. However, with obvious phonological priming where participants were told that the prior translation method in the product category was phonetic-English, those who were weak in English but strong in Chinese rated phonetic-English translation most highly, which is inconsistent with our hypothesis. As predicted, with subtle semantic priming where participants were informed that the product’s target customers were proficient in Chinese, those who were strong in both English and Chinese regarded semantic-English translation most highly; those who were weak in English but strong in Chinese preferred Hanyu Pinyin translation to other methods. Participants strong in English but weak in Chinese were found to evaluate semantic-English translation most favorably (directionally consistent but insignificant). In contrast, supporting our hypothesis, those who were strong in English but weak in Chinese rated semantic-English translation most highly with obvious semantic priming where they were told that the prior translation method in the product category was semantic-English. Inconsistent with our hypothesis, those who were strong in Chinese but weak in English preferred semantic-English translation to other methods. The different pattern of findings we obtain using subtle and obvious prime implies that the outcome of the interplay between innate and primed preference may depend on the relative preference-intensities.

Our study offers insights on Chinese brand-name translation in a bilingual context by demonstrating the impact of the different mental representation of English and Chinese on brand-name translation preference, by revealing the interaction between situational priming and chronically preferred mental mode, by introducing and examining the phonetic/semantic features of Hanyu Pinyin translations which are distinct from those of the three English-based translations, and by uncovering the profound influence of priming intensity on experimental conditions. Future research may be conducted to further shed light on the processing mechanism of Hanyu Pinyin and to explore the generalization of the current findings to the translation of other logographic systems (e.g., Korean Hancha, Japanese Kanji) into alphabetic scripts (e.g., English, Romanized Korean, Romanized Japanese).

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Authors

Yih Hwai Lee, National University of Singapore, Singapore
Cheng Qiu, National University of Singapore, Singapore



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6 | 2005



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