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On the Cultural Translation of Chinese Poetry From the Perspective of Peter Newmark’s Theory

更新时间:2008-11-15:  来源:毕业论文

On the Cultural Translation of Chinese Poetry From the Perspective of Peter Newmark’s Theory
【Abstract】As a type of classical Chinese literature with a long history, the ancient Chinese poetry has long attracted the attention of scholars at home and abroad and been translated by them. This paper attempts to make a tentative study on Peter Newmark’s theory in the culture translation of Chinese poetry. It proves that the theory plays a key role in the culture translation of Chinese poems.
【Key Words】Peter Newmark;communicative translation;semantic translation; poem translation

 

As a type of classical Chinese literature with a long history, the ancient Chinese poetry has long attracted the attention of scholars at home and abroad and been translated by them. For different translators, the translated versions and methods are quite different. Based on his own past research and some other transdisciplinary knowledge, Peter Newmark, the famous English translation theorist, has put forward the principles of “semantic translation” and “communicative translation”.

1. The Characteristics of Poem Translation

Poem translation is quite different from the translations of novels, dramas, proses and film scripts. This is determined by its own characteristics. Then what are its characteristics? Generally speaking, there are three prime aspects.

Firstly, poem emphasizes on the beauty of tempo and metre. A beautiful poem must have much attractiveness between the lines. When you hear some reading the charming poem, it seems that you are listening to a beautiful song.

Secondly, from a lingual perspective, the languages of poem is quite succinct and the information in one unit structure. Its structure is rather different from some common lingual structures, due to the requirement of its metre, rhythm and form.

Finally, a poem is the most senior form of literature, its metre, form and idea becoming integration. The lack of anyone of them will lead to the destruction of the whole poem. What’s more,the significance should be read between the lines, because the lines consist of many constituents of imagination when the author produces the poem. That is to say, we can always see the beauty of obscurity from poems. The understanding and feeling towards a poem depends on the appreciator, time and space.

2. About Peter Newmark’s Translation Theory
According to Peter Newmark, communicative translation attempts to produce on its readers an effect as close as possible to that obtained on the readers of the original. Semantic translation attempts to render, as closely as the semantic and syntactic structures of the second language allow, the exact contextual meaning of the original. In theory, there are wide differences between the two methods.

Communicative translation must emphasize the effect rather than the content of the message, and semantic translation would be more informative but less effective. Semantic translation attempts to recreate the precise flavor and tone of the original and it relates to the “expressive” function of language, whereas communicative translation responds to the representational and vocative functions. Thus for “Wet Paint!”, the communicative translation “Don’t touch the wet paint” is mandatory; the semantic translation(‘paint is wet’) would be more informative but less effective.

3. A Study on the Cultural Transference of Chinese Poetry
3.1 Appellation Culture

Appellation culture is a dual-property semiotic system which concerns with appellation and involves both linguistics and culture. It is a semiotic system because it is marked by words or phrases in languages. The evolution of Chinese history and the continuous blending among nationalities in ancient China has given rise to a complex Han culture. Appellation culture is a good case in point. Appellation can be divided into relative appellation and association. A relative appellation is a cultural symbol produced by marriage system. After long-term cultural sediment, it has become well established. In ancient China, the complex marriage system finally led to a complicated relative appellation system, which inevitably causes troubles in translation.

E.g.2 未谙姑食性,先遣小姑尝。

Verginial: I decide that not my mother-in-law.

But my husband’s young sister shall have the first taste.

Xu Yuanchng: To meet my mother-in-law’s taste,

I send her daughter the first share.

Fletcher: But what kind of taste auntie likes, I don’t know,

So send to my sister-in-law the first share.

In ancient China, there was a traditional custom, which meant to turn cousinship into marriageship. In other words, a girl was supposed to marry the son of her mother’s brother, thus she would call her husband’s parents, i.e. her father-in-law and mother-in-law uncle and aunt or auntie. Fletcher, obviously, has been confused by the surface meaning of “姑”, hence, he translates this word semantically as “auntie”. Although the girl calls her husband’s mother aunt, she has to present as a daughter-in-law and look at the “aunt” as mother-in-law and serve her everyday after the marriage. This is determined by the feudal marriage system. Thus, Fletcher has made a semantic translation.

But here the “auntie” only acts as a “signifier”. A good way to deal with it is to uncover its veil and make the readers see clearly its face, to reveal the word in its true colours. After analyzing and consulting reference books, this is not a difficult task. The best way is to take a communicative translation. Both the first two translators have done in this way. “姑”is translated communicatively as “mother in law”. Under this condition, the TL readers will understand the poem in a full; otherwise, they must be confused about the relationship.

Now let’s take another example:

E.g.3 嫦娥应悔偷灵药,碧海青天夜夜心。

Zhang Tingchen & Wei Bosi: Chang E must regret having stolen the magic elixir——

In that blue ocean of a sky: endless thoughts, night after night.

Sun Dayu: Chang’e should now sorely regret

For stealing the herb of fay,

So she hath to face all alone the blue sky

And the sea immense night and day.

Bynner: Are you sorry for having stolen

The potion that has set you.

Over purple seas and blue skies,

To brood through the long nights?

Chang’e is a fairy lady in a Chinese legend who swallowed elixir stolen from her husband and flew to the moon. Here, in order to let the TL readers get to know the legendary figure in Chinese culture, both Chinese translators have taken the semantic translation and transcribed it into “Chang’e”, the alphabetic correspondence of “嫦娥”. Since the original verse is a narrative, in which “Chang’e” functions only as a sign of a person, it is hard for readers to fully understand the figure in the poem. So, this kind of transcription is quite all right.

Meanwhile, Bynner, starting from the western thinking mode, has communicatively translated the verse by using the second as if in a dialogue with God or someone else. This kind of tone may bring the TL readers kindness and make them feel as if they are participating. But this can’t yet explain who “嫦娥”is. This shows that sometimes when the differences between the two languages can’t be understood by TL readers, they should be eliminated by sensible translators.

3.2 Culture about Weights and Measures

Weights and measures were very complicated before the unity by the Qin Dynasty. Each country followed its own system of weights and measures. After the unity of the country, Qin also standardized them. Such a system is handed down from generation to generation. Nevertheless, they are unknown or unfamiliar to foreigners. Although the Tang Dynasty reached in a peak in cultural influence abroad, some of the cultural concepts are unknown to foreigners. Now let’s see the following instances:

E.g.4 桃花潭水深千尺,不及汪伦送我情。

Obata: The Peach Flower Lake is a thousand fathoms deep,

But it cannot compare, O Wang Lun,

With the depth of your love for me.

E.g.5 一片孤城万仞山。

Wen Shu: On a steep high mountain the lone garrison town stands

Zhang Tingchen & Wei Bosi: Amid the massive mountains lies the solitary sliver of a town

Sun Dayu: And a lone pile lies by a mount a hundred furlongs high

Xu Yuanchong: The lone Great Wall lost amid the mountains proud

Fletcher: ‘Mid peaks so high our tiny town to sight is almost lost

Such units as “尺” (in its ancient meaning), “仞”have no equivalence in Anglo-American culture or modern Chinese culture. According to A Dictionary for Ancient Chinese Words, both of them are measures of length, height or depth. In ancient Chinese, 1尺≈0.26m; 1仞≈6.4chi(current)≈2.4~2.5meter. So “万仞”≈24000meter~25000m. Even people in China today may not know these. We may translate them semantically as 260m and 24000m, but which may make the translated versions lost their original charming and become more complicated. Therefore, Obata chooses another way, he adapts and makes the thought and cultural content of original more accessible to reader. In his version, “尺”is replaced by “fathom”, a word familiar to foreigners. 1尺≈0.26m, then 1000尺≈260m; 1fathom≈1.8m, then 1000fathoms≈1800m. Thus it seems the two figures differ largely from each other, but after all, the “千尺” here is in its exaggerated meaning. In this way, the readers can get the rough meaning of a great depth conveyed by the original poem.

While in the second version, Sun Dayu has semantically translated “仞”into “a hundred furlongs”. He used a similar unit in Anglo-American culture for replacement. 1furlong≈201m, then 100furlong≈20100m. This is almost equal to the height of “万仞”. The domesticating method here has not merely made the TL readers understand the grandeur of the mountains the author wanted to convey, but also given them a perceptual knowledge of this point. Thus we can see that Mr. Sun has really given much thought to the matter.

As for the other versions, they should be categorized under communicative translation. Although the key cultural word has been sacrificed, all the versions have become clear enough to be accepted by TL readers.

From the above examples, we see that semantic translation is not always the only valid method. Sometimes communicative translation may also help to translate those words that are heavily culture-loaded. However, when it is imperative to retain the culture, semantic translation should be considered, that is, we can translate the words literally and then add a note. In versions that aim to introduce Chinese culture, it is necessary to use this method.

3.3 Time Culture

Time culture refers to some culture that is related to time or the techniques to express time. During the development of Chinese history, ancient Chinese invent their own special methods to express time. Using lunar calendar to calculate months is a good case in point. That is to divide a year according to the twenty-four solar terms. In this way, people can easily depict what the climate or scenery is like during a period of time.

E.g.6 烟花三月下扬州

Yang Xianyi &Gladys Yang:  In the mist and flowers of spring,

He goes down to Yangzhou.

Sun Dayu: In this flowery April clime,

For thickly peopled Yangzhou.

Xu Yuanchong: For Yangzhou in spring green with willows and red with flowers.

According to Best-Known Tang and Song Four-Line Poems,“烟花” is a phrase to depict the spring that is filled with the mist-like willow catkin and the brocade-like flowers, that is to describe a splendid spring. Here in the verse, it is used to modify “三月”. “三月”in the lunar calendar refers to the third month, the period almost from the pure Brightness till soon after Grain Rain. This period of time is nearly equal to the fourth month of the year,April. During this time, flowers blossom and the trees begin to put forth new leaves.”

Against such a background, starting from the TL culture, Mr. Sun Dayu communicatively translates it into “flowery April”. Thus, the TL readers can easily imagine the flowery scenery. The same strategy has been adopted in the others. From the readers’ angle, the other two translators have succeeded in avoiding confusion to the TL readers by omitting “三月”. Otherwise the TL readers will wonder why it says it is spring and flowery since it is obviously cold in March? By omission of “三月”, the two versions appear clearer in meaning and easier to understand.

From the above several examples, we may draw a conclusion that communicative translation is mainly adopted to transfer the culture, especially in appellation culture and culture about weights and measures, while semantic translation is added to render some culture in Chinese poetry. But no matter which method a translator adopts, he must render the original accurately and accurately convey the true information to the TL readers.

All in all, Peter Newmark’s translation theory applies successfully to the English versions of ancient Chinese poems. It proves that all translations must be in some degree both communicative and semantic. Both semantic translation and communicative translation are necessary in translation. The theory plays a key role in the English translation of Chinese poems.

 

【References】
[1] Graham. A.C. Poems of The Late T’ang [M]. Britain: Penguin Books Ltd, 1965.

[2] Steiner, George. After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1998.

[3] Liu, James. J.Y. Art of Chinese Poetry [M]. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 1970.

[4] Newmark, Peter. Approaches to Translation [M]. Shanghai: Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press. 2001.

[5] 丛滋杭. 中国古典诗歌英译理论研究[M].北京:国防工业出版社.2007.

[6] 吕叔湘. 英译唐人绝句百首[M]. 湖南:湖南人民出版社.1980.

[7] 孙大雨.古诗文英译集[M]. 上海:上海外语教育出版社.1996.

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