Short story translation

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xiamenese
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Fri Aug 22, 2014 4:23 pm Post

OK, I’m not really a writer, but the results of the translation competition have come out and Shirley and I didn’t win a prize. I didn’t expect to because of the general attitude to British English over there, but it turns out that the first prize winner is British, and so is one of the second prize winners. I know the latter, not well, but met him many times as he was based in Xiamen and worked at the university for a while, so I give him my congratulations and hope to read his offering sometime.

In the meantime, here is a link to the PDF of our translation if you’re interested to read it.

https://www.cubbyusercontent.com/pli/Po ... 6a2f905547

Comments gratefully received … (puts on flak jacket) :D

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Sun Aug 24, 2014 3:15 pm Post

xiamenese wrote:(puts on flak jacket) :D
When I first read your post, t'other day, I had intended to point out that a flak jacket, was no defense against an Exocet missile. However, having just read the translation by you and Liang Li’e, of The Love of Potatoes by Chi Zijian, strangely, my usually well stocked arsenal of Exocets seems mysteriously depleted.

I'm in no way qualified to comment on other folks' use of English, never mind somebody's translation from Chinese to Brit English. But! What I can say, is that, from the enchanting and engagingly beautiful opening paragraphs, time stopped... Until, 8600+ words later, spoiler alert--->'Li Aijie looked at the potato tenderly and rebuked it gently, “So you still want to tag along with me, eh?”'
As a kid, I used to imagine myself sitting on the moon, looking down on the smoky, soot corroded cityscape, of my own 1950s Manchester neighborhood. So your opening translation does have a certain resonance, for me, at least.

Even more to the point, in terms of resonance, at the beginning of the year, I too, for over a period of more than a month, was awaiting the results of numerous internal endoscopic investigations, and even more numerous biopsies, all of which, from the very first up to the last, were benign. However, only after the removal of the tumor and a substantial amount of bowel with it, could a definitive benign biopsy result be given. So, having seen and felt the reaction of my wife and daughters, to the initial tumor discovery, and the eventual, 'All Clear', as well as my own reactions, The Love of Potatoes pretty accurately evokes the emotions and responses experienced by those in that situation.

So, if I, am, any judge of your work, I have to say it's pretty accurateImage so top marks, Mark, 10 outta 10

Take care
Vic
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Mon Aug 25, 2014 9:34 am Post

Thanks Vic,

I was beginning to think that maybe no one would be interested; I mean translation of a Chinese short story I thought must be a pretty minority interest.

Obviously, if anyone does read it and has comments on the language — having just heard Stephen Fry on “Plain English” on Radio 4 — I’d be interested. But what interests me is the permanent translational dilemma of closeness to the original versus readability; do you try to retain the ‘flavour’ of the original by staying close to the linguistic structure of the source text at the expense of natural structure in the target structure, or do you write in natural — to you!!! — structure in the target language at the expense of closeness to the form of the original.

As the aim of this competition was to encourage interest in modern Chinese literature in other parts of the world — the competition included English, French, Spanish, German, Russian and Arabic sections — we took the line of making our translation naturally readable in English to make it more easily readable. Rather than, so to speak, shouting “Here’s a Chinese story that we hope you’ll enjoy”, we wanted to say, “Here’s a story that we hope you enjoy; actually it’s originally a Chinese story”. So, Vic, your response is very encouraging. By your comments, you enjoyed it and you didn’t find it difficult to read. I’d hope it’d encourage you to read others. As for the story itself, we can claim no responsibility for it, other than the fact that Shirley chose it out of a selection of 10 as the one she felt she liked best and would be most comfortable translating.

For the rest, I wonder if those who won took the route of retaining the Chinese-ness at the expense of the English. Perhaps I should re-read Robert van Gulik’s “Judge Dee” stories and analyse the language to see how he did it.

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Mon Aug 25, 2014 9:36 am Post

Thanks Vic,

I was beginning to think that maybe no one would be interested; I mean translation of a Chinese short story I thought must be a pretty minority interest.

Obviously, if anyone does read it and has comments on the language — having just heard Stephen Fry on “Plain English” on Radio 4 — I’d be interested. But what interests me is the permanent translational dilemma of closeness to the original versus readability; do you try to retain the ‘flavour’ of the original by staying close to the linguistic structure of the source text at the expense of natural structure in the target structure, or do you write in natural — to you!!! — structure in the target language at the expense of closeness to the form of the original.

As the aim of this competition was to encourage interest in modern Chinese literature in other parts of the world — the competition included English, French, Spanish, German, Russian and Arabic sections — we took the line of making our translation naturally readable in English to make it more easily readable. Rather than, so to speak, shouting “Here’s a Chinese story that we hope you’ll enjoy”, we wanted to say, “Here’s a story that we hope you enjoy; actually it’s originally a Chinese story”. So, Vic, your response is very encouraging. By your comments, you enjoyed it and you didn’t find it difficult to read. I’d hope it’d encourage you to read others. As for the story itself, we can claim no responsibility for it, other than the fact that Shirley chose it out of a selection of 10 as the one she felt she liked best and would be most comfortable translating.

For the rest, I wonder if those who won took the route of retaining the Chinese-ness at the expense of the English. Perhaps I should re-read Robert van Gulik’s “Judge Dee” stories and analyse the language to see how he did it.

Mark
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Mon Aug 25, 2014 10:07 am Post

問候,給你令人尊敬的馬克先生,
問候,給你令人尊敬的馬克先生,
I have a few thoughts apropos the points you've raised, but I'm on my way out t' shops for some nosh, so I'll compose my response, on the hoof, as I battle my way to the Co-Op Trading post, and post a suitable reply, 'pon my return.
Take care
Vic
I have a few thoughts apropos the points you've raised, but I'm on my way out t' shops for some nosh, so I'll compose my response, on the hoof, as I battle my way to the Co-Op Trading post, and post a suitable reply, 'pon my return.
Take care
Vic
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Mon Aug 25, 2014 10:26 am Post

vic-k wrote:
I'm in no way qualified to comment on other folks' use of English, never mind somebody's translation from Chinese to Brit English.


Nor I. All I can say is that I too enjoyed the story, and its expression.
'Listen, some quiet night, when you've shirked your work that day. Do you hear
that distant, almost inaudible clicking sound? That's one of your
competitors, working away in the night in
Paris or London or Erie, PA.'

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Mon Aug 25, 2014 10:55 am Post

Hugh wrote:
vic-k wrote:
I'm in no way qualified to comment on other folks' use of English, never mind somebody's translation from Chinese to Brit English.


Nor I. All I can say is that I too enjoyed the story, and its expression.

Thank you, Hugh. I hope that Shirley and I will be able to do some more translations together, with a possible view of publishing our own edition. That you too enjoyed it is very encouraging.

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Mon Aug 25, 2014 3:16 pm Post

Confucius says: “Every question begs an answer...Every answer begets more questions, that beg more answers... Ad feckin infinitum, pal!”

That would account for the proliferation of questions and ponderings, your posts are generating (almost exponentially), that are ricocheting around my empty cranium
xiamenese wrote:Perhaps I should re-read Robert van Gulik’s “Judge Dee”

Something to bear in mind, regarding :roll:, is that (according to my Wickiing) only the Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee with its unknown author, is a Chinese to English translation.
Wicki extract from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celebrated ... _Judge_Dee

"The Dutch sinologist and diplomat Robert van Gulik came across a copy in a second-hand book store in Tokyo and translated the novel into English. He then used it as the basis to create his own original Judge Dee stories over the next 20 years. Van Gulik wrote:

"This translation is chiefly a product of the Pacific War years, 1941-1945, when constant travel on various war duties made other more complicated Sinological research impossible.
This novel Dee Goong An is offered here in a complete translation. Possibly it would have had a wider appeal if it had been entirely re-written in a form more familiar to our readers."


All his other Judge Dee novels are Eng.-> Chi. translations. The traditional reader group, who read the original CCoJD might not be at all enamored of van Gulik’s Eng->Chi translation. I have CCoJD, Poets and Murder, and The Lacquer Screen, en route from various sources.
Having read an excerpt from the opening of Poets and Murder, which apart from subject matter, reads just the same as your translation.

It will be interesting to see if the original CCoJD Chi.->Eng. reads any differently.

Must go. More questions to consider.
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Mon Aug 25, 2014 4:39 pm Post

xiamenese wrote:Obviously, if anyone does read it and has comments on the language — having just heard Stephen Fry on “Plain English” on Radio 4 — I’d be interested. But what interests me is the permanent translational dilemma of closeness to the original versus readability; do you try to retain the ‘flavour’ of the original by staying close to the linguistic structure of the source text at the expense of natural structure in the target structure, or do you write in natural — to you!!! — structure in the target language at the expense of closeness to the form of the original.


Think this depends on what the author or publisher wants. Translators should stick to zinc in, zinc out; gold in, gold out. They're not alchemists, so they shouldn't [try to] turn zinc into gold: unless they are expressly asked to do so.

Be literal, not figurative: with a literal translation the client (in theory) knows what the author wrote, and can then work on the text as they see fit. A translation is a working document; a first draft. An edited translation is a final document; ready for publication. Sometimes a translator is asked to be an editor as well. If they are asked to edit, they deserve a second/higher fee.

IMO, the opening paragraph is all over the place. "Were to look down/would see" past/second conditional for impossible situations. "Are" present, with the inference that this is no longer a second-conditional situation. "Will be" future. "Moves/fills" present. I assume you have stuck closely to the Chinese, so my issue is with the Chinese, not with your English translation. I'm just saying that FOR ME the opening paragraph is jarring in its grammar, let alone its actual language.

Unlike Vic, I didn't find the opening paragraph enchanting or engaging. I'm not a fan of unnecessary words. Loathe flowery language: poetic and schmaltzy prose. Don't want authors to paint every detail: think that is a lazy way of writing, and of trying to hide the paucity of stories themselves.

"Milky Way" feels irrelevant, though it may have resonance later in the text (which is when it should be introduced, IMO). "Month of June" is verbose, and "wide expanse" is tautological. Just 23 words in and my brain is begging my eyes to stop reading.

I assume that your English is a good/true translation, but for me, it is zinc in, zinc out. I disliked the first sentence, and knew by the end of the second line that it was not going to be a storytelling style that I could warm to. For me, the first paragraph (in Chinese) is overwritten, clumsy, and mawkish. If I was editing the opening lines (in Chinese or English), I'd strip the text right back, because most of the words are gratuitous. From:

If you were to look down on Lizhen from the Milky Way in the month of June, you would see a wide expanse of fields in bloom. Bell-like flowers hanging in tassels are tinged a surreal silver grey by the moonlight. Before you can hold your breath and listen for the sound of the wind caressing the flowers, your senses will be beguiled by an unfailing fragrance from the Earth, the Earth-born scent of potato flowers. Even in the glory of the heavens, the scent moves you to tears, which rain down onto the bell-shaped flowers. The rhythmic melody of your teardrops dancing on the petals fills your heart with happiness because you know that, in your previous life, you nurtured those flowers.


To:

Look down on Lizhen on a moonlit evening in June and you'll see little else but fields in bloom; smell little else but the scent of potato flowers; think of little else other than the time when you nurtured those plants yourself.


For me, this drops the reader straight into the text without having to wallow through self-aggrandising sentimentality. Whilst many people might disagree, I like the simple repetition of "see, smell, and think of little else" as it personalises and guides the reader's thoughts, and it brings the reader into the story. In 42 words (as opposed to 126), we site the reader as looking down on Lizhen; mould what they see, smell and think; and leave them knowing that they are either dead or returning to a place where they once worked.

There's absolutely no need for Milky Way, month, wide, expanse, bell-like, hanging, tassels, surreal, silver, grey, breath, listen, wind, caressing, unfailing, fragrance, earth, earth-born (shudder), glory, beguiled, heavens, tears, rain, bell-shaped (shudder again), rhythmic, melody, teardrops, dancing, petals, fills, heart, happiness, know, previous, life, etc.

I get the feeling that you're a good translator, but that I dislike the original text.

The comments above are really about the roles of translators and publishers. If I'd bought the rights to the story, I'd love your translation because it would allow me to know what the author had written in Chinese. But I'd then edit/rewrite the translation to make it more palatable to my tastes. Other tastes are available.

Vic, I wish you well and empathise with you. You are not alone. Definitely not.
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Mon Aug 25, 2014 6:43 pm Post

Thanks Vic,

I was beginning to think that maybe no one would be interested; I mean translation of a Chinese short story I thought must be a pretty minority interest. Beg t’ differ there, Sir. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XnWSGf ... 43&index=1
Not exactly a short story, I know. But still extremely popular. How factually “{{Chinese]]” the Chinese facet of the tale was, I wouldn’t like to guess.

However, the mundane-ish travails of everyday life, for the most part, I should imagine, differ very little, twixt the Bronx and Beijing. Things that perplex them, are probably the same things that perplex us, too, cultural differences notwithstanding. My experiences at the beginning of the year -- as a typical example -- are no different to those of people in China, in similar circumstances, I’d imagine.


Obviously, if anyone does read it and has comments on the language — having just heard Stephen Fry on “Plain English” on Radio 4 — I’d be interested. But what interests me is the permanent translational dilemma of closeness to the original versus readability; do you try to retain the ‘flavour’ of the original by staying close to the linguistic structure of the source text at the expense of natural structure in the target structure, or do you write in natural — to you!!! — structure in the target language at the expense of closeness to the form of the original.

You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”. Personally Master M, I’d adore more closeness to the original, but both structures hold out the promise of an enjoyable reading experience.

Briar Kit wrote:Vic, I wish you well and empathise with you. You are not alone. Definitely not.
Ta muchly, Briar. A cranial cavity, empty, save for reverberating and ricocheting half formed concepts, is a pretty painful predicament! :cry: Mind you, I wouldn't say you were empty-headed :?
Briar wrote:
Just 23 words in and my brain is begging my eyes to stop reading.

Y'see, Briar, that's the difference between having a cranium filled with brains as opposed to having one filled with a void. Oxymoronic, I know... but? :twisted:
Take care
Vic
PS Still dodging those ricochets! :shock:
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Tue Aug 26, 2014 11:44 am Post

I completely missed this thread (was busy marking undergraduate papers).

Have downloaded the story onto my iPad to read (hopefully) this weekend.
Will post back.
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Tue Aug 26, 2014 5:05 pm Post

vic-k wrote:All his other Judge Dee novels are Eng.-> Chi. translations. The traditional reader group, who read the original CCoJD might not be at all enamored of van Gulik’s Eng->Chi translation. I have CCoJD, Poets and Murder, and The Lacquer Screen, en route from various sources.
Having read an excerpt from the opening of Poets and Murder, which apart from subject matter, reads just the same as your translation.

It will be interesting to see if the original CCoJD Chi.->Eng. reads any differently.

Apparently, judging by the reviews: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0486233375/r ... TE_3p_dp_1
there is a difference. Therefore, Master Mark, I await with interest, the Judge's arraival.

Still dodging ricocheting Q&As.... Ouch!
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Tue Aug 26, 2014 6:13 pm Post

Briar Kit wrote:Think this depends on what the author or publisher wants. Translators should stick to zinc in, zinc out; gold in, gold out. They're not alchemists, so they shouldn't [try to] turn zinc into gold: unless they are expressly asked to do so.

Be literal, not figurative: with a literal translation the client (in theory) knows what the author wrote, and can then work on the text as they see fit.
……If I was editing the opening lines (in Chinese or English), I'd strip the text right back, because most of the words are gratuitous. From:
If you were to look down on Lizhen from the Milky Way …

To:
Look down on Lizhen on a moonlit evening in June and you'll see little else but fields in bloom; smell little else but the scent of potato flowers; think of little else other than the time when you nurtured those plants yourself.

There's absolutely no need for Milky Way, month, wide, expanse, bell-like, hanging, tassels, surreal, silver, grey, breath, listen, wind, caressing, unfailing, fragrance, earth, earth-born (shudder), glory, beguiled, heavens, tears, rain, bell-shaped (shudder again), rhythmic, melody, teardrops, dancing, petals, fills, heart, happiness, know, previous, life, etc.

I get the feeling that you're a good translator, but that I dislike the original text.

The comments above are really about the roles of translators and publishers. If I'd bought the rights to the story, I'd love your translation because it would allow me to know what the author had written in Chinese. But I'd then edit/rewrite the translation to make it more palatable to my tastes. Other tastes are available.


First of all, let me say, it is not I who am a good translator; most of the credit needs to go to Liang Li’e, Shirley, my friend and collaborator. She it was who did the "draft translation” that you refer to; my rôle was that of a kind of sub-editor, or as such persons are often referred to in China, “polisher”. Without her, I could never have produced the translation such as it is. She would probably say I underplay my contribution.

However, yes, you highlight the dilemma facing the translator or translations neatly.

"What the author or publisher wants”. In this case, the competition was set by the National Writers Union, or whatever their official title is, inviting translators to translate one out of 10 short stories by highly respected members of the Union into a range of foreign languages. The stated aim was to use it as a platform to encourage people in the rest of the world to start taking an interest in modern Chinese literature. They received some 1000 entries in total, of which about 700 were translations into English, Shirley and mine being but one.

OK, so our immediate readership was the panel of judges, I think about 8 prominent members of the Chinese literary pantheon — none of the authors of the stories were on the panel — plus one American judge. In the sense that the winning entries would be published in a volume, the panel could be said to be the editors. The authors, having presumably given permission for their work to be translated in this context, had no further involvement. So, it was down to us to work out how we could best represent the story we chose in the target language so as to please the panel of judges as constituted. Shirley and I had no contact with the author or the judges.

Zinc in zinc out; gold in gold out … but what is zinc and what is gold. You see this as zinc; the Chinese literary world, particularly those who set up the competition, see this as gold. All the debate in translation studies has been about what constitutes “fidelity to the source”, to what extent the textual/linguistic structure of the original needs to be represented as well as the semantic content of the message. For us, and I would imagine every other translator who took part, the semantic content was a sine qua non; where our translations, for example, that of the Chinese second prize winner in the English section who chose the same story, will have differed is, I’m sure, in their linguistic/textual structures.

So that first paragraph, with all those words that you find unnecessary, the author found necessary, and we therefore included them in our translation. In that sense it is literal, or as near literal as Shirley and I could get, though we did have to find a way through one or two points where an even more literal translation would have seemed ridiculous to us. All that imagery is there in the original, so it had to be there in our translation. In a real sense, your alternative paragraph is the figurative one, in that it gives a sketch of the original rather than a representation of the original which is as faithful as we could make it.

Eugene Nida, a great translator and theoretician of translation, got it right, I think, when he characterised the relationship between the translation and the source as isomorphic. Think of a statue of Henry VIII versus Holbein’s portrait of Henry VIII. Which has a closer relationship to Henry VIII? The statue, because it is three dimensional; the portrait implies three dimensions by the use of size and light. Now you may prefer the portrait to the statue, but that doesn’t change the isometric relationships. For the purposes of the competition it had to be a statue, and I think in any case, I’m a sculpture person more than a painter.

So, to me, the real crux of what you are saying is in "I dislike the original text”. As a result, your version of the story would be, to use the distinction I used in an earlier post, “Here’s a short story, hope you like it. By the way it comes from a Chinese original”; whereas our version is “Here’s a modern Chinese short story; what do you think?” Clearly, you don’t think much, and that is your good right.

As for the first sentences:
If you were to look down on Lizhen from the Milky Way in the month of June, you would see a wide expanse of fields in bloom. Bell-like flowers hanging in tassels are tinged a surreal silver grey by the moonlight. …

And the transition from unreal past to real present, that’s a difficult one and I can see how it may jar. But
“If you look down …”, making that part of current reality, just doesn’t work; and similarly, “Bell-like flowers were hanging …”, making that part of the imaginative scene, doesn’t work either. The author can do it easily in Chinese, since Chinese doesn’t have tenses, doesn’t represent unreality/reality through them, rather leaving it up to the reader/audience to infer it how they want.

So the problem of translating from Chinese into English is structural — no tenses; a Chinese sentence is a string of "minor sentences”, mostly without conjunctions or connectives, so no finite clause/non-finite clause/phrase distinctions; the key content is the last minor sentence in the string — together with a different world view, a different literary tradition, a different poetic sense, totally different figurative usages … It is a very difficult field.

So, I value your comments, but I hope you can see why we translated the way we did. And I can also understand that opinion may well be divided as to whether they will succeed in getting the public around the world interested in reading such stories as this one.

:)

Mark
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Tue Aug 26, 2014 6:21 pm Post

Vic,

Having exhaused myself trying to reply to Briar Kit Esme, I haven’t the energy to go into another long discussion, and it’s supper time anyway.

My comment about Robert van Gulik was not actually as a translator, but as the author of the English versions of the Judge Dee stories, whether he translated any of them, made them up, paraphrased them, or whatever.

The point is, when you read a Judge Dee story, you are instantly transported into mediæval China. So what is it about his writing that does this. I don’t think it’s merely all the names and “paraphernalia” which does it. Even though I haven’t re-read any for several years, it must also be in his sentence structures, that there is something about them that is Chinese, without infringing the possibilities of English grammar and textual structure.

I must read them again and see if I can work it out. :)

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Tue Aug 26, 2014 6:23 pm Post

nom wrote:I completely missed this thread (was busy marking undergraduate papers).


You have my sincerest sympathy! :)

nom wrote:Have downloaded the story onto my iPad to read (hopefully) this weekend.
Will post back.


Thank you for doing so. I look forward to reading what you have to say.

:)

Mark
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