One world, one dream, ten characters (plus punctuation)

Via Pinyin News: Remarks on the slogan for the 2008 Olympics by Victor H. Mair. Very interesting, although I don't think that the question "which is more economical?" is a fair one. I don't speak or read Mandarin, but I sensed something that Mair himself points out: "the Mandarin version of the slogan is unnecessarily wordy." (Predictably, it seems to have been a translation-related issue.)

Further on:

In the end, I'm happy that the powers-that-be decided to write the Olympic slogan in vernacular Mandarin rather than in Literary Sinitic (Classical Chinese). They could, after all, have written yī shì yī mèng (4 syllables, 4 "words," 21 strokes [traditional] / 18 strokes [simplified]), but nobody talks like that, and few would understand it when spoken aloud.
But this is a slogan: nobody says things like "one world, one dream" in English either. 一世一夢 might be misunderstood the first time it was spoken aloud, but having lived through my share of Olympics hype campaigns, I am sure that it would be understood perfectly on repetitions 5 through 5,000.

Also, maybe this is just my Japanese bias showing, but it strikes me that 一世一夢 would probably be more readily understood and appreciated by people in countries where there is some limited knowledge of Chinese characters, either because they are still used in the writing system (like in Japan) or were until recently (like Korea). Maybe even some people in countries with more distant links, like Vietnam, would dig it -- the characters aren't exactly obscure.

(On the other hand, I can sympathise with a hypothetical desire to use the language of modern China, rather than the same old Classical Chinese thing. Oh, so torn!)

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I completely agree with you. (Egad, is this a first?! Nah!)

And it's no Japanese bias on your part: after all, where did the Japanese get their penchant for tetragraphic pith if not from the Chinese?

Have you thought about how the yoji-jukugo version should be read in Japanese? I would propose ichi-yo ichi-mu even though issei or isse are more traditional for the combination of the first two characters: neither reading carries the needed "world" connotation.

(But then again, who am I?)


Yeah, I'd go with ichi-yo ichi-mu too, for the reason you give and also just for symmetry. But that's just my non-native intuition talking...


The common connotaton for 一世 is "One lifetime" and not "One world". This comes from the idiom(成語): 一生一世,meaning "for the rest of my life, forever and ever".

To me, 一世一夢 would mean "my whole life is nothing but a dream", kinda depressing, actually.


Oh, by the way, as a native speaker of Chinese, I disagree with Mair.

He proposes: 一個世界,一個夢想。

That's okay, but it could also mean "There is only one world, there is only one dream".

Whereas the official version:


spells it out neatly, "Being in the same world, we share the same dream".


Oh snap! Score one against second-language acquisition. On the other hand I did learn the cool 4-character compound 一世木鐸 thanks to this discussion.


I actually kind of like the official slogan [although saying this does feel like getting caught pissing on a wall by the beat cop]. The 同一 part catches well the sameness [rather than "just one"], the fact that we [are supposed to] share the same world/dream.

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