Challenges in Translating Chinese Creative Literary Works
What does a writer want? If a written book is appreciated by the readers, discussed in the book clubs, and that it is translated into multi-languages. You’d be surprised to learn writers from the western side of the world find Chinese text impeccably curious. Especially the Americans, who like to read and learn Chinese are often seen trying to translate Chinese novels. Jeremy Stevenson is one of those Americans who showed a keen interest in Chinese literature. He tried translating Liu Cixin’s work “The Three Body Problem” into English. Since then, the book has sold over 110,000 copies!
However, was it easy for him to translate the Chinese book? To achieve this milestone, Stevenson had to face certain complications that any translator usually faces during translation from Chinese into any other target language.
The Chinese language comprises pictograms (strokes), not letters, which makes the translation process harder and time taking.
What Stevenson felt was that contemporary Chinese fiction is rather fascinating, but these aren’t easily available in the market. If any of them is available, it is sold off at Amazon, or available in poor quality. This is one of the standard issues with the Chinese context.
Why Do Translators Face Challenges in Chinese Content?
The reason why most of the Chinese work goes unnoticed is because of language origin. Languages that are written with the help of letters follow the basic structure despite the differences like German, Italian, or English.
The literary translators need a strong understanding of language to translate Mandarin Chinese to English. So as you can expect, literature conveys information in a particular way. Translators with a Mandarin Chinese background tend to produce a good quality translation of Chinese literacy.
What Makes a Literary Translator Great?
The ability to overcome the challenges of a language.
Remember that Mandarin is divided into two main categories; Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese. Besides these two prime categories, there are other regional dialects as well. Keeping these in mind, we have compiled a list of a few primary aspects that make Chinese translation difficult.
Unrelated grammar rules
What is the major difference between English and Chinese? The grammar rules applicable in English are not applicable to Chinese (either simplified or traditional version) language. Mandarin Chinese is specifically alien to English grammar. The fundamental rules of verb conjugations simply don’t exist in Chinese grammar.
It adds to the complication of the accuracy of content from Chinese to English. So a message needs to be conveyed differently.
A topic-prominent language requires a translator’s focus. You need to listen or read the sentence to understand what is being said in the context. Because the standard grammar does not apply to Mandarin Chinese, it is important to read and reread the content carefully before translating Mandarin.
This isn’t only time taking, but also puts the translator into a heavy workload. A reader needs to comprehend the literature context even after the translation process ends. Proofreading subtracts major chunks, which is why you need to make sure that subject prominent languages like Chinese or English or even French are thoroughly interpreted.
Characters and meanings
What is the average number of Chinese characters that a reader has to read in a Chinese newspaper?
Usually, an average of 2000 to 3000 Chinese characters are in a Chinese newspaper. If you are reading a book, the numbers can exceed more than 50,000 Chinese characters. Chinese characters are comprised of logograms rather than phonemes.
Chinese characters indicate unique meanings if combined with different characters. This also affects the pronunciations, making the pronunciations somewhat similar. To differentiate the tones and meanings means to place the characters in the sentence that makes sense around the context.
As mentioned earlier, there are two major houses for the Chinese language–Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese. The complexity of strokes is different in both dialects. Simplified Chinese (as the name suggests) has lesser strokes than Traditional Chinese.
To summarize this, the script complicates the literacy work. The simplified version is easy to translate comparatively to the Traditional Chinese. Usually, the major literary works like Chinese poetry, historical and cultural references are often available in Traditional Chinese, which makes the translation difficult.
Difference in expressions
To be a creative translator, he/she must have the right understanding of the Chinese characters. The Chinese lexicon comprises unique references from history and culture, which is why a non-native speaker faces a hard time understanding it.
The use of idioms, metaphors, and sayings is extremely common in Chinese literature. A translator cannot ignore them in translation or simplify it either because each metaphor, idiom, and saying consists of creative expression. This is another reason a translator must have deep knowledge and understanding of the Chinese culture and literature before he can even begin the translation.
How a Literal Translator Can Improve?
Literary translators specifically have the skillset in literary works. They do know the basics, but with time, they need to update their skills too. What makes a great literary translator is their level of understanding of the Chinese characters and overall content’s essence.
It’s the job of a translator to interpret the source context and to translate it into the target language in a way that rightfully conveys the meaning.
Moreover, Shanghai Translation Grants were established in 2015, to overcome the translation problem and to improve the translation quality of the Chinese literature. It drastically improved the readership of native Chinese books that were translated into English, Vietnamese, Serbian, and Japanese. According to the respective policies, the grant was eligible for the published or non-published translated books in the following categories.
- Children’s books
If such steps are taken by the government, they can promote their native culture and language from a literal point of view. This will improve one’s perception of culture and language. Also, this will encourage foreign translators to dwell deeper into Chinese literature and expand their knowledge.
Popular Chinese books are breaking the overseas barriers, let’s see how long it further takes to develop a strong foothold in the market.