Vocabulary questions

What are the Mandarin terms for the following words:

    []The humanities[]Liberal artsVocational studies[/list]Any help would be appreciated.

Maoman, humanaties is renwen. My girlfriend told me vocational studies is gongzuo xunlian, but I think that could be just work training. Maybe something to do with liuxue???. The other mate, too tough for me.

Based on a quick Google search,

liberal arts = wen2 xue2 (I can’t get Chinese characters with this new input for some reason, have to e-mail them again!)

This term appears in the introductions of quite a few Chinese (Taiwanese) universities, like school of liberal arts = wen2 xue2 yuan4.

Hong Kong shows “zhuan1 ye4 xue2” for “vocational studies” but I’ve never heard this in Taiwan. I’ve seen this on PRC sites as well.

There are hits in Taiwan for “zhi2 ye4 xue2” which seems more reasonable to me.

To do this kind of Google search, which is pretty standard with translators, enter the English term you want to find, then enter a character or two of Chinese that you might expect to find together with your English term. Of course you need to set your language preferences to find Chinese pages.

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“Wen2 ke1” (ke1 like in science) is also used to mean liberal arts, at least in mainland China. If wen2xue2 means liberal arts in addition to meaning literature, couldn’t that get confusing? (Chinese? Confusing? I can’t believe it!) I guess I’ll just have to get off the computer and find some poor Taiwanese to clear this up for me.

Originally posted by nat: Chinese? Confusing? I can't believe it!

I was going to comment, but now I can’t think of anything to say about this one, because of COURSE Chinese is never confusing, never provides more choices than necessary, and is always completely consistent; what’s more, ALL the combinations you ever need are in the dictionary.

Yeah, right!

Seriously, though, I think people use just plain “wen2 xue2” for ‘literature’, so it’s not confusing for them when they talk about a “wen2 xue2 yuan4”. They probably don’t even process the first two characters of that expression to mean ‘literary’, but rather just hear the whole thing together and get “school of liberal arts”.

Anyway (classical scholars chime in here, OK?) doesn’t “wen2” have a broader meaning than merely literature in Classical usage? Like generally arts and letters, or something like that?

Terry @ nottoostronginclassicalstuff.com

I’ve never seen the phrase 文學 being used to mean “liberal arts.” 文學院 would mean “college of humanities.”

I believe a better phrase for “liberal arts studies” is 通識教育 , which at Taida refers to the requirement that students must take a certain number of courses outside their major.

I actually don’t think there’s an exact translation because there are no real liberal arts colleges in Taiwan. As far as I know, incoming college students have to declare their major before they start their studies and once enrolled take very few classes outside of their major.

Originally posted by SCL: I've never seen the phrase 文學 being used to mean "liberal arts." 文學院 would mean "college of humanities."

Just search on Google, you’ll see plenty. I’m neither supporting nor undermining the results, but they are the results and usually Google reflects fairly widespread usage if you get a good number of hits.

I believe a better phrase for “liberal arts studies” is 通識教育 , which at Taida refers to the requirement that students must take a certain number of courses outside their major.

I agree with your analysis, but most Taiwanese schools translate these as “general studies” courses instead. Most universities and schools without a separate English department lump foreign languages under the “gong1tong1 xue2ke4” which can be really annoying. I like to say I used to teach in the “Department of Random Studies.”


quote[quote] I believe a better phrase for "liberal arts studies" is 通識教育 , which at Taida refers to the requirement that students must take a certain number of courses outside their major.[/quote]

通識教育 sounds about like the “general education” requirements that we have at schools in the US. As far as I know (not too far) you’re right about Taiwanese not really going for the whole broad liberal arts education thing, and it is probably not an easy thing to translate.

After searching around for a bit, 文科 typically popped up on Japanese websites. I don’t know Japanese, but there seem to be a lot of 文科 colleges in Japan, some of which call themselves liberal arts colleges. The other place it popped up was in websites (all mainland so maybe there’s a difference) that generally contrast 文科生 with 理科生, the latter being the students that study hard science, as oppossed to all that fuzzy, mushy stuff.

The places that have 文科 departments don’t seem to be too sure what 文科 means either. They have mixes that may include literature, philosophy, politics, art, and history, but not things like foreign languages.

There are also places with 文學 being used in basically the same way. My classical Chinese is downright pathetic, but even in contemporary words, 文 carries a broader connotation than just language or literature or whatever, so it does not surprise me that it is used that way. It does seem that a nice fuzzy sounding thing like “liberal arts” should have a 文 in it somewhere.

Liberal arts, if it means “academic disciplines such as languages, literature, history, philosophy, mathematics and science” (as defined in the American Heritage College dictionary), then in Chinese it can be 文理科目or 文理學科. College of Liberal Arts is 文理學院. 文means humanities, like languages ,history and philosophy, 理means science, such as physics and mathematics. So 文(humanities)學院(college) is College of Humanities. But I don’t know if liberal arts can be explained as 通識科目too. Universities require students to take some 通識科目. To me, 通識is more like general knowledge, so the English translation of 通識科目 is very likely to be general studies.

The humanities, if it means “those branches of knowledge, such as literature and art, that are concerned with human thought and culture; the liberal arts” (as defined in the American Heritage College dictionary)…… What? It means liberal arts too? See? Sometimes dictionaries make me more confused!! Ok, if it means the above, then in Chinese it can be 人文科目or 人文學科. But some universities may have both College of Liberal Arts and College of Science, then it means they refer the former as 文學院and the latter as 理學院. I think in this case it explains why the humanities can also equal to liberal arts. (oh, just guess)

Vocational studies, I’m not very good at English, so not sure if studies can explained as education. If it can, then we can say it 職業教育. Guess too!!

Of course these are only translation for the vocabulary per se, they may have different and better translation when they are put in different context.

Here’s a question: is part of this translation problem a result of traditional Chinese attitudes towards education? For quite a while, a broad, general education in China meant the classics, which are basically literature, history, and philosophy with government and art mixed in there too. Foreign language, science, and math were simply not a part of the ideal. Science, math, and foreign languages have been essential elements of a classical Western education for a very long time. Anyone who studies Greek philosophy will find that those guys were always discussing mathematic and scientific questions.

Our liberal arts ideal seems to be a continuation of the classical western idea of education, really more an ideal than a reality. As China has no such tradition of including math, science, or foreign languages with its classical idea of education, there seems little reason to include those things in a 文學院 or whatever we are going to call liberal arts schools in Chinese, because a “classical” education for Chinese is contrasted with a modern science and math education. There is not the same division in the West, so we have a broader definition of liberal arts.

Because of specialization, the ideal of the general intellectual is no longer possible. For example, Darwin’s contemporaries could understand his papers without having any scientific background. This was breakthrough science for his day. I studied a fair bit of Biology in college and it is still pretty damn hard to figure out what many of today’s breakthrough papers are talking about.

In this climate, “liberal arts” seems much more like simply “general education” because it no longer expects to turn students into general intellectuals. It just wants to make sure they have a reasonable understanding of other fields.

So, if China does not have a tradition of liberal arts, why should they have that ideal?

Translating liberal arts into Chinese, it seems you are either stuck with calling it general education, which misses the whole ethos of the liberal arts tradition, or calling it 文學院 or 文科 which is more along the lines of a Chinese classical education and misses the breadth of the Western liberal arts ideal.

What?! No easy answer? Shucks.

quote[quote]To do this kind of Google search, which is pretty standard with translators, enter the English term you want to find, then enter a character or two of Chinese that you might expect to find together with your English term.[/quote]

Since you’re not certain about the English term (that’s why you’re looking, right?), the better way to do it is to enter the full Chinese term you wish to translate, together with one of the words you think would be part of the English translation. Otherwise you may certainly find the term you’re looking for, but you will have excluded all alternate possibilities, which may include the correct one, or at least a better alternative, since in many cases there are no standard translations.

No, it’s NOT why we’re looking. The original question was, what is the Chinese term for the English word XYZ, for which reason one would enter the English term plus just enough Chinese to force Chinese language pages to pop out of Google.

Naturally, if you were searching for the English meaning of a Chinese phrase, you enter the entire Chinese word or phrase that you have and any English you think might tip the balance. Also, we typically do a number of these searches with slightly different search terms to find the optimal matches. It’s not quite as instant and knee-jerk as “P” seems to have viewed it. There’s still quite a lot of fuzziness involved, but using that basic procedure generally gets the top hits quickly.


My bad, was thinking the wrong way around for some reason. Seem to do that a lot these days. Age, maybe. There’s nothing “instant and kneejerk” about it, though, since a number of these searches are done to get the optimal match. Once the optimal match in the target language is thought to have been found, you search directly for that term as well, to get a feel for whether it is actually commonly used in the target language, and not only in translations on source language web sites.

Life as a translator would definitely be harder without the mighty Google.

Life as a translator would definitely be harder without the mighty Google.

Ain’t that the truth! I’m trying to remember when I used to travel to the PRC to buy dictionaries and ship them back sea-mail. The girls behind the counters at the Xinhua bookstores thought I was nuts. They probably still would, but now in the digital age I can hide it more effectively.

Lately I’ve been having fun looking for “common idiomatic expressions” submitted by Chinese teachers of English. When they come up with zero Google hits, I feel pretty confident in informing them that no one in the world outside of Taiwan has likely ever heard of that expression (although many times they still want them in the book!)