What is the difference between transliteration and translation of a name, especially when considering the markets in China?

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Chinese is an idiographic language rather than an alphabetical one (as are languages in the Indo-European and Semitic families). Each Chinese character stands for an idea that has no relationship to its sound. In addition, Chinese is also a tonal language in which four different tones are used to differentiate among words using the same sound. So, for example, "ma" can mean "mother," "hemp," "horse," and "to curse," depending on the tone used. Several possible characters could be chosen to translate a brand name that is spelled in the Latin alphabet (for example, Coca Cola). The company owning the name can decide what meaning it would like to convey in the translation, and then appropriate characters are chosen that will have that meaning. But it is highly likely that the best translation will not sound at all like the English name. In transliteration, the aim is to choose characters that sound closest to the original brand name. The danger, however, is that those characters may ... more
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