Chinese to English Literary Translation  文史哲筆譯
Spring 2008
Karen Steffen Chung

Translation is the art of erasing oneself in order to speak in another's voice.
– David Cole, professor, author, and correspondent (b. 1958)

Indispensable reference works:
     (1) Rodale, J.I., ed. The Synonym Finder. New York: Warner Books, 1978 (originally published by the Rodale Press). Taiwan reprint available at 書林 Bookman Books.
     (2) 新世紀漢英大辭典 A New Century Chinese-English Dictionary. 外語教學與研究出版社, 2003. Purchase at 秋水堂 (Or: 漢英辭典. 修訂版. 1995. 北京:主編:危東亞; currently difficult to get).
     (3) A good desktop English-English dictionary, like Webster’s, Merriam-Webster’s, American Heritage, or Random House. The online version of Merriam-Webster’s is available here: Note: English-Chinese dictionaries are useful for many purposes, but don’t trust them blindly; check again in a good English-English dictionary.

     You will finds lots more online reference works here.

Search engine:
     Use Google. You can set it for English, Chinese, Chinese traditional characters, or Taiwan Websites only; each is useful for different purposes.

Online Pinyin tools:
     (1) Convert zhuyin fuhao to Hanyu Pinyin: This tool will convert zhuyin fuhao (better known as bopomofo or bpmf) to Hanyu Pinyin.

     (2) Pinyin tone tool: Type out the Pinyin spellings with numbers for the tones, and this online tool puts in the correct tone markings for you.

Elements of Chinese to English translation:
     (1) Make sure you fully understand the Chinese original, including specialized vocabulary, background, assumptions and associations, idioms, slang, and allusions.
     (2) Word-for-word translation may be helpful for your rough draft, but right from the beginning it is better if you can “hear” a native-speaking English voice in your head expressing the ideas of the Chinese original in a credible and natural way in English. If you speak English well, you will translate well. If your English is based mainly on memorized (or looked-up) vocabulary and grammar rules, your translations may not flow and sound natural. Read your work aloud after you have finished it to catch mistakes and test for naturalness. Listen to your “gut”, the way you would do for Chinese!
     (3) Pay attention to regional differences; decide beforehand whether to use US or British or some other variety of English; it will affect vocabulary, spelling and grammar. The same expression can mean very different things in the two dialects, e.g. to table a motion means ‘to bring up a motion’ in UK English, but ‘to remove from consideration indefinitely’ in US English, just the opposite of the UK meaning; to perform erratically is ‘to play up’ in British English, but ‘to act up’ in US English. In UK English you can say ‘to prevent someone doing something’; in US English you must add a preposition: ‘to prevent someone from doing something’. There are further differences in Canadian, US, South African, and other varieties of English. Inconsistency will confuse the reader.
     (4) When in doubt about a phrase, do a Google search on it to see how common it is, paying attention to where the site is based. If there are very few hits, the phrase may need some revision. The most important thing in translation is knowing when you do not know something. It’s OK not to know something, long as you know you don’t know it, so you can look it up or ask. If you assume you know something, even ignoring the feeling that a usage or idea is a bit odd, you are certain to make many mistakes.
     (5) Use correct Romanization for Chinese personal and place names and special terms. The current standard is Hanyu Pinyin, but different passages may have different requirements.
     (6) Pay attention to register, that is, the correct level of language you are using, and the tone it communicates.
     (7) Get feedback from each other before finalizing your translation.
     (8) Use a spell checker, and a grammar checker too, if you find it helpful.
     (9) Learn and use good format, appropriate to the type of text you are translating.

Practice texts for translation: 3/6/08

Practice text for translation: 4/9/08   pdf format

Fun: Actual English subtitles used in films from Hong Kong
(1) Try to reconstitute the original Chinese sentences.
(2) Correct the English.