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CedPane: Chinese-English Dictionary Public-domain Additions for Names Etc

People learning Chinese as a foreign language sometimes use software to help them read a text. But when Western names are written using Chinese characters, the result is not always something an average dictionary can help with---the software might give you an inappropriate "analysis" like irrigate this/now irrigate thought instead of 沃兹沃思WòzīwòsīWordsworth. So I found it useful to compile a list of names (focusing on, but not limited to, Western names) and a few other potentially-useful phrases not always found in learners' software, with examples of how these have been written in Chinese, which we can add to our software to help with our reading.

While the primary purpose of this list is to help software recognise a name when it sees one, it's understandable that some people will also want to use it to 'look up' how a specific name "should" be translated. However:

  1. There is sometimes more than one way that a particular non-Chinese name has been written in Chinese.
    • Sometimes it "doesn't really matter"---you can pick any of the existing translations, or even invent a new one (within reason), and nobody will mind.
    • But occasionally it does matter---the translation you choose might imply you are of a certain age, persuasion or background (which you might or might not want to identify with), and in extreme cases you could offend someone and suffer the consequences. So I have to disclaim all legal liability for your use of my data!
  2. Sometimes several different Western names can be written the same way in Chinese, and are therefore indistinguishable in back-translations.
So please don't take my list as an "authority", and definitely don't use it to criticise other translations (it's not exhaustive). The lexicography here is descriptive (what I have seen done), not necessarily prescriptive (saying what "should" be done).

I've been wanting to put as much as possible into the public domain, so that commercial software like Wenlin, Pleco, Hanping and ChinaScribe as well as community projects like CC-CEDICT and online services can all help learners to read by incorporating these words by default instead of an "after-market" addition. But I was held back by possible 'intellectual property' considerations: if I (as a learner) saw a word in a text, and wanted my software to recognise it next time, I'd add it to my personal dictionary (with extra notes on where and when I saw it, and maybe other thoughts too), but that by itself doesn't mean I can share it: how do I know my source doesn't have some kind of "trademark rights" to their particular way of writing it?

I now understand that most countries' copyright laws do include a provision for third-party indexing, so you can say "I saw this word on page 234 of that book" and not be held liable for copyright infringement of favourite books that feature too often in your list: at worst, your list is an index of your books, which is (in countries that have those provisions) allowed. But you still run the risk of accidentally defaming a book by writing wrong notes---there are "free speech" laws protecting reviews (up to a point), but I quite like the books I read and didn't want to cast them in a bad light by publishing all my misunderstandings.

Eventually, I found a large Chinese Internet search engine that hadn't yet prohibited being used by automatic programs, and was able to write a program that queried it for every word in my database, to get some measure of which words were common enough to warrant disregarding my reading notes and just saying "here's a translation that's 'out there' and worth recognising". I had to be careful to ensure the search results really showed the word in common use (not just illegal copies of the source I read), and I also had to beware of having documented a rare different use-case of an otherwise common word.

I managed to subset and edit my database, and can now present 40% of the 'specialist' words I collected between 2009 and 2017 as "public domain" words you can do what you want with (i.e. please do add them to products to help learners---and email me if you'd like me to mention here that you've added it to your product). The other 60% (and my reading notes) have not been added to CedPane, but I hope it's already useful.

CedPane is a table that you should be able to copy into the spreadsheet software of your choice (use Select All, Copy, Paste). The columns are:

  1. Word as it might be written in an English text (in the case of a non-English name this is usually a transcription), or a brief definition
  2. Simple-form ("Simplified") Chinese
  3. Full-form ("Traditional") Chinese
  4. Mandarin pronunciation in Hanyu Pinyin
  5. Cantonese pronunciation in Yale (provisional---my Cantonese is much worse than my Mandarin, so I haven't been able to proof-read this column to the same standard)
  6. English pronunciation in IPA (for words where I wanted to correct my English speech synthesizer; other pronunciations may be equally correct)

Of course it goes without saying that, despite my best efforts, mistakes are possible anywhere (as is true of every dictionary) and I'm happy to receive corrections. There is an SVN repository thanks to Cameron Wong: svn co http://svn.code.sf.net/p/e-guidedog/code/ssb22/CedPane and there is a Git repository on GitHub: git clone git@github.com:ssb22/CedPane.git

Warning: the CedPane table is big. If you are on a mobile device, viewing it might slow down or crash your device. You should use a capable desktop computer to view it.
Take that risk and load the version of this page with the table included
Alternatively you can have it as a tab-delimited text file, but this is less likely to display properly in browsers.

If you're using Pleco, you can add the first four columns via these Pleco user dictionaries: CPN-CE.pqb and CPN-EC.pqb. You might wish to update these periodically (sorry there's not yet a notification system for third-party Pleco dictionary updates).


All material © Silas S. Brown unless otherwise stated.