Uh oh. Slate Magazine levels a charge of "phoniness" toward Jon Huntsman, saying he might not be as fluent in Mandarin as he would like us to believe.
Slate's Geoffrey Sant writes when Huntsman speaks Mandarin in interviews, he often uses the language incorrectly.
When asked on the Colbert Report to speak Chinese, Huntsman spoke one sentence and then “translated” his words as “I just said you ought to consider being my running mate for vice president.” The studio audience roared in approval. Yet in reality, Huntsman’s mangled Chinese would translate as: “I really want you to do my vice-America president.”
In this brief and simple sentence, Huntsman managed to (incorrectly) insert the word Americain the middle of the Chinese word for vice president (fu-zong-tong); made a less-than-ideal choice of verbs; and combined my and American vice president in a way that implies (in Chinese) that Huntsman possesses his own personal vice president of the United States.
On Piers Morgan Tonight, Piers Morgan asked Huntsman to speak in Mandarin, and then immediately proclaimed what he heard as “spectacularly good” despite not understanding any of it. (As Huntsman himself responded, “How do you know?”)
A fair translation of Huntsman’s Chinese response to Piers Morgan would be: “Whatever I say, you don’t, you won’t know that much, you will not be so able to understand. I am Mr. Jon Huntsman. I want to be the up-to-next American president.”
Huntsman himself “translated” the first sentence of this as “Whatever I say, you’ll have no idea what it is.” This isn’t a particularly complicated sentence, yet Huntsman struggled to express it, making three halting attempts and never quite getting it right. His attempt to say “next” president (in Chinese, xia-yi-jie) became the strange xia-lai-de. (I could understand Huntsman only because I knew what he was going to say, but none of the Beijing individuals I checked with could understand this sentence even on repeated listens.)
Sant also points to the fact that, when he addressed Chinese audiences while serving as Ambassador, Huntsman often spoke to them in English rather than Mandarin.
In response, the Huntsman daughters responded on Twitter: "Any fluent linguist would know that going from Mandarin-English isn't usually a direct translation. Better luck next time @slate magazine."