Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Babelcarp: A Website For Translating Chinese Tea Terminology

Today I want to introduce a resource that I have been using for quite some time, and that was very helpful in researching material for RateTea: this is Babelcarp: A Chinese Tea Lexicon, a website with an extensive database of tea terminology. Babelcarp is run by Lew Perin, who is available on twitter under the handle babelcarp.

What's in the name?

Babelcarp is a play on the name babelfish. The babel fish was created in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, and came to life as Babelfish, an online automated language translator, which was run by Altavista back in the day, and is now run by Yahoo. Babel is an obvious reference to the Tower of Babel, well-known from the biblical story. Carp, on the other hand, are a diverse group of freshwater fish native to Europe and Asia; they are important in China; cultivated carp originated in China, so the carp is a suitable symbol of a Chinese translator. The word carp also means to complain or find fault--which is also relevant here, as using babelcarp can help you to become more critical of some of the misuse of Chinese tea terms that is common on the web and elsewhere in Western society.

Why use babelcarp?

Babelcarp is an exhaustive resource that goes very deep into Chinese tea production and culture. It's somewhere between a dictionary and encyclopedia...almost like a glossary specifically oriented for Chinese tea enthusiasts. To give you an example of how deep it goes, there is an entry on chaxiaoluyechan (Cha2 Xiao3 Lu4 Ye4 Chan2) = (茶小绿叶蝉 or 茶小緑葉), which is a leaf-hopper insect that is responsible for the unique flavor of Bai Hao Oolong.

Another feature I really like about babelcarp is that it provides the tones to pronounce the names in Mandarin (denoted by the numbers after the romanized syllables), and lists both simplified and traditional Chinese characters. Having both is important, as mainland China uses simplified characters, and Taiwan and many older Chinese communities in other countries use the traditional characters.

Visit babelcarp for yourself, type some terms into it, and see for yourself how useful it is! If you write about tea online, especially Chinese tea, you will likely find it an unparalleled resource. It's also good site to bookmark or remember if you regularly need to translate Chinese tea terminology. And hopefully, after this post, you'll easily remember the name.

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