Chinese: To Translate or Not to Translate?
- The Chinese Language – Better a flawed translation than none?
BEIJING/TOKYO – We’ve been there before and history is witness and stands testimony to the fact that language is the single most important force in the promotion of one’s own culture, and that the opposite is also true: that promoting a foreign language is detrimental to one’s own language tradition. Any linguist who counts, knows that the vocabularies of the world’s languages add up, they don’t overlap. Translation is always reduction: one word acknowledged, the other – eliminated! Translation is essentially a zero-sum game. That’s why I argued the discontinuation of translating key Chinese concepts. Instead, I would like see words like wenming, daxue, shengren, and junzi adopted.
In the following article by Greg Cusack for the Shanghai Daily, the author argues a scenario in which one common language (he has English in mind) is the key to cross-cultural communication, even if misleading translations of foreign concepts were the outcome:
Better a flawed translation than none (Shanghai Daily, 4th May 2012)
by Greg Cusack
YOUR opinion pages continue to serve up some of the most thoughtful pieces I have found in any publication. An excellent example of this was the article “Chinese Concepts Lost in Translation” by Thorsten Pattberg, which appeared in the Shanghai Daily of April 26, and the always-insightful accompanying comments from the Daily’s Wan Lixin.
Taken together, the two gentlemen’s observations present us with a familiar paradox: While it is true that the subtle, and often quite profound, nuances of any language cannot easily, if at all, be translated successfully into another language, it is also true that in order to communicate with each other we must try our best to do so.
Both Dr Pattberg and Mr Wan, in fact, illustrate this point as they discuss the inadequacy of English translations of such important Chinese words (and concepts) as wenming and daxue. In so doing, they also illustrate how, by striving to be faithful to the fullness of those words’ meanings and contexts, a better understanding of each – using the English language – can, nonetheless, be achieved. [...]
Read the whole article in Shanghai Daily here!