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Chinese Translation Service Mostly Faced Problem: Different Versions, Different Reflections of Culture

Author:dongdong   Joined:2013/7/24   Clicks:2728 Secondary

    Hong Kong’s "Wenhui Daily" recently issued an article entitled, “Version of Three Places, Reflections of Three Different Cultures.” It says that the Chinese translation service of Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China have three different versions on name translation. Once one version is considered excellent and appropriate, it will be accepted by the other two places. The difference and blend is one of the phenomena of cultural integration. It is quite common to see three different versions, so it is also necessary for translators to know them, otherwise, this may be a cause for some embarrassment.

    At the 20th Hong Kong Book Fair, the locally published book, “New Sayings of the World (《世事新語》)”was well received. It tells about how Cantonese has influenced China for 30 years. Several intellectuals from Guangdong and Hong Kong expressed different opinions about the diversity of language and culture as to the usage of "企穩" in Cantonese by Chinese leaders. They pointed out that hundreds of new Cantonese words like “搞掂”、“打的”、“埋單”、“炒更”、“養眼”、“生猛”、“搞笑”、“T恤”、“歌廳”、“超市”、“入圍”, etc. were deeply influenced by the national development. Some even argued that the effects of Cantonese on China's development is also brought about by translation, for example, ‘埋單’ is changed into‘買單’and‘搞掂’is changed into‘搞定’, and so on.

    This argument reminds the author of another interesting issue, which is thus written in the article ,"Version of Three Places, Reflections of Three Different Cultures". After years of work in current affairs and cultural commentary, I am quite interested in the phenomenon of the three different versions of the Chinese translation service. I believe that knowing this phenomenon can avoid some embarrassment. In view of history, the "three versions" is not only about translation, but also pertains to culture, customs and politics. Take the political names as an example,  Margaret Thatcher is translated as 撒切爾夫人 in Mainland China,佘契爾夫人 in Taiwan and 戴卓爾夫人 in Hong Kong;Ronald Reagan is translated as 裏根 in Mainland China,裏根 in Taiwan  and 列根 in Hongkong;Bill Clinton is translated as克林頓 in Mainland China,柯林頓 in Taiwan, while both are popular in Hong Kong;George Bush is translated as布什 in Mainland China,布什 in Taiwan and 布殊 in Hong Kong;John Fitzgerald Kennedy is translated as肯尼迪 in Mainland China and Taiwan,but 甘乃地 in Hong Kong;Henry Alfred Kissinger is translated as基辛格 in Mainland China and Hong Kong,but季辛吉 in Taiwan; Lyndon Johnson is translated as約翰遜 in Mainland China,but 約翰遜or強森 in Taiwan and Hong Kong , and so on.

    There are many differences about the three versions. First, the mainland's version is translated by syllable, but Taiwan's version is based on Chinese names to translate foreign names in less than three words. By comparison, the mainland's version is too rigid sometimes. For example, they have this exaggerated snake-like lengthy version of a name -“斯坦尼斯拉夫斯基”. Maybe due to its length, it is later converted into "斯坦尼", so it is easy to remember and read. As for conciseness, it seems that the mainland can learn from Taiwan and Hong Kong.

    Second, the mainland's translation pays more attention to the difference between Chinese and foreign names. At first sight, you can determine that a person is a foreigner just like "基辛格", but the Taiwanese version, "季辛吉,"doesn’t easily distinguish the identity of the person since both Taiwan and Hong Kong versions translate foreign names with Chinese surnames. An example of this is Thatcher which is translated as 戴卓爾夫人or佘契爾夫人 in Taiwan and Hong Kong, both "戴" and "佘"are Chinese surnames, while 撒 in the mainland version 撒切爾夫人is not. The previous governors like 楊慕琦、葛量洪、柏立基、戴麟趾、麥理浩、尤德、衛奕信、彭定康, etc. all have Chinese surnames. The last governor, Christopher Francis Patten's name is translated as 彭定康 in Chinese, with the meaning of stability and good-wealth. It is appealing and shows that the Englishman knows the power of the Chinese language and how it should be done in Chinese. However, his name was firstly translated as 柏滕, which is quite confusing.

    In fact, this translation method was not created by translators from Hong Kong or Taiwan. It was a style inherited from the mainland since the new cultural movement. The foreign names in Chinese at that time mostly had surnames such as, 肖伯納、卓別林、華盛頓、林肯、杜勒斯、羅斯福、馬歇爾、史迪威、戴高樂, etc. The Left-wing Literary in the 1930s was the main force of Russian literature translators. They also translated many Russian names with Chinese surnames, such as 高爾基、戈果理、普希金、柴訶夫, etc. However, after 1949 when the PRC was founded, the mainland translation circle paid more attention to the transliteration of foreign names, which made the use of Chinese surnames for foreign names gradually become less popular. 

    "Three places with three different versions" also indicates the differences in customs, politics and culture. For example, Taiwanese translators call 奧巴馬 as "歐巴馬" for 奧 in the southern Min dialect has bad meaning. The so-called 奧步means a bad trick done behind one’s back. Another example is the previous American President,"克林頓". For Taiwan people, "克" is not a good Chinese surname, so they called him “柯林頓”, based on the phonetics of "Clinton." It is worth mentioning that the name of Hillary Clinton, the wife of Clinton, is translated as “希拉裏” by the mainland Chinese. In this way, you can't tell the gender from her Chinese name. However, translators from Taiwan and Hong Kong call her "希拉蕊" and "希拉莉" respectively. For me, "希拉蕊" is more like the name of a young girl. After all, she is more popular than her husband in the position of general-secretary, but "希拉莉" sounds more appropriate.

    Another example is Che Guevara,the idealist. Both the mainland and Taiwan use the version of 切•格瓦拉, while Hong Kong uses the version of 哲古華拉. It seems that both Hong Kong and Taiwanese translators still follow the principle of "faithfulness, smoothness and elegance" of the earlier 1900s. In the 1950s, mainland China called an African country "Mozambique" as “莫三鼻給” without elegance, but later retranslated it as  "莫桑比克" which has more elegance. Words like computer is still called as 計算機 in the mainland, but 電腦 in Taiwan and Hong Kong, which is more appropriate and has replaced the use of 計算機. Therefore, as to"faithfulness, smoothness and elegance", the mainland translators should learn more from Hong Kong and Taiwanese translators.

    The use of Chinese surnames for foreign names is also for the purpose of "elegance". But making foreign names too Chinese will make things worse. For example, Saddam Hussein is translated as “薩達姆•侯賽因” in the mainland,"沙丹•胡笙" in Taiwan, but “海珊” in Hong Kong, which sounds more like a woman’s name. As long as the version is loyal to the original foreign name, the localization method is okay. The mainland method follows the principle of transliteration and convention according to the person, which is sometimes better than that of Taiwan.  “薩達姆•侯賽因” is appropriate and accepted by Hong Kong people. Such kind of acceptance and blending is also one of the phenomena of cultural interaction.

    During the entire course of history, many Cantonese words have spread to the north like 頭啖湯、生猛、炒魷魚、入圍、濕濕碎、有料、打工,etc., while many Mandarin words also spread to the south like 變通、下海、萬元戶、下崗、股民、網民、老賴、原生態、白領、段子, etc. The three versions of the mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong Chinese translation service reflect the different cultures which interact and influence each other. 

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