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The idiocy of foreign-language ballots: How do you translate “Hillary Clinton” in Chinese?

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By Michelle Malkin  •  July 11, 2007 12:10 PM

You’ve got to read this story in USA Today about Chinese-American activists in Boston demanding full translation/transliteration of ballots. It’s sheer lunacy–and the Secretary of State in Massachusetts is battling the p.c. brigade to stave off a federal foreign-language ballot mandate (embraced, by the way, by the Bush Justice Department):

Boston’s 2008 presidential primary ballot could read like a bad Chinese menu.

There might be “Sticky Rice” in column A, “Virtue Soup” in column B and, in column C, “Upset Stomach.”

Those could be choices facing some voters if the names of Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson and Hillary Rodham Clinton were converted into Chinese characters, according to Massachusetts’ top election official. And that gives Secretary of State William Galvin heartburn.

On Tuesday, Galvin filed a challenge in federal court to a Justice Department agreement requiring that ballots be fully translated to protect the rights of Chinese-speaking voters.

Galvin says Chinese — which uses characters, not letters; has sounds with several meanings; and is spoken in several dialects — will create ballot chaos.

“Elections have to be precise,” says Galvin, who wants ballot instructions in Chinese but candidate names in English. He says transliteration — using characters whose sounds approximate the way the names are spoken — can have “unintended negative inferences.”

Yes, it would be fun to have Hillary Clinton listed as “Upset Stomach” on the presidential primary ballot (her miffed campaign staffer claims that Chinese-American campaign workers told him that the characters usually used in Chinese-American media for her name mean “Like Prosperity”). But the idea of turning foreign language ballots into a civil right is an affront to civics and citizenship. Whose country is this, anyway? Only U.S. citizens are supposed to be able to vote legally. Naturalization requires new Americans to demonstrate “an understanding of the English language, including an ability to read, write and speak . . . simple words and phrases . . . in ordinary usage in the English language.” A foreign-language ballot entitlement undermines those basic requirements and perpetuates linguistic separatism.

And then there’s the bureaucratic nightmare:

Asian-Americans are among the fastest-growing minority groups in Boston. Officials there first transliterated candidate names last year in special city council elections. But Galvin, who oversees state and federal elections, is balking at doing the same, including for the March 4 presidential primary. He says it would cost Massachusetts “thousands of dollars but, worse than that, litigation and time” if candidates sued over how their names are translated.

Alice Leung, a community organizer with Boston’s Chinese Progressive Association, says that would be unlikely if candidates could review how their names are translated. “For those not familiar with the Chinese language, it may sound possible that the transliterated names carry some meaning. However, Chinese readers would see this as silly as assuming Mr. Green or Brown to be colors,” she says.

Still, things can be lost in translation. Hope Chu of the Organization of Chinese Americans says hers is a tonal language in which a sound has many meanings. Take the “ma” in Barack Obama. It can mean “horse,” “mother,” “how,” “what” or “to scold.” And while Obama comes out as “Oh Bus Horse” in Cantonese, in the Mandarin dialect the Democrat’s full name, according to a translation provided by Galvin, means “Oh Intellectual Overcome Profound Oh Gemstone.” Or, says Siri Karm Singh Khalsa, president of The Boston Language Institute, “Europe Pulling a Horse.”

Can you spell r-e-c-i-p-e-f-o-r-f-r-a-u-d?

Bad enough that the Clinton administration gave us Executive Order 13166, effectively requiring all government agencies to provide translations into any language on demand. But rather than rescind the order and put English first, the Bush administration has gone after localities and forced them to provide foreign language materials. In 2004, the Bush administration ordered Harris County, Texas, to provide all voter registration and election information and supplies, including the voting machine ballot, in Vietnamese as well as English and Spanish. So absurd is the drive to protect the rights of “minority-language citizens” that the little town of Briny Breezes, Fla., was required to publish election notices in Spanish — even though everyone there speaks English.

Some Republicans in Washington have tried to challenge the language-Balkanizers. But when a GOP administration is responsible for carrying water for the multicultural mau-mau-ers, the prospects for restoring sanity to the system are dim.

“Upset Stomach,” indeed.

***

More:

Chinese-American activists protest Mass. Sec. of State.

Boston talker Michael Graham weighs in:

Does anyone in Boston know how to translate “Ask not what your country can do for you” into the original Mandarin Chinese?

I ask this question as a simple-minded American and Bay Stater who remembers the days when American liberals stood by John F. Kennedy and pledged to “pay any price, bear any burden and meet any hardship to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” A generation later, the American left’s motto could be “No Burden, No Hardship, No Democracy? No Problem!”

This new spirit of “convenience democracy” was on display at the State House yesterday when the so-called “Chinese Progressive Association” demanded that ballots for American elections in an American city (Boston) be printed entirely in the language of American democracy – Cantonese. Under orders from the U.S. Department of Justice, Boston now prints ballots in Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese, as well as Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Creole and (coming soon, no doubt), Gaelic, Vulcan and that South African click-click language from “The Gods Must Be Crazy.” However, while the text of the ballots is in Chinese, the actual names of the candidates – Bush in ’88 or Clinton in ’92 or Bush in 2000 or Clinton in 2008 – still appear in English. This isn’t good enough, liberals complain. It’s asking too much of local voters to read any part of a ballot in English.

Which means that the unbearable burden of citizenship for Americans of Chinese descent is to be able to look at the names “Patrick” and “Healy” and tell which candidate is Irish. OK, that’s a bad example.

Seriously, if a mastery of English is a requirement for citizenship – and it is – then how is reading a ballot in English a burden at all? And do we really want the next Leader of the Free World being picked by people who can’t tell “Barack Obama” from “Ron Paul?” Phonetically or politically? And what would JFK say to those who claim that the unbearable burden of citizenship is citizenship itself?

A Boston Herald reader says: “Learn the language.”

***
Here’s a news report via Right on the Right on “Sticky Rice vs. Upset Stomach:”

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