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Readability in Translated Texts

A common error that many Chinese translators make is to stick to the original text too tight, without much consideration of the readability of the target text. When it comes to special terms or jargons, it is necessary for the Chinese translator to provide enough pertinent background information to assist the reader’s comprehension. For instance, the second column is our revised translation.

English Source Text Simplified Chinese Translation Simplified Chinese Translation (Revised)
The Pittsburgh Regional Investment Center is a program of Idea Foundry, Inc., a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) funded by local foundations and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that provides hands-on technology transfer and commercialization assistance to startups, research institutions, and large corporations. 匹兹堡区域投资中心是匹兹堡高科技开发投资公司Idea Foundry的一个计划。匹兹堡高科技开发投资公司是匹兹堡一家由基金会和宾州政府支持的非盈利机构。他们为创业企业,科研机构和大型企业提供技术转让和产品商业化服务。 匹兹堡区域投资中心 (The Pittsburgh Regional Investment Center) 为创意工场 (Idea Foundry) 旗下公司。创意工场是一家非盈利机构,由匹兹堡当地基金会和宾州政府依照美国税法501(c)(3) 条款扶持创立。本司致力于为新创业公司、研究机构以及大型企业在技术转移和商品化过程中提供手把手式的协助和服务。

Quality, Human English-Chinese Translations

It is probably a truism to say that the best quality of English to Chinese translations that electronic devices could provide is still far from the quality of professional human English to Chinese translators. However, companies like to use phrases such as “superior translation and accurate communication” or “flawless” in their advertisement. A simple way to find out about their quality, as many have suggested, is to feed a sentence to any such devices, and let it translate just across a few languages that they claims to be capable of, and let it translate it back to the original language, and you’ll see the difference.

Metaphors in English to Chinese Translation

In capturing the surprisingly fast emergence of something, Chinese and English languages possess different metaphors based on their respective culture. In Chinese, it could be expressed in “如雨后春笋般涌现” (emerge as bamboo shoots after rain in spring), while in English, the metaphor lies in the spring jumping up at a fast speed. Thus, in English to Chinese translation, the sentence “Numerous new projects have been springing up in Beijing.” Could be translated into “很多项目如雨后春笋般涌现于北京”. Understanding the differential metaphorical extensions between the two languages, English to Chinese translators could improve the quality of their Chinese translations, and also move on to another level of appreciating the differences between these two languages and cultures. A little treat for us, isn’t it?

English to Chinese Translator: HE Xilin

English to Chinese Translator: HE XilinAs the first official English to Chinese translator employed by the Communist Party of China (CPC) to translate Marxist writings, HE Xilin (together with his team’s Chinese translators) have translated the writings by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and volumes of The Selected Works of Lenin into Chinese. Their translation work have been well received by CPC leaders, including Chair Mao, who praised their translation that “every word is useful. As you know, we are all blind”.

HE’s responsibilities also included compiling US newspaper reports into a brochure for Party leaders. Back then, there’s no computer, no Internet, no Trados, no Google Translate, no nothing. He said the biggest challenge for the Chinese translators back then was a lack of dictionaries and reference books in Yan’an. There was only one dictionary between the 10 of them, and the college had only limited reserves of books. But still, these Chinese translators have played a significant role for the Party’s communication to the outside world.

HE later moved to the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau (CCTB) in Beijing at the age of 63 and retired nine years later, and he is now 96 years old.

Translational Chinese: The pursuit of a third-code

Translational Chinese, or any other language used as target language in translation, is different from the source language as well as the target language. This special variety has been termed “the third code” by Frawley (1984). In corpus-based a study examining the lexical and syntactic features of translational Chinese, Xiao and Dai (2011) reveals that in comparison to native Chinese, translational Chinese have a lower lexical density, makes more frequent use of conjunctions, and the use of passives is affected by source language, and in their case, English.

Chinese to English Translator: Yang Yixian

YANG Xianyi (1915-2009) was a titan in classic Chinese to English translation. Yang studied at Oxford and has met his wife Gladys Taylor, with whom he later translated numerous classic works of Chinese literature. Their translations included Selected Works of Lu Xun (鲁迅选集) and a complete English version of A Dream of Red Mansions (红楼梦), which the two began in the early sixties and finished in the following decade after a spell in prison during the Cultural Revolution. Yang published his autobiography in English as White Tiger.

As a well-known Chinese to English translator, Yang favors the idea that everything can be translated. For example, he believes that issues such as homophones, allusions, and metaphors in classic Chinese could be solved, and counterparts could be found in English. For Yang, those that could be translated were translated, and for the others, footnote was added. He cautions that, however, the ones that were solvable were in fact in the minority.

Chinese to English translator: Slip Carefully?

Chinese to English translator: Slip Carefully?This post continues our analysis on the Chinese to English translation of sign posts. The case in point today is “Slip Carefully”, as can be seen on this Chinese-English bilingual sign post.

I don’t know what’s your first reaction when you see it. I just can’t stop laughing. How could one “slip carefully”? It just doesn’t make any sense. But as Chinese to English translator myself, I can see that the translator is trying to do the job word by word, because “小心” can be translated as “carefully”, while “滑倒” can be converted to “slip”. But the real meaning of the four Chinese characters are actually “小心,不要滑倒”, or “Be careful, don’t slip over”. The translator has missed the implied negation and thus produced something that semantically contradicting.

A more appropriate and idiomatic expression can be “Wet floor!”, which describes the condition of the floor, rather than explaining all the possible consequences. Once again, the understanding of context is of great importance for English to Chinese translator in doing translation work. In addition, I think the sign post can be enhanced by adding some graphic illustrations, such as a person is slipping or falling down.

Tip for English to Chinese translator: Translating Metaphorically

One difficult challenge that many English to Chinese translators encounter is the translation of words that are used not exactly literally, but rather metonymically or metaphorically. Such creative use of language, perhaps not surprisingly, is often not indexed or documented in most English to Chinese dictionaries. Let’s take a look at the following example:

  • It is all very well, again, to have a tiger in the tank, but to have one in the driver’s seat is another matter altogether.
  • 当然油箱里装满优质汽油倒是好事,但是驾驶室里要是坐着横冲直撞的司机就完全是另一回事了。

In the above example, “tiger” was translated very differently from its literal or dictionary meaning of “老虎” in Simplified Chinese. The first instance of “tiger” refers to “premium gasoline” while the latter implies “reckless driver”, both of which don’t mean the carnivorous animal, but certain (interestingly, both desirable and undesirable) quality or character of tiger. Thus, good English to Chinese translation of such sentences need the translator to carefully assess not only its literal meaning but more importantly, its metaphorical extensions, by examining the context meticulously.

In the above example, the two instances of “tiger” are used very creatively, and represents semantic mappings across domains. Such creative use of language is ubiquitous, and poses a huge challenge to translators. However, quality translation of this kind can only be achieved by human translators. Machine translations, such as Google Translate or Microsoft Translator, rely on statistical data mining, and in term always relied on (quality) human existing translation, and obviously lack creativity and can’t handle situations that goes beyond searching and matching.

Translating English verbs as Chinese nouns

Tips for English to Chinese translator: Convert Verbs to NounsAs translators, we frequently encounter the selection of words, especially words in certain grammatical categories when translate one language into another. Such selection can be difficult, when its equivalent do not offer much choice in the target language. For example, many English verbs are derived from their respective nouns. The verb “characterize” is derived from “character”. It’s easy to translate “character”, but not so easy to translate “characterize” (please let me know if you have a good translation for it). We illustrate this with the following English to Chinese translation sample:

Formality has always characterized their relationship.
他们之间的关系,有一个特点,就是以礼相待。

As you see, here the verb “characterized” is translated as its noun form “character”, or “特点” in Chinese.  This make makes the translated sentence much more readable, and natural.  Fellow English to Chinese translator, I hope you’ll find this tip useful. Please don’t hesitate to share yours.