THE CHOCOLATE INTERROBANG.

A correspondent sent me a link to a language blog I’d somehow missed, The Chocolate Interrobang (“where we savor discussions about language & grammar & syntax, and sometimes reminisce about diagramming sentences…”). There’s a fair amount of tedious pop-grammatical blather (like a post ranting about “very unique”), but the latest post, by Jeff W (it’s a group blog, with half a dozen authors), is a nice discussion of translation. He starts with the Fourth Casio Cup Translation Contest:

Organized by the Shanghai Translation Publishing House, the goal of the contest is to translate a given English source text into Chinese. The text this time is “Reservoir Frogs (Or Places Called Mama’s),” a 1996 New Yorker piece by Salman Rushdie, on what Rushdie calls “the fine art of meaningless naming.”

This leads him to translation of Harry Potter books:

In Book One, Chapter 5, Harry asks Hagrid the eternal question: “What’s the difference between a stalagmite and a stalactite?” Hagrid, not feeling up to geological exegesis (as Sir Salman might say), replies: “Stalagmite’s got an “m” in it. An’ don’ ask me questions just now, I think I’m gonna be sick.”
In Chinese, stalactite is zhōng-rǔ-shí (“hanging-bell milk rock”) and stalagmite is shí-sǔn (”rock bamboo-shoot”). No “M” in sight. What do you do?
If you’re the Mainland Chinese translator, well, there’s no problem: Hagrid says: “There’s an “M” in the middle of zhōng-rǔ-shí.” Well, true enough as a translation but that answer must leave Chinese readers scratching their heads.
If you’re the Taiwanese Chinese translator, Hagrid says “zhōng-rǔ-shí is made up of three characters” (the word shí-sǔn , after all, has two), effectively getting at the irritated non-answer of Hagrid’s reply.
Another example: one character, Fleur Delacour, is referred to by the contemptuous nickname, “Phlegm.” So how do you come up with a nickname that sounds like “Fleur” but with the disgusting properties of “phlegm”?
This time the Taiwanese Chinese translator comes up with a true masterpiece: Fleur in the Taiwanese version is named Huār meaning ‘flower’; the contemptuous nickname for her is Wār meaning “frog” which might be considered a suitably slimy substitute for “phlegm” and, as a bonus, mocks the French accent of the character (who drops her “h’s”).

Great stuff. (Thanks for the link, Bathrobe!)

Comments

  1. “There’s an ‘M’ in the middle of zhōng-rǔ-shí.”
    Isn’t that backward?

  2. Yes, according to this he is saying there is an M in stalactite.
    I’m pretty sure I copied it from the book correctly, but I’m not in a position to check it now.

  3. Thanks, bathrobe, for clarifying that.
    I’d like to make clear that those examples quoted from my post here are taken from Bathrobe’s site, specifically here. (The paragraph in my post just before the section quoted here makes that clear.)
    I’d be horrified if, especially after Bathrobe graciously referred my post to Language Hat, his original work could be mistaken as mine. So, again, the “great stuff” is entirely Bathrobe’s.

  4. Actually, I thought that the material was integrated seamlessly to make a great post on the blog. The whole thing was well written and hung together beautifully. It is probably one of the better pieces I’ve seen to pique the general literate reader’s interest in the obstacles and difficulties that translators have to deal with.

  5. John Emerson says:

    I have a copy of the Chinese translation of a soft porn novel by Barbara Dawson Smith called, IIRC, “Stolen Love”. I noticed that the Chinese translations of the names of the naughty bits were flowery and literary: “jade shaft” and “dewy blossom” or something like that. I wanted to check against the original, which I doubted was as foo-foo as that, but then learned that strip-cover romance novels disappear from the face of the earth after about a year.

  6. John Emerson says:

    I was wrong. I just bought a copy for $3.50. My original research was pre-Amazon.

  7. It was an act of vengeance, but Chad McClintock finally knew how to get even with his father. He’d seduce the young copper-haired beauty who was about to become his stepmother! Kristy Donovan was nothing but a fortune hunter anyway, and he had no qualms about carrying her off to an isolated cabin in the woods. But Chad was not prepared for the fiesty young woman whose flashing green eyes turned his angry passion into helpless desire. And even as Kristy cursed her arrogant captor, she warned to his sensual touch.

  8. We all know of (non-literary) translations that go gloriously wrong. A favourite of the older motor racing fraternity appeared many years ago in a press release for an event in Barcelona.
    After a long and fractured text, it wished the visiting hacks “a wire-brush weekend.”
    We were never able to work out how the translator got there – finger slipped in the dictionary?
    Any explanations would be welcome – it’s been a puzzle for decades.

  9. mollymooly says:

    wire-brush–>Brillo-pad–>brillo–>brilliant

  10. Mollymooly – delightfully ingenious, but too much for that translator, I suspect,

  11. Translating Chinese into English especially the ancient works of Chinese needs particular minute and complicated description namely, flowery and literary. Only in this poetic way can the rendition of Chinese prose be highly rated. I used to translate a Chinese contemporary prose into English and ask native-speakers to read it, they all said it is too poetic and they don’t like but they don’t know the Chinese academic way of translating: the more poetic the better.

  12. Translating Chinese into English especially the ancient works of Chinese needs particular minute and complicated description namely, flowery and literary. Only in this poetic way can the rendition of Chinese prose be highly rated. I used to translate a Chinese contemporary prose into English and ask native-speakers to read it, they all said it is too poetic and they don’t like but they don’t know the Chinese academic way of translating: the more poetic the better.

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