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A Linguistic Approach to Language & Culture  

2006-08-08 16:50:22|  分类: 【新东方课堂】 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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[来源:新东方网 作者:金威]

  —Numeral Translation of AncientChinese Poetry Concerning with Foreignizing & DomesticatingMethods

  As is mentioned in our linguistic textbook,“it has become axiomatic to state that there exists a closerelationship between language and culture”1. An example in thelater text well proves this—when Malinowski, an anthropologist,did his field work on the Trobiand Islands off eastern New Guinea,he observed that in this primitive culture, the meaning of a wordgreatly depended upon its occurrence in a given context, or rather,upon a real language situation in life. Based on phenomena likethis, he claimed that “In its primitive use, language functions asa link in concerted human activity…it is a mode of action and notan instrument of reflection.”2 This theory paves the way for acultural study of language use in Britain, and exerts a greatinfluence on later linguists.

  As for a specific language, as Malinowskiindicates, it often “turns out to be heavily situationally orculturally specified and might not be easily captured by anoutsider from a different cultural background”3. This specialfeature often pushes translators into a dilemma—should they give afaithful description of the original foreign culture (foreignizingtranslation), or should they replace the original culture with amore acceptable equivalence in the target culture (domesticatingtranslation)?

  With the rapid development of“globalization”, foreignizing method seems to have become thefashionable trend in nowadays translation. However, when faced withsuch issues as poem translation, especially ancient Chinese poetry,the method of foreignizing translation seems extremely frail.

  Poetry, as Robert Frost points out, is “whatgets lost in translation”4. However, Prof. Sun Yifeng (LingnanUniversity) indicates that intranslatability is mostly due to thecultural gap. (Of course, we are not discussing intranslatabilityhere, but the cultural gap that affects poetry translation.)Thistheory can be well illustrated by ancient Chinese poetry, which isfamous for its abundant implications and complexity. Thisparticular feature of ancient Chinese poetry is aptly proved by itsnumeral words—“万”,for example, or other characters such as“千”,or “三”. Generally speaking, the Chinese characters “千”or “万” do not necessarily mean “a thousand”, or “tenthousand”; they are just symbols of “abundance”(The Chinesecharacter “多” obviously lack this POWER of indication.) Also,“三” does not necessarily mean “three”; it is just a symbol of“a few” or “a little”. Thus, if they are simply translated into“thousand” or “ten thousand” or “three”, they must have losttheir original meanings—a good example of cultural gap. Of course,sometimes this kind of translation is also acceptable, for“thousand” also contains the meaning of “abundance” in Englishlanguage; however, “ten thousand” seems to be a littleverbose.

  I have listed several examples below.

  Eg.1 烽火连三月,家书抵万金。(杜甫,“春望”)

  Florence Ayscouth translates “家书抵万金”into “ A letter from home would be worth ten thousand ounces ofgold.” It is no doubt literal translation, or if concerned withculture, foreignizing translation (except for the word “ounce”).However, “ten thousand” may sound a little weird to a nativeEnglish speaker, for “ten thousand” is such an accurate numberthat he may take it for granted that “a letter from home” doesworth that prize, which is certainly not the original meaning.Professor Xu Yanchong translates it into “words from household areworth their weight in gold”, which seems more natural and wellconveys its original meaning—and, of course, he is using themethod of domesticating.

  Eg.2 两岸猿声啼不住,轻舟已过万重山。(李白,“早发白帝城”)

  Professor Xu Yanchong interprets the secondhalf into “My skiff has left ten thousand mountains far away.”Obviously, he is using foreignizing method—it is not surprisingthat one translator uses different methods when dealing withdifferent poems. However, “万重山” here certainly does not referto “ten thousand mountains”—probably not even more than tenmountains all together—it only means that the skiff has left forquite a long distance. Another two masters handle it moreskillfully—Weng Xianliang translates it into “the serriedmountains are all behind”; and W.J.B.Fletcher translates it as“all through the cragged Gorge our skiff had fleeted with themorn”—both apply the method of domesticating and well express thereal meaning of “万重山”.

  Eg.3 千山鸟飞绝,万径人踪灭。(柳宗元,“江雪”)

  Obviously, the Chinese characters “千山” and“万径” do not necessarily mean “a thousand mountains” and “tenthousand paths”. Witter Bynner transfers it with perfectcraft—“A hundred mountains and no bird/ A thousand paths withouta footprint”. While expressing the concept of “many”, heintroduces Chinese culture as well—Chinese people often associate“百” with “千”; or more often, “千” with “万”. However, theEnglish phrase “ten thousand” has two words, thus it cannot wellbalance the Chinese character “万”(which has only one syllable).It is probably the reason why Witter Bynner transfers “千” and“万” to “hundred” and “thousand”—kind of domesticating.Another two translators also provide their excellentinterpretation—Wu Ching-hsiung translates it into “Myriadmountains—not a bird flying/ Endless roads—not a trace of men”;while Professor Xu Yanchong translates as “From hill to hill nobird in flight/ From path to path no man in sight”—both haveapplied the method of domesticating and have found the “culturalequivalence” in the target language.

  However, although foreignizing translation doesshow its inadequacy when faced with numeral translation of AncientChinese poems, it is not to say that domesticating translationalone can handle all the problems in such issues. Occasionally,when adopting the method of “domesticating”, a translator mayprobably be confused by the “intricate” Chinese culture and thusunable to find the equivalence in the target language—the Chinesecharacter “二” for example, sometimes it means “a few”,sometimes it does mean “two”, and sometimes it may probably mean“twice” or “twenty”. Thus a foreigner may probably makemistakes when translating such “magic” numbers. Here is anexample.

Eg.4 阿舒已二八,懒惰故无匹。雍端年十三,不识六与七。(陶潜,“责子”)

  “年方二八” is one of the most popular Chinesetraditions to introduce age, thus Chinese readers are quitefamiliar with the phrase “二八”. However, it is not easy for aforeign translator to grasp its meaning—Arthur Waley for example,translates “二八” into “eighteen”, which has been good for alaugh to Chinese readers. Charles Budd and Glays M. Taylor (withH.Y.Yang) interpret it as “sixteen”, which is a domesticatingtranslation and may sound clear and concise; however, the phrase“二八” thus has lost its original indication. Professor XuYanchong translates it as “twice eight”—a faithful illustrationof the Chinese way of age counting. Similarly, when encounteredwith the sentence“不识六与七”, the three foreign translators areall frustrated—Arthur Waley translates it as “does not know‘six’ from ‘seven’”; Charles Budd translates as “He can’tdiscriminate/ The figures six and eight”. (He may take it forgranted that “eight” and “seven” have the same meaning here,thus he uses “eight” for the sake of rhyme.); while Glays M.Taylor (with H.Y.Yang) translates it as “To count to six or sevendo not know”—each has his own interpretation and may think theyhave well transferred the meaning in the target language. However,“不识六与七” is not an isolated sentence; it is closely connectedwith the previous sentence “雍端年十三”. Therefore, the realmeaning of “六与七” is “six plus seven”, thus the result isjust “十三”—an echo to the age of “雍端”. Native Chinesetranslator is no doubt much more sagacious—Professor Xu Yanchongtranslates it as “don’t know how much six plus seven”, whichreveals its true meaning and keeps its original form as well—aclever performance of foreignizing method.

  Judging from the above translation practice ofancient Chinese poetry, we can safely draw a conclusion thatcultural translation cannot be simply divided into two methods(foreignizing& domesticating); in many cases, the ideal way isto combine the two methods together, and try to find the “culturalequivalence” between the original and the target languages. Eitherforeignizing translation or domesticating translation is just atool for translators to interpret between two different cultures,and translators should not take either of the two as a credendumand restrict themselves to it. More over, they should always bearin mind that language is just a carrier of cultural elements. Thusthey should not just concentrate on the language layer; but moreimportant, concentrate on cultural implications. Only by this way,can they grasp the real spirit of both language and culture.

Notes

  1.Hu Zhuanglin, ed. Linguistics: A Course Book.Chapter 7.
  2.Hu Zhuanglin, ed. Linguistics: A Course Book. Chapter7.
  3.Hu Zhuanglin, ed. Linguistics: A Course Book. Chapter7.
  4.Susan Bassnett, “Transplanting the Seed: Poetry andTranslation.”

Works Cited

  Bassnett, Susan and Andre Lefevere. 2001.Constructing Cultures: Essays on Literary Translation. 1st ed.Shanghai: Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press.

  Hu Zhuanglin, ed. 2001. Linguistics: A CourseBook. 2nd ed. Beijing: Peking University Press.

  罗选民,2003,“跨文化视野中的异化/归化翻译”,电视批判论。

  吕叔湘,1980,《中诗英译比录》,上海外语教育出版社。

  吴钧陶,1997,《汉英对照"唐诗三百首》,湖南出版社。

  许渊冲,1997,《中诗英韵探胜》,第二版,北京大学出版社。

  (金威:北京新东方学校国内考试部优秀主讲教师)

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