Ten Fascinating Interpreters.

A nice roundup by David Tormsen; from Thomas Pereira and Jean-Francois Gerbillon, who helped bring about the Treaty of Nerchinsk (and thus are doubtless well known to Greg Afinogenov, aka slawkenbergius), to Constantine Phaulkon, a Greek who “became essentially the second-most powerful man in Siam,” it’s well worth your while. And if anyone is, like me, curious about the “poor unfortunate misled girl” to whom Alexander Burnes left 200 pounds, apparently we’ll never know if she got the money, but you can read what’s known here. Thanks, Trevor!

Comments

  1. David Eddyshaw says:

    No Malintzin?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Malinche

    Too obvious, maybe.

  2. Bathrobe says:

    The Jesuits were chosen because the most convenient lingua franca between the Russians and the Chinese was actually Latin.

    I have read elsewhere that the most convenient lingua franca between the Russians and the Chinese would have been Mongolian. The fact that Latin was chosen was (apparently) due to some adroit manoeuvring by the Jesuits.

    I don’t remember where I read it and I don’t know how accurate it is, but behind glib readings of history it is always useful to question the details.

  3. SFReader says:

    There were several Han Chinese interpreters in Russian service.

    Timofei Ivanov (original name given as Tenur), native of South China, a Ming loyalist POW who served Manchus on Amur, captured by Russians in 1652, entered Russian service as interpreter from Chinese. He is reported to be literate and could translate written Chinese.

    He was likely the Han Chinese interpreter mentioned by Russian envoy Spafarii in 1676.

    In 1684, another interpreter, certain Fedor Mikhailov served in Nerchinsk as interpreter from “Bogdoy and Nikan languages” (ie, Manchu and Chinese).

  4. SFReader says:

    Spafarii also reports presence of 13 Russian defectors in Manchu service in 1676. One of them served as interpreter for China’s Foreign Ministry (“v talmachi vzyat s posolskoy prikaz”), he could read and translate written Russian and reportedly was learning Chinese writing as well.

  5. I have read elsewhere that the most convenient lingua franca between the Russians and the Chinese would have been Mongolian. The fact that Latin was chosen was (apparently) due to some adroit manoeuvring by the Jesuits.

    I asked Greg/slawkenbergius, who says:

    The short answer is that yes, Mongolian would have been far more convenient. Russia had had diplomatic ties with the Mongols going back to the early seventeenth century, and there were certainly Cossacks capable of speaking the language in Siberia. (On top of the fact that there were Buriats in the Russian service who would also have been easily able to interpret.) At a stretch they could have possibly used Evenki or another Tungusic language as well (since Manchu itself is Tungusic and it’s likely that the Qing negotiators knew something of the languages of Manchuria). As of the mid-1680s there was even a guy in Nerchinsk who knew Chinese and even some Greeks in Beijing who knew Russian.

    In fact, I just looked up Golovin’s stateinyi spisok and it says ” И после того говорили посланцы чрез талмача мунгальского языка, чтоб велели им, езуитом, говорить о делех латинским языком, буде есть у них, великих и полномочных послов, латинского языка переводчик.”

    So why did they end up using Latin? Here are a few random thoughts on the matter. I don’t really study Nerchinsk, otherwise I’d be hard at work on a revisionist history of the treaty.

    1) The most likely explanation is that it was a language in which neither side was at a disadvantage. Mongols allied to the Qing were at this point attacking Russian settlements in Transbaikalia, and the Qing’s Mongol interpreters would obviously have been much better. At least with the Jesuits Golovin stood a chance of influencing them as a fellow European Christian, etc. etc.

    2) Some part of the explanation is also very likely written as opposed to oral competence. It’s quite possible that none of the Russian Mongol interpreters were capable of serving as translators (the difference between tolmach and perevodchik), and certainly not on the level of the Qing officials.

    Finally:
    3) The role of the Jesuits in the Kangxi era has been systematically exaggerated by Western authors, including Jesuits themselves, for whom Jesuits are much more familiar, European, etc. than the Qing. Some people even still make the claim that the Jesuits were *this close* to converting the emperor, which is completely baseless. Their significance at Nerchinsk is also an exaggeration. Although nationalist/irredentist/pro-Jesuit historiography has muddled the waters here, the treaty signed at Nerchinsk is more or less exactly the document you’d expect to see given an analysis of Qing conquests in the wars of the 1680s as well as Russian troop deployments and the strategic pressures on both sides. It effectively followed the principle “everyone keeps what they are currently occupying and we’ll draw the line in the middle.” So the Jesuits didn’t wheedle some remarkable deal out of the two sides, but they did do their job conscientiously.

  6. “Timofei Ivanov (original name given as Tenur), native of South China, a Ming loyalist POW who served Manchus on Amur, captured by Russians in 1652, entered Russian service as interpreter from Chinese. He is reported to be literate and could translate written Chinese. ”

    Tenur is a very unusual name for a Chinese and especially a Chinese who would be a Ming loyalist. The Manchus must have given him that name, on top of his real name. I did not know that went on.

  7. slawkenbergius says:

    Ah yes, of course SFReader is right–there were defectors as well. But naturally there could be no question of using defectors in a formal diplomatic setting for the simple reason that they could not be trusted to interpret impartially.

  8. slawkenbergius says:

    I don’t think Manchus gave Manchu or Mongol names to Chinese people. More than likely it was a name like Dengwu Mongolized in the process of translation.

  9. SFReader says:

    Both Russians and Manchus expressed dissatisfaction with quality of translation by Mongol interpreters.

    Spafarii (graduate of University of Padua) and Golovin spoke Latin fluently and naturally it was much easier for them to communicate with Jesuits directly.

    Golovin’s embassy also had an official interpreter Andrej (Jan) Belobocki, ethnic Pole, poet, writer and philosopher who taught Latin for Russian aristocracy in Moscow. Belobocki studied all over the Europe and graduated University of Valladolid in Spain (of all places!)

    There was no cultural barrier between them and Jesuits in Chinese service.

  10. SFReader says:

    -But naturally there could be no question of using defectors in a formal diplomatic setting for the simple reason that they could not be trusted to interpret impartially.

    Spafarii actually used an ethnic Han Chinese interpreter (the above mentioned Timofei Ivanov probably) in negotiations with Manchu governor on Nonni river. The guy behaved very suspiciously and tried to cause trouble between two countries and was dismissed. Spafarii didn’t take him to Beijing.

  11. What is буде? It’s not in Wiktionary. $EMPLOYER’s online translator (they block GT) renders it bizarrely as deleh, about which Dr. Google is not helpful.

    everyone keeps what they are currently occupying and we’ll draw the line in the middle

    This reminds me of Lake Webster in Massachusetts, one of whose Nipmuc (Algonquian) names is Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg (locally /tʃəˈɡɒɡəɡɒɡ ˌmænˈtʃɔːɡəɡɒɡ tʃəˌbʌnəˈɡʌŋɡəmɔːɡ/), allegedly ‘fishing place at the boundaries — neutral meeting grounds’, or more colloquially ‘you fish on your side of the lake, I’ll fish on my side, and no one will fish in the middle’.

  12. slawkenbergius says:

    According to Golovin’s spisok, he used a Latin->Russian interpreter (the aforementioned Belobotskii) when communicating with the Jesuits, so there definitely was a language barrier there:
    И великий и полномочный посол говорил, чтоб они, езуити, о де­лех, о которых им великие китайские их послы наказали, латинским языком говорили; а при них, великих и полномочных послех, есть знающей латинского языка дворянин, а о чем говорить будут они, езуиты, и тот дворянин им, великим и полномочным послом, доносити будет.

  13. slawkenbergius says:

    John: буде in this case means “it being the case that” or simply “because.”

  14. It’s historically a short form of будет ‘will be.’

  15. Juta Fallon? Really?

  16. Ha, good catch — I skipped right over that. It should, of course, be Futa Jallon (Fouta Djallon).

  17. marie-lucie says:

    I was a bit surprised by Juta Fallon myself, and wondered if it was “le Fouta Djalon” which I learned about in geography class decades ago.

  18. It’s an odd mistake to make; it sounds more like a joke.

  19. A spoonerism?

  20. Exactly.

  21. буде есть is a fascinating construction. It’s like 2 versions of to be stuck together, something like being is. Normally, it means (or rather meant, it nowadays can be used only in jest) “if there is (one)”, but in Golovin’s context it must mean “because they have”. Strange.

  22. I have known of the 3 Japanese found at Cape Flattery and sent to Macau by the Hudson’s Bay Company, but hadn’t read of them helping to translate portions of the Bible. No account I have read mentioned their ultimate fate. It makes sense that they would have stayed in Macau, since they would have been executed if they returned to Japan.

  23. Glad to hear of Gutzlaff’s fate, though. Always glad to hear of a missionary getting his comeuppance.

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