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A Cultural Turn In Translation Studies

更新时间:2009-11-4:  来源:毕业论文

A Cultural Turn In Translation Studies
Acknowledgements: This might be my first paper, although I’ve tried to do some translation work from Bai to English. Here I would like to give my respect and thanks to the teachers at the Foreign Language Institute of Yunnan Normal University, especially Prof. He Changye and Prof. Xie Ming. They taught me a lot about culture and language, giving me a new visual angle on cultures. Prof. He during his busy-time, also gave very good suggestions to my paper and detailed corrections both in spelling and grammar. I am also grateful to the authors of the books I’ve consulted and the nameless Bai people who created so many beautiful Bai folk stories and songs for us. And my British friend Bryan Allen shouldn’t be forgotten, it’s he who gave me many valuable suggestions on the first draft of this paper, and much insight into English culture.

Yang Huasheng

Thesis statement: A different cultural background hinders people in English-speaking countries from understanding Bai culture. In order to deal with this problem, the cultural turn should be successfully realized in translation.

 Abstract: Since a lot of foreigners come to Dali for tourism or business, most of them are touched by the beauty of the landscape of Dali, its wind, flowers, snow and moon, also its colourful local customs. And many of them become so interested in and eager to learn Bai culture and anything else of the Bai people, folk stories and Bai songs etc. Someone said, even a stone has a beautiful story in it, and a leaf from the tree can play a piece of nice Bai song here. But it’s a pity so many visitors fail to enjoy the beautiful Bai stories and songs, because of the blocks from the language, especially the puzzles from the differences between two types of cultures. Here, several cases from the translation of Bai folk stories and songs are given, then we try to analyse them from a cultural point of view, making a better translation, to build a smooth way for the people from English-speaking countries to learn about the Bai people and their culture.

1. A brief introduction to the Bai people and their culture

1.1 A nationality with over 3,000 years of history

The Bai people are one of the oldest nationalities in Yunnan. “In 1957, some cultural remains of the Bronze Age (about 3,000 years ago) were found at Haimenkou in Jianchuan County, 15 bronze and copper articles, including a stone model for bronze axes were unearthed,”[i] even some fossilized rice, wooden building components, pillars and other parts are underneath. This indicates that formerly Bai people lived in houses of “Gannan” style which were built half on the water, half on the ground with the door opening to the land. And the archaeologists described a vivid picture for us, there was a village located along Jianhu Lake, people here lived on rice farming and fishing. This is a typical agricultural society, and the history of Bai civilization begins here. It has a 3,000 years old history.

1.2 A unique culture witnessed in the life and work of Bai people

In this long period of history, Bai people developed their unique culture in their daily life and work. Since the Bai language had no writing system of its own Bai culture was always transferred orally from one generation to another. So Bai culture is more valuable to people today and treasured by people. More and more people outside, I mean people from other nations, are eager to learn more about Bai culture, but the different cultural backgrounds keeps them from understanding Bai culture well, so the cultural turn in translation becomes very necessary. “In general, oral works (folk stories and songs spread orally) are much more popular than written pieces (scholar's literature)”[ii]. We may say the most treasured part of Bai culture remains in the folk stories and songs. In this article, most cases we'll discuss are selected from the translation of Bai folk stories and songs.

2. The character of the Bai people and their culture

2.1 A kind and tolerant nationality

In ancient history, war and peace always occurred in Bai people's area. The Tianbao war between the Nanzhao Kingdom and the Tang Dynasty took place in 742, but soon the Nanzhao king Gelufeng built the Dehua Tablet to express his worries about the result of the war and his desire to make peace with the Tang and he made it. As a result, the advanced Chinese culture and technology spread widely among the Bai people. Especially since the Ming Dynasty (1368—1644) a lot of scholars and politicians with high Chinese training have come to Bai areas. And Confucianism and Chinese education spread among the common people, that made most Bai men write and communicate in Chinese skilfully. That is one of the reasons why Bai does not have its own writing system, and the Bai language borrowed a lot of Chinese words. In a word, Bai is a kind and peace-loving tolerant nationality, that makes her live in peace with other nationalities for long periods in history, and that helps the Bai people learn from them and absorb aspects of other cultures and incorporate them into their own culture.

2.2 Syncretistic religious beliefs

The syncretistic religious beliefs show the Bai attitude to the different cultures. Because Yunnan is close to India, in the past, many Indian monks came to preach Buddhism in Dali and they got support from the kings, authorities, and Dali kingdom, then Buddhism became very popular among Bai people, as Buddhism, Buddhist music, art, scriptures and architectural techniques were introduced to the Bai area. The Three Pagodas and the fine stone carving in Jianchuan Stone Bell Temple will reflect the light of the wisdom of Bai people forever. Daoism was also spread in the areas around the towns and became popular among the educated people. That leads to the Confucian worship in Bai area, and makes the Bai culture melt into the main Chinese culture, but keeps its own features. But Bai primary native religions still live in peace with the other religions. In a Bai temple, you can easily find Sakyamuni, the Jade Emperor and Benzhu at the same time. Benzhu worship still is the most popular religion of the Bai people. They have several Benzhu (protector gods), most of the villages each has its own Benzhu, just like in Greek mythology, Athena was the patroness of the city of Athens. On holidays, Bai people come to dance and sing in their temples, praying for safety and good harvests from the Benzhu. From the syncretistic religious beliefs, we can partly see the colourful and abundant Bai culture, blending the different cultures in new ways. “The formation of the Bai nationality, is the intrinsic main direction of the Bai’s social economical development, as well it’s the result of absorbing a lot of advanced culture of the Han and the other nationalities.”3 In the following passages, we will discuss some language phenomena both in Bai and English from the cultural view.

3. Several definitions for culture

Taylor in his ‘primitive culture' defined culture as, “Culture is a complex system that includes all the knowledge, beliefs, art, morals, laws, customs and any other talents and habits mastered or accepted by the members of a certain society.” English and Culture Dictionary (Longman,1922) identified “culture, as custom, beliefs, art, music and any other products of human thinking. Culture is the product of a certain society in a certain period, such as the Ancient Greek culture”4

The famous American linguist Dr Nida thought that ‘a language is always a part of a culture and the meaning of any text refers directly or indirectly to the corresponding culture, ultimately words only have meaning in terms of the corresponding culture. Without the knowledge of the beliefs and practices of other cultures a translator’s perspective of the world is tragically restricted’ (Chinese translators journal 2000/5).

The Bai people and the English speaking people live in different geographical environments. The different climate and geographical objects lead to different customs, different beliefs and different attitudes to things. Each has their own unique culture.

 Here we select some language phenomena from Bai folk stories and songs, and try to analyse these phenomena at the cultural level in order to improve our translation technique and realize successful cross-cultural communication.

4. Bai people’s attitude toward colours

4.1 Bai people revere the colour white

“Humans live in this colourful world, their feeling to the colour is heavily affected by their native cultural tradition, their attitude to the colour is also an essential part of the culture. Colour words are the finite figure of the culture, full of native cultural character. Every nationality has her own attitude to the colour. In the different cultures, the same colour may express the different cultural psychology, lead to various associations, and it has unique cultural connotation in the different cultures.”5

To most Bai people and westerners “white” has some similar connotations: purity and innocence. But it has quite opposite connotations, too. White dress is the traditional colour for brides at western weddings but a traditional colour at funerals for Bai people. To wear white would be offensive at western funerals, they have black dress on that occasion.

But the colour ‘white’ has much more connotations in Bai culture. Revering the colour ‘white’ is a unique phenomenon in Bai culture. Why do Bai people call themselves ‘Baizi or Baini’? ‘Bai’ means the colour ‘white’, opposite to black. If you come into a Bai village in Dali, you seem to be in a white world, the white houses of Bai people, white lanes and the white three pagodas in the far distance. A custom is still kept in Jianchuan: a bride's parents would like to give her a pure white sheepskin cloak as a special gift on her wedding day. But the opposite situation will be seen in Naxi area, people there feed flocks of black sheep, and a Naxi woman would like to wear a black sheep skin cloak instead of the white one. “The Lisu people in Nujiang think it's pretty ‘to dress up as black as a crow’, and the Bai people in the same area would say, ‘dress up as white as a magpie’, they think white is beautiful.”6 So the Bai people prefer the white sheepskin cloak and white clothes.

White-loving was not only popular among the common Bai people, but also in the Bai royal family in the historical period. Zhou Quefei, a scholar who lived in the Song Dynasty (1127—1279) recorded in his book, ‘Answering for people outside Yuanning’, “In the Dali kingdom, the king wears a white cloak and the queen likes to wear ’Zhaoxiao’ and ‘zhaoxiao’ is a kind of white dress.”7 Even the king was titled as ‘Bai king’, the white king. Some historians think that the white-revering custom of the Bai people is related to their primitive totem worship beliefs. The colour ‘white’ may have been the symbol of an old Bai tribe at that time, and the custom is still kept in Bai clothes and their habits.

In the minds of Bai people, the colour ‘white’ is the symbolization of kindness, goodness, righteousness and beauty. In contrast black always indicates evil, criminals, darkness and ugliness. In many Bai folk stories, ‘white dragon’ is always a righteous, good hero and favoured by people, but ‘black dragon’ always stands for evil forces and is hated by people.

Because ‘white’ always leads the Bai people's associations to fine things, they created a lot of beautiful songs related with the colour ‘white’. A famous one is ‘A white lady in the white moonlight’.

 Bai                                           English

Baip milwan zix baip jixjix,                 A white lady in the white moonlight,

Go nox zo'de baip ngeid jinx;            A pair of white shoes on her feet;

Cainlnox yi'de baip zvnp yil,              She wears a white dress,

Baip zil yondbeidsei.                          With a sheet of white sheepskin.

Baipxil-baiphhop xux jiant cainl,               Fewer Bai words (plain words) out of your lips,

Baiphail-baipsit dol ye juix;              A little more white rice to your mouth;

Baipzipyin zil yindgail jil,                 So many eyes upon us in the white day-time,

Baip milwan sanlhui.                          Meet my lady in the white moonlight.

 

This poetic Bai song uses the word ‘white’ many times, and shows the Bai people's abundant imagination about the colour ‘white’. It's a ‘white-loving nationality’.

4.2 Basic colour words in the Bai language

Beside the colour ‘white’, ‘Black’, ‘Blue’, ‘Red’ are very common colours seen in Bai clothes. Even today, a typical Bai lady in Jianchuan will wear a blue shirt and a black and blue sleeveless jacket outside, a two sided apron, (one side is blue and another is white) tied on the front, and a black turban on her head. But the Bai people living in the mountain area prefer the colour ‘Red’.

In the legends of Maiden Blue, Maiden Blue was a woman with many miseries, who killed herself in the Haiwei River because she couldn't bear the evil treatment from her mother-in-law. Bai people feel sorrow for her death, and on the date of her death (the 15th day of the first month in the Chinese calendar ) people in Jianchuan get together and hold a great memorial ceremony in honour of Maiden Blue. They make a paper statue of Maiden Blue, wearing a blue dress and a white sheepskin cloak on her back with a white turban on her head.

‘White’, ‘Black’ and ‘Blue’ are the three basic colours seen in Bai clothes, at least in Jianchuan, why so? Because they’re natural colours, ‘white’ is the original colour of fibrous plants, and the dye for ‘Black’ and ‘Blue’ are easily gotten from nature, with the colour ‘green’ and ‘yellow’, there are altogether six basic colour words in the Bai language: ‘white’, ‘black’, ‘blue’, ‘red’, ‘yellow’ and ‘green’. And in the Bai language people can't distinguish colours such as ‘pink’ or ‘brown’ from the colours ‘red’ or ‘yellow’. The Bai may say ‘red as peach blossom’ to indicate the colour pink and ‘the colour of palm fibre’ for brown. It seems the limited basic colour words can't prevent Bai people from expressing all the colours in the world.
5. Associations related to birds, animals and plants

“The ancestors of humans lived in the dense forests in the very ancient times. They lived by gathering shoots or fruits, and by fishing and hunting, they built a very close relationship with animals and plants.”8 Even today, we can't live a single day without eating vegetables, grains and meat from animals and we begin to realize the importance of building a good relationship between human beings and animals and plants living with us in the same planet.

In their daily life, people have a lot of different associations to the animals and plants according to their colours, shapes and characters, then there are abundant phrases about animals and plants in human languages. But differences exist in the different societies. Sometimes they share the same association to a certain animal or plant, but mainly they have different associations to the same animal or plant, occasionally, they may have the same association to different vehicles, or vehicles and objects with connotations only in one culture, because of the different living environments and habits.

5.1 Various associations of the dragons

There are many pools, lakes and streams all over Yunnan: Dianchi, Erhai, Jianhu lake and other countless pools and springs. A lake, a pool, even a very small spring is considered to be the dragon's residence. Dragons are legendary or mythological creatures, whom the Bai people have been regarding as a symbol of power, strength and auspiciousness. And Bai people would like to call a dragon the dragon king, considering it the god of water and the dragon is thought to have the spirit of water. Bai people live in a agricultural society, their life is mainly dependant on water and rain, and the dragon is the creature taking charge of water and rain. So Bai people have dragon worship in their religion. In ‘the legend of Jiulong’, the following story is told:

“A maid named Shaye lived in the Anlao Mountains. One day she came to catch fish in the river, and was touched by a piece of wood in the water. She got pregnant and ten months later, she gave birth to ten baby boys. One day, when Shaye and the ten boys were resting at the riverside, the piece of wood took the shape of a dragon, rose from the water and asked her, ‘where are the sons you've given birth for me?’ Nine of the boys were so frightened to see the dragon that they ran away very quickly, only the youngest son had no time to escape and he stayed and lived with his mother. They are thought to be the ancestors of the Bai people, and Bai people are proud of being the descendants of a dragon.”9

In Jiangchangdu Village, Jianchuan, people consider the dragon king named Ma to be the Guardian God of the village. Every year, on the dragon king's birthday, people come to the village's temple, make sacrifices to him, and pray for good weather and a good harvest in the coming year. Another story has been spread widely in Jianchuan: “Guanyinmu, the Goddess of Mercy, took on the shape of a poor old lady, and sold dried rice paddy eels, each for several silver coins at the market. Nobody bought her eels and laughed at her as a mad woman. But an old lady from Lijiping village shared her pie with the poor old woman for lunch. To thank her, the goddess gave her a dried eel. When the old woman got back to the village she wanted to wash the dry eel in water, and a miracle happened, the eel changed into a living dragon as soon as it touched the water. The dragon stayed in the pool near the village, spewing out water for people, and the villagers benefited from this dragon for generations.”

The Bai people divide dragons into two kinds, good and evil. In some low-lying land near lakes or rivers, people often suffered from flooding. The floods damaged the crops and houses severely, and Bai people thought that this was the work of the evil black dragon. So there are lots of legends of the good white dragon defeating the evil black dragon. The very famous one is the gold rooster killing the black dragon in the legend of ‘ten brothers, ten sisters’ told in Jianchuan.

To westerners, however, the dragon is often a symbol of evil, a fierce monster, with fire in its mouth and wings on its body; that destroys and therefore must be destroyed. Several stories of saints or heroes deal with straggles against monsters, which in most cases are all slain in the end. The most notable perhaps is the story of Beowulf telling how the hero Beowulf defeats a monster called Grendel, but is eventually killed in slaying a dragon. St. George and the Dragon (England) is another famous one.

5.2 The Gold Rooster, a holy bird to the Bai people

Another outstanding figure in Bai culture is the Gold Rooster, actually it's not a real bird. Gold Rooster was said to be a divine bird who could tell the seasons and brought good weather and harvest to people. The legends of Shibaoshan tell us how the Gold rooster killed the evil black dragon with the help of ten sisters, and how he teaches Bai people to sing Bai tunes. At the beginning of the song festival in Shibaoshan Bai people look on Gold Rooster as the most beautiful bird with a throat of jade, who always brings them good luck. It resembles the position of the phoenix in Chinese culture. However in western mythology, the phoenix is associated with rebirth and resurrection.

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