Dr Sim vs Chong: Context important when translating Chinese words to English, cannot solely rely on literal translation, argues defence

The court complex in Kuching.

By Dorcas Ting

KUCHING, May 27: In the ongoing defamation lawsuit brought by Sarawak United Peoples’ Party (SUPP) president Datuk Amar Dr Sim Kui Hian against Sarawak Democratic Action Party (DAP) chairman Chong Chieng Jen, today’s trial focused on the accuracy and context of translations of Chong’s allegedly defamatory Facebook posts about the distribution of food aid during the Covid-19 pandemic.

During the cross-examination of the defendant’s witness, Violet Yong, Dr Sim’s legal team, led by Shankar Ran Asnani and Yu Ying Ying, repeatedly questioned Yong about specific translations, particularly the Mandarin term “获得” (huo de), which can mean “receive” or “grant” depending on the context.


Defense counsel Michael Kong objected to the use of various dictionaries as primary evidence, arguing that translation should be contextual rather than literal.

He stressed that using dictionaries to determine meanings out of context could mislead the court. He specifically criticised the reliance on an English-to-Chinese dictionary, arguing that it is inappropriate for determining accurate translations from Chinese to English.

Kong illustrated his point by explaining that in the dictionary provided by the plaintiff’s counsels, the definition of “giant” includes “gergasi; raksasa” and “haiwan (hewan), manusia, tumbuhan yang sangat besar.” He argued that if one were to look up the definition of “tumbuhan yang besar” (a large plant), it would not lead to the definition of “giant” when reversed from Malay to English.

The trial also delved into the intricacies of translation and interpretation. Both sides agreed that translation work differs significantly from interpretation, emphasising the importance of context in ensuring translation accuracy.

The presiding High Court judge, Dato Alwi Abdul Wahab, noted that while dictionaries and translation tools like Google Translate could be referenced, their use as primary evidence would be considered during final submissions.

He expressed a preference for hearing arguments regarding these translations in the submissions phase of the trial.

Yu referred to various sources such as Kamus Mini Oxford Fajar (Edition 2019), Kamus Padu Terkini (Bahasa Melayu-Bahasa Cina-Bahasa English) by Universiti Malaya (Edition 2019), Google Translate, and A New Chinese-English Dictionary (Edition December 2019) by United Publishing House (M) Sdn Bhd. Despite these references, the debate on the appropriate context for the translations remains central to the court’s considerations.

Dr Sim was represented by counsels Shankar Ram, Russell Lim and Yu whereas Chong was represented by counsels Chong Siew Chiang, Kong, Brenda Chong and Sharon Lo. — DayakDaily