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Thread: What are your translation method preferences?

  1. #1
    Senior Member whiteskwirl's Avatar
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    Default What are your translation method preferences?

    I'm working on the official translation of Peerless Sword by Qin Hong, and I would like everyone's input on how to translate certain things. My goal with this novel translation is to bring in new fans to wuxia, so people who don't know what it is already, unlike everyone here. So keep that in mind when responding.

    1. jianghu or rivers and lakes -- Do you prefer to have this translated or kept as "jianghu"?

    2. wulin or the martial grove/martial fraternity -- wulin and jianghu are both major decisions because they are important concepts for wuxia, but leave it as it is or translate it? Right now I translate them because they are 1-to-1 translations, that is, they are direction translations and therefore are perfect for rendering in English. But they are also important concepts that a new fan of wuxia will see again and again when discussing it or reading other translations. By translating these terms they become part of the familiar as they are now English terms, and they also give the reader some cultural flavor which the reader would not get with "jianghu" or "wulin" because these are still foreign words. But they are also staples of the genre, like samurai, terms that could easily become part of the English lexicon. So which do you prefer?

    3. Terms of address -- Dage/Da Ge or Big Brother or Brother? -- Biaomei or cousin? -- shimei or martiial sister?

    This is a heavy question to because it would be nice to retain as much of the Chinese flavor as you can, but English doesn't differentiate much between hierarchy. You can say maternal grandfather, or paternal older uncle, but it starts to get wordy. Just not translating and leaving it as shimei, for example, instead of martial sister (or more accurately, little martial sister) is an option, but then you are just leaving it as a foreign word. Too many foreign words can be confusing, and well, you're not translating. Keeping foreign words breaks the "dream" that this is all in the original language. That is, the characters are speaking Chinese, it's just rendered in English for the reader's benefit. So then if you break that by retaining a foreign word, it's inconsistent.

    But on the other hand, saying Martial Sister every time is a mouthful. And it can get much more complicated than that depending on the title being used. Currently I tend to use, for example, martial sister the first time it occurs so that the reader knows the characters are not really sisters, and then just Sister every time afterward, or maybe Big Sister of Little Sister.

    4. Is Big Sister better or worse than just Sister? Since we don't emphasize hierarchy in English, it seems fine to just say Sister, but retaining the Big or Little retains the Chineseness of it, because after all, Chinese place a lot of importance on one's place in a family unit, and it's good whenever you can retain as much of the feeling of the original as possible,, especially with languages as different as English and Chinese where compromises have to be made constantly.

    So what do you all think about these issues? I don't just want translators' perspectives, but all readers' perspectives.
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    Can't really say about the rest but regarding 3. For example saying Big brother is more appropriate as it's hard for completely new fans to get Da Ge if they don't have any background knowledge on Chinese in general. I believe that as long as you leave a footnote whenever a well known phrase is introduced for the first time it should work regardless if you decide to use Da Ge / Big Brother.


    #Edit.

    Regarding the Martial Sister, I think it's a mouthful as well but for the sake of more accuracy on the translation and without making the readers confused you should bear with it tbh my 5c.

    Khaiine
    Last edited by Khaiine; 01-01-15 at 01:28 PM.

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    Point 1... Its better to keep call it JIANGHU,...

    Point 2... also better keep it at WULIN coz that's how we know the different beetwen other NOvel

    Point 3... For me it's better to call it DaGe? ShiMEi.. coz that's the way it's work in the world of Jianghu and also that's the appeal of WUxia Novel ( Also Work for point 4 )


    Thanks for try to translate another Novel.. We will be waiting...

    HAPPY NEW YEAR Guys....

  4. #4
    Moderator Ren Wo Xing's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by whiteskwirl View Post
    I'm working on the official translation of Peerless Sword by Qin Hong, and I would like everyone's input on how to translate certain things. My goal with this novel translation is to bring in new fans to wuxia, so people who don't know what it is already, unlike everyone here. So keep that in mind when responding.

    1. jianghu or rivers and lakes -- Do you prefer to have this translated or kept as "jianghu"?

    2. wulin or the martial grove/martial fraternity -- wulin and jianghu are both major decisions because they are important concepts for wuxia, but leave it as it is or translate it? Right now I translate them because they are 1-to-1 translations, that is, they are direction translations and therefore are perfect for rendering in English. But they are also important concepts that a new fan of wuxia will see again and again when discussing it or reading other translations. By translating these terms they become part of the familiar as they are now English terms, and they also give the reader some cultural flavor which the reader would not get with "jianghu" or "wulin" because these are still foreign words. But they are also staples of the genre, like samurai, terms that could easily become part of the English lexicon. So which do you prefer?

    3. Terms of address -- Dage/Da Ge or Big Brother or Brother? -- Biaomei or cousin? -- shimei or martiial sister?

    This is a heavy question to because it would be nice to retain as much of the Chinese flavor as you can, but English doesn't differentiate much between hierarchy. You can say maternal grandfather, or paternal older uncle, but it starts to get wordy. Just not translating and leaving it as shimei, for example, instead of martial sister (or more accurately, little martial sister) is an option, but then you are just leaving it as a foreign word. Too many foreign words can be confusing, and well, you're not translating. Keeping foreign words breaks the "dream" that this is all in the original language. That is, the characters are speaking Chinese, it's just rendered in English for the reader's benefit. So then if you break that by retaining a foreign word, it's inconsistent.

    But on the other hand, saying Martial Sister every time is a mouthful. And it can get much more complicated than that depending on the title being used. Currently I tend to use, for example, martial sister the first time it occurs so that the reader knows the characters are not really sisters, and then just Sister every time afterward, or maybe Big Sister of Little Sister.

    4. Is Big Sister better or worse than just Sister? Since we don't emphasize hierarchy in English, it seems fine to just say Sister, but retaining the Big or Little retains the Chineseness of it, because after all, Chinese place a lot of importance on one's place in a family unit, and it's good whenever you can retain as much of the feeling of the original as possible,, especially with languages as different as English and Chinese where compromises have to be made constantly.

    So what do you all think about these issues? I don't just want translators' perspectives, but all readers' perspectives.
    Ah, the age old question of prioritizing a) getting the words right, b) getting the meaning right, and c) getting the flavor right. Ask ten translators and you will get ten responses. Given that this is going to be a published translation, the pressure on you is higher than on us. Don't envy you that part.

    1) and 2) - I generally just use the phrase 'martial world', for a simple reason - Personally speaking, aside from names and places, I never, ever use Chinese pinyin in my translation, precisely for the reasons you put in #3; it is confusing and it breaks the immersion. When readers are reading a novel, they don't want to be doing mental athletics and trying to remember obscure (to them) words.

    Yes, 'samurai' has entered the popular lexicon, but that's in large part due to Hollywood, and also in large part because 'samurai' is a profession; I would argue that concepts find it much more difficult to enter the popular lexicon because they entail too much. That's why everyone knows what 'samurai' is, but far fewer people know what 'bushido' (the samurai code) is. When translating a novel, to me the top priority is ease of reading, rather than a crusade to familiarize/propagate. Toss out jianghu/wulin.

    3-4) Here again, I vote to toss out Da Ge/Biao Mei/etc. for the same reasons above. At the same time, I will generally put in the full title when relevant, such as 'elder martial uncle', 'second apprentice brother', although I tend not to make distinctions on the 'biao' vs 'tang' relations and just leave the phrase as 'cousin', since that rarely ends up being important (and if it is, I can explain the importance in additional text if needed). While it is a mouthful to use the full titles, I view it as critically important, because as you noted, the hierarchy plays such an important role in Chinese culture, even if it doesn't in English. This is a case where the flavor/meaning, to me, cannot be abandoned for the purposes of a more flowing text, as abandoning it abandons too much of the culture.

    Hope this helps you in making up your mind. Either way, there's no right or wrong way. Just allow me to say, I really hope your decision is not to go all John Minford on us and translate everything bizarro-like, such as turning Wei Xiaobao into 'Trinket Wei', Xuanzi into 'Misty', and translating '他妈的' as 'tamardy' (if you are going to make up new words, why not just use pinyin? ugh).
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  5. #5
    Senior Member whiteskwirl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ren Wo Xing View Post
    Ah, the age old question of prioritizing a) getting the words right, b) getting the meaning right, and c) getting the flavor right. Ask ten translators and you will get ten responses. Given that this is going to be a published translation, the pressure on you is higher than on us. Don't envy you that part.

    1) and 2) - I generally just use the phrase 'martial world', for a simple reason - Personally speaking, aside from names and places, I never, ever use Chinese pinyin in my translation, precisely for the reasons you put in #3; it is confusing and it breaks the immersion. When readers are reading a novel, they don't want to be doing mental athletics and trying to remember obscure (to them) words.

    Yes, 'samurai' has entered the popular lexicon, but that's in large part due to Hollywood, and also in large part because 'samurai' is a profession; I would argue that concepts find it much more difficult to enter the popular lexicon because they entail too much. That's why everyone knows what 'samurai' is, but far fewer people know what 'bushido' (the samurai code) is. When translating a novel, to me the top priority is ease of reading, rather than a crusade to familiarize/propagate. Toss out jianghu/wulin.
    Your comments on samurai made me remember another thorny problem: xia. I think xia is a unique concept like samurai and therefore should be pushed to enter the English lexicon as well, so I like to leave this untranslated, but that too poses some problems, such as when a character is addressed as Da Xia (大俠). How to translate that? Usually I go with Great Hero or just Hero, though neither of those are good enough. But I don't know how else to put it. Any thoughts on that?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ren Wo Xing View Post
    3-4) Here again, I vote to toss out Da Ge/Biao Mei/etc. for the same reasons above. At the same time, I will generally put in the full title when relevant, such as 'elder martial uncle', 'second apprentice brother', although I tend not to make distinctions on the 'biao' vs 'tang' relations and just leave the phrase as 'cousin', since that rarely ends up being important (and if it is, I can explain the importance in additional text if needed). While it is a mouthful to use the full titles, I view it as critically important, because as you noted, the hierarchy plays such an important role in Chinese culture, even if it doesn't in English. This is a case where the flavor/meaning, to me, cannot be abandoned for the purposes of a more flowing text, as abandoning it abandons too much of the culture.
    So if there is a big chunk of dialogue, two characters talking back and forth, you would go with something like:

    Second Apprentice Brother Teng said, "........."
    Elder Martial Uncle said, "Second Apprentice Brother Teng, ......."

    Because in Chinese that exchange is very quick as each of those English words takes up only one syllable in Chinese, but it's so wordy in English. But at the same time I agree with you about wanting to retain as much of the Chineseness as possible. That's why I don't really like David Hawkes' translation of 紅樓夢, because by using the British idiom he took a Chinese novel, the Chinese novel, and made it into a Victorian English novel. My feeling is, why bother translating something if you are going to strip out everything about it that makes it different from what you're used to? A Chinese novel should have a bit of the unfamiliar about it for a Western reader.

    I don't envy myself these decisions either. At least here, the translator is free to go with whatever he likes since he knows the readers here are already familiar with the genre. But how to introduce a new genre (and I would say wuxia is unique to anything we have in English, sharing tropes of fantasy as well as the American western genre while still being quite different to both) to people? Translating is all about compromises. I can only guess at the issues you come up with with your project, which if I'm not mistaken is a Chinese "Western" fantasy, is that right? That must raise its own issues.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ren Wo Xing View Post
    Hope this helps you in making up your mind. Either way, there's no right or wrong way. Just allow me to say, I really hope your decision is not to go all John Minford on us and translate everything bizarro-like, such as turning Wei Xiaobao into 'Trinket Wei', Xuanzi into 'Misty', and translating '他妈的' as 'tamardy' (if you are going to make up new words, why not just use pinyin? ugh).
    Man, don't get me started on John Minford. I think "Trinket" is perhaps the worst translating decision ever made. Takes the irony right out of Wei Xiaobao's name and beats the reader over the head with it. Look, this guy's a scoundrel. Yeah, we get it, don't have to make it so obvious. Also Olivia Mok's translation of names in Fox Volant. Ugh. Names just don't work that way. For example, in a novel of my own I am planning, I have a character named 曾冰梅, but I would never call her Ice Plum. You just don't think of people's names like that, except maybe the first time they introduce themselves, because you ask which characters they use. After that, the image of Ice Plum just doesn't occur to you, just like seeing the name Stephen King doesn't automatically make you think of kings, of Smith makes you think of a blacksmith.

    Anyway, I absolutely hate John Minford's work, and suspect he only found some work by marrying David Hawkes' daughter. But then people love David Hawkes' work, so I guess it's true what they say: there's no accounting for taste. Also I hate those chapter headings he uses in Deer and the Cauldron, and I suspect it was his editorial hand that did that to Earnshaw's Book and Sword chapter headings. Speaking of those works, I am also not going to abridge Peerless Sword. I hate abridgments, just don't translate it at all if you're going to do that.

    Anyway, thanks for your response, and I welcome everyone else to give me your opinions as well. I need all the input I can get.
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  6. #6
    Moderator Ren Wo Xing's Avatar
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    I usually translate both 'xia' and 'da xia' as 'hero', because it's the closest one word concept that is used as a title in English, IMHO.

    Actually, let me put a caveat; while I keep full titles when people are talking to each other in dialogue, I drop them when they are being used to reference a person. So for example, instead of Elder Martial Uncle Mo Da said, "Second Apprentice Brother Teng," I would use Mo Da said, "Second Apprentice Brother Teng". I drop the title in the former case because IMHO it doesn't play a major role in establishing who the speaker is (which the point of _____ said), but keep it in the second because it is relevant to the relationship between the speaker and the target.

    Another fun example of translation (not related to titles) and the problem we're talking about; in Coiling Dragon right now, there's a line where the dialogue is, '你怎么在这喝闷酒呢?' IE, 'Why are you here drinking 闷酒?' Now 闷 obviously means stuffy/depressed, and 酒 means wine, but 'depressed wine' would just be a stupidly terrible translation. To drink 闷酒 refers to drinking alcohol, usually by one's self, in order to drown one's sorrow. But what's the best way to convey that without going into grammatical contortions that make the text sound stupid? I considered using the phrase 'Why are you here drowning in your sorrows?' but that sounded too serious/preachy. So what did I go with?

    "Why are you here drinking wine all by your lonesome?"

    While it doesn't have the specific 闷 quality of drinking 闷酒, it does convey the feeling of a person drinking alone and not very happily. Yes, a little something is lost...but readability is maintained, along with the general gist and flavor.

    Yes, translating a Chinese 'Western' fantasy has its own challenges. But that's for another day
    Last edited by Ren Wo Xing; 01-01-15 at 11:46 PM.
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  7. #7
    Senior Member whiteskwirl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ren Wo Xing View Post

    Another fun example of translation (not related to titles) and the problem we're talking about; in Coiling Dragon right now, there's a line where the dialogue is, '你怎么在这喝闷酒呢?' IE, 'Why are you here drinking 闷酒?' Now 闷 obviously means stuffy/depressed, and 酒 means wine, but 'depressed wine' would just be a stupidly terrible translation. To drink 闷酒 refers to drinking alcohol, usually by one's self, in order to drown one's sorrow. But what's the best way to convey that without going into grammatical contortions that make the text sound stupid? I considered using the phrase 'Why are you here drowning in your sorrows?' but that sounded too serious/preachy. So what did I go with?

    "Why are you here drinking all by your lonesome?"

    While it doesn't have the specific 闷 quality of drinking 闷酒, it does convey the feeling of a person drinking alone and not very happily. Yes, a little something is lost...but readability is maintained, along with the general gist and flavor.
    I do this kind of thing too. It's unavoidable at times. For that specific example you could also use "drowning your sorrows".

    Another thing difficult to translate are the nicknames Xia always have. Or the names of martial arts moves.
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    Senior Member deathblade's Avatar
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    My opinion is ... ditto to Ren Wo Xing! Agree with him on all points.
    My translations:

    1) 7 Killers by Gu Long. Complete.
    2) Heroes Shed No Tears by Gu Long. Complete.
    3) Kung Fu by Giddens Ko. Work in Progress

  9. #9
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    Personally, I think getting the meaning right is the highest priority of a translation.

    In general:

    1. Words that represent a concept should not be translated, unless if the target language has words for the same concept. I think jianghu is a concept and should not be translated.

    2. Names, countries, cities and places should not be translated, unless if the target language already has a word for it.

    3. Term of address should be translated wherever possible. But for Da Ge, Biaomei, shimei, etc I preferred not to be translated, because I think it's simpler and easier. Other than that 'Biaomei' itself in Chinese is not simply meant cousin, but it also carry with it the parents' information. It's a translation from another culture and another language anyway so a little bit of the original language wouldn't hurt. Now, the interesting part about terms of address (in Chinese culture or most asian culture) is how parents address each other in front of their small children, example Qin Yu's sister in laws address him as 3rd uncle in front of their children.

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