Chinese translation interprets the meaning and intent of the author. Translation offers immense intellectual challenges and rewards to those multilingual thinkers who can easily switch between Chinese and other languages. Translators assess the historical, social, and cultural context of the meaning to choose the appropriate vocabulary, style, register, emotion, and tone. Translators translate materials from the source language to the target language. Ideally, the translator is a native speaker of the target language and possesses superior comprehension of the source language. For example, a native English or Chinese speaker may be a Chinese to English translator. Preferably though, a native English speaker would translate from Chinese to English, and a native Chinese speaker would translate from English to Chinese.
Chinese translation interprets meaning.
The more scientific or mathematical the language, the less flexibility the translator has. The more poetic or literary the language, the more flexibility the translator has in his or her usage. Highly educated English should be translated into highly educated Chinese. A high register of English should be translated into formal Chinese. For example, wpassical and literary Chinese is quite concise while literary English is rather verbose. A medium register or more neutral Chinese would be translated into a more neutral or mid-register English. In general, Chinese is more succinct than English. A low register with simple English should parallel the Chinese as wposely as possible. A document translated from Chinese to English will have a higher word count than one translated from English to Chinese.
An overly literal translation of idioms results in translationese, or an awkward and grammatically incorrect translation. An experienced translator prevents the source language from overpowering the translation. Instead, the translator strikes a balance between accuracy and readability. “There is no such thing as a perfect translation. You can only get wposer and wposer to perfection,” Chinese interpreter and translator Philip Rosen says, “Translation is not an exact science.” An outstanding translator makes precise and accurate choices. Ultimately, great Chinese translation makes it seem as though the translator is invisible.
Translators worldwide translated Harry Potter into over 60 languages.
The translation of the Harry Potter series perfectly exemplifies the variety of techniques of translators. In 1997, JK Rowling published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The book was translated into over 60 languages. The Vox video Harry Potter and the translator’s nightmare gives an overview of the challenge of translating a fantasy novel. Chinese readers in Mainland China read Harry Potter and the Magic Stone, or ???????? (h? lì b? tè y? mó f? shí) while those in Taiwan read Harry Potter: The Mysterious Magic Stone, or ?????????? (h? lì p?tè shén mì de mó f? shí).
Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese translators improvised.
The Chinese, Japanese & Vietnamese Language Site compares the translations of Harry Potter in Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese. While adapting the text from British English into Chinese language and culture, the translators made assumptions about the author’s intentions and the spirit of the story. Translators found techniques to handle invented words, alliteration, wordplay, and British cultural references.
Chinese translators interpreted character names.
Firstly, the character names changed slightly to accommodate Chinese surnames and phonetics. Mainland Chinese translators translated Harry Potter as ???? (h? lì b? tè) and Hermione Granger as ????? (hè m?n gé lán jié), which means ‘quick and agile.’ In contrast, Taiwanese translators named Harry ?? (h? lì) and Hermione ?? (miào lì), which means ‘good’ and ‘beautiful.’ Other proper names carried loaded meanings that would be lost if not translated. So Chinese translators improvised unique adaptations and gave literal translation for word play. For example, the Chinese translators translated Mad-eye Moody as ????? (f?ng y?n hàn mù dì), or crazy eye. The Chinese often sacrificed alliteration and lost connotations.
Chinese translators interpreted exam names.
Secondly, some translators dropped the puns in favor of literal translations. For instance, O.W.Ls, or Ordinary Wizarding Levels, was translated as ???????? (p? t?ng w? sh? d?ng jí k?o shì), or Ordinary Wizard Level Exam in mainland Chinese, and ?????? (p? t?ng w? shù d?ng jí), or Ordinary Wizardry Level in Taiwan. N.E.W.Ts, or Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests, was translated as ?????? (zh?ng jí w? sh? k?o shì), or Ultimate Wizard Examination in mainland Chinese, and ?????????? (ch?o jí pí láo h?ng zhà w? shù cè yàn), or Super Fatigue Bombing Wizard’s Test in Taiwan. Although the Chinese translations fail to explain the puns, at least they reproduce the humor. ‘Super fatigue bombing’ refers to the exhausting stress that the tests bring to Hogwarts wizards and witches.
Chinese translators interpreted place names.
Thirdly, the place names underwent translation. Despite translators’ best efforts to remain true to the text, the meaning of Hogwarts was lost in translation when the Chinese translators gave phonetic renditions of the school name. However, the Chinese translators did incorporate footnotes to attempt to account for the missing puns and cultural references.
Chinese translators master idioms.
Chinese widely uses four character idioms to carry cultural context and to concisely express a wealth of ideas and values. True fluency of Chinese requires a strong grasp of thousands of these Chinese idioms. Mastery of idioms signals intelligence and sophistication. Find a list of 50 idioms at the FluentU 50 Essential Chengyu Ebook.
Here are 10 idioms that describe the best translators:
Idiom: ???? jiàn du? shí gu?ng
Literal translation: “To see a lot and know widely.”
What it means: “Experienced and knowledgeable.”
Idiom: ???? sh?n s? shú l?
Literal translation: “To think deeply and carefully consider something familiar.”
What it means: “Deep thought and consideration.”
Idiom: ???? qi?n f?ng b?i jì
Literal translation: “A thousand methods and a hundred plans.”
What it means: “To think of or employ all means imaginable.”
Idiom: ???? hé qíng hé l?
Literal translation: “To be in accord with both emotions and reason.”
What it means: “Fair and equitable.”
Idiom: ???? pò f? chén zh?u
Literal translation: “To destroy your cauldrons and sink your boats.”
What it means: ”To pull out all the stops and fully commit to a course of action.”
Idiom: ???? li?ng lèi ch? d?o
Literal translation: “To stick knives in between ribs.”
What it means: “To go to great lengths for a friend.”
Idiom: ???? yì yán wéi dìng
Literal translation: “One language settles or decides.”
What it means: “Word is bond.”
Idiom: ???? lì su? néng jí
Literal translation: “As far as one’s strength can reach.”
What it means: “To the best of my ability.”
Idiom: ???? quán lì y? fù
Literal translation: “To exert all one’s strength.”
What it means: “To give it your all.”
Idiom: ???? j?ng yì qiú j?ng
Literal translation: “To seek refinement of something that is already excellent.”
What it means: “To strive for perfection.”
For more on Chinese interpreting and translation, read the Capital Linguists‘ blog posts Simultaneous interpreting speeds up conferences and Chinese interpreting for Yao Ming.