Theoretic Account Of Translation English Language Essay

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Poetry is the most condensed form of literary works and reading poetry contributes to the cultivation of pure literary taste. Especially those written in ancient times, there are many and different ways of reading them because they are to express the most ample imagination and the most exquisite feeling through the most concise language. Meanwhile, because of the linguistic and cultural untranslatability, the translation of poetry becomes more difficult and subtle. This paper is aimed to explain the ways in translating the Chinese ancient poetry into English in perspective of pragmatics. Specially speaking, several examples are carried on as models to illustrate that relevance theory plays an important role in translating Chinese ancient poetry, which could prove that there are no untranslatability in translation if the source text is translated abide by pragmatics way.

Key Words: Relevance Theory, the Optimal Relevance, Liberal translation, Literal Translation, Literal translation with footnotes, Translatability

â…  Introduction

Poetry, the essence of a nation, contains the magnificence in artistic conception. It is to make sense, sound well and have beautiful shape。Translation, according to Nida's theory, consists in reproducing in the receptor language the contest natural equivalence of the source language message first in terms of meaning and secondly in terms of style. (Nida &Taber, 1969: 12) It does not have a fixed standard to translate the poetry although some famous scholars and translators have brought up some such as melting theory, "three beauty theory". But most of the approaches are partially pragmatic. Some linguists have tried to find ways from the perspective of pragmatics. As a matter of fact, translation studies and pragmatic do the same research on the same subjects: language understanding and language expression. The difference between them is that translation study focuses on text and written language but the pragmatics on oral communication and dynamic transformation. Therefore relevance theory, being a cognitive science, has an explanatory power for translation. Many scholars and critics have done researches on the relationship of literary translation and relevance theory but few focuses on the poetry translation. This paper is aimed to explore the ways Chinese ancient poems being translated by a few examples being carried out with different versions and further prove the translatability of poetry when they are analyzed in the perspective of relevance theory. (Zhao, 1999)

â…¡Literature Review

As a new cognitive pragmatic theory, relevance theory, proposed by Sperber and Wilson on the basis of Grice's relevance maxim, has influenced greatly western pragmatics. According to relevance theory, language communication is a cognitive process, which must be carried on by inference. Relevance theory transfers the key point of pragmatics from the utterance production to utterance understanding. And it also points out that language communication is a process of ostensive-inferential. The aim of communication is not the maximal relevance but the optimal relevance, namely, the receptor intends to get the adequate contextual effects through the minimal processing efforts. The relevance theory views the communication from the perspective of competence rather than behavior. The central conception of relevance theory is cognitive environment, contextual effects which has related to other disciplines and translation has become the one of them. (He, 2002: 228)

Translation is a cross-culture communication. As a cognitive pragmatic theory¼ŒRelevance theory is an powerful explanatory theory for translation study: The latter is not only related with code but also is an act of dynamic ostensive-inferential process on the basis of relevance. Firstly, the translators should understand correctly the communicative intention of the source text, and find out the relevance of the given information and target culture. The process of seeking for relevance is a process of cognition and inference. For a long time, translators only pay attention to the text and language itself and discard the context. Nida in his later year points out the mistranslation is originated form the non-verbal environment and the functional equivalence of translation should be based on the context. But he does not bring out the optimal relevance. Interpreting the way of translating from the perspective of pragmatics is relating the translation and relevance theory through context.

â…¢ Body

The translators are trying to transfer the communicative intention of the original writer. According to relevance theory, relevance, like an invisible hand, guides the intralingua and inter language. The key point of the successful communication is the optimal relevance between the receptor and communicator and the successful translation depends on whether translator and writer, audience and translator could find out the optimal relevance through the ostensive of the writer. The translator needs comprehensive cognition and inference based on the audience's expectation and their cognitive environment's expectation.

In order to overcome the understanding difficulties brought about by cultural conflict, the translators adopted different translation strategies including literal translation, liberal translation and literal translation with footnotes when translating the poems. All these strategies are brought out in the circumstance of reaching utmost similarity according to relevance theory and help audience get the most contextual effects through minimal efforts in the process of translation.

Literal translation

Literal translation means that the translator does not manipulate, revise or interpret the original text. The translators use the same expression as the source text to reflect the same context which arouses the same effect. (Feng 2003: 37) It relies on the resemblance in linguistic properties. Gutt thinks that translators should keep those communicative clues that could guide the readers to the intention of communicators rather than the whole language properties of the original text. (Gutt 2000:134) That is to say, literal translation (direct translation called by Gutt) purports to interpretively resemble the originally completely in the context envisaged for the original. (Gutt 2000: 171) There are many examples to illustrate this.

The famous poem in Song Dynasty "Sheng Sheng Man", whose writer is Li Qingzhao, a historically renowned woman poet, has been argued for a long time heatedly as for its translation. The first sentence is as followed:


¼ˆXún xún mì mì, lÄ›ng lÄ›ng qÄ«ng qÄ«ng, qÄ« qÄ« cÇŽn cÇŽn qÄ« qÄ«.¼‰ã€ŠShÄ“ng ShÄ“ng Màn》

Version 1:

I have a sense of something missing I must seek.

Everything about me looks dismal and bleak.

Nothing that gives me pleasure, I can find.

Even the weather has proved most unkind. (Translated by Xu Zhongjie)

Version 2:

So dark, so dense,

So dull, so damp,

So dank, so dead. ¼ˆTranslated by Lin Yutang¼‰

In the original poem, what strike the readers most is that the poet uses seven reiterative locutions in one sentence, four ¼i¼s totally and three of them are Ru-sheng(entering tone). What entering tone brings to readers is the spontaneous atmosphere of depression and dreariness. And else, although "寻寻è…è…" means the poet is seeking for something, but the image of the poet does not appear in this poem. Compared with the two versions, Lin's belongs to the liberal translation and is better than the first one. Firstly, Lin uses dimeter iambic which also makes this poem more depressed and tediousness. Secondly, Lin makes up the default of no reiterative locutions in English by using six "so". Thirdly, the use of consonant ¼d¼is better than ¼t¼because it strengthen the deadly silence and despair. Lastly, the image of poet does not appear in the translation version but audience could feel her existence and this special kind of atmosphere. While Xu's version, being far from the language property of the original poem, seems find no optimal relevance. Firstly, every line is too long, which sounds too buoyant for expressing a sad feeling. Secondly, ¼i:¼at the end of the first two lines and ¼aind¼at the end of the last two lines also destroy the depressed atmosphere for they sound slow and peaceful. Thirdly, the poet does not say that nothing could bring to her "pleasure" including weather, which at most can be extended by the audience. It is not necessary for the translator to transfer this. To some extent, it is a kind of mistranslation. (Zhang, 2003) According to relevance theory, translator should make the reader to acquire the most contextual effects through minimal cognitive efforts rather than unnecessary cognitive efforts. If the translator provide more and it cost the readers' more unnecessary efforts, this kind of mistranslation violates the relevance theory, namely, it gets no appropriate effects.

Literal translation with footnotes:

Although literal translation is regarded as an efficient approach, it merely transfers the surface meaning of the original text in some circumstance. The audience may spend much unnecessary efforts while getting smaller contextual effect. The reason is that there are certain information deficiencies when reading the original text because of the cultural difference or something else. So we could adopt some compensations for the literal translation, namely, add some footnotes to make the translating version the more similar with the original text.

A Dream of Red Mansion is the treasure of the Chinese traditional culture which reflects different aspects of Chinese society in Qing Dynasty. As a literature masterpiece, there are many poems in this novel and its translation has become a heated spot to discuss. Two famous translators among them, Hawkes and Yang Xian-yi, adopt different ways to translate the Chinese culture. In order to widen the audience's cognitive environment and bridge the maximal relevance between the original text's context and translating text's context, Hawkes add lots of appendix, while Yang Xian-yi adopt footnotes to explain the specialties in this novel. Some special cultural expressions which need more contextual information cannot be provided directly by the literal translation. That is also the shortcoming of the Hawkes.

Take a poem describing Tan Chun (One of girls in this novel) for example.



"Cái zì jÄ«ng míng zhì zì gāo, shÄ“ng yú mò shìyìn piān xiāo.

QÄ«ng mÄ«ng tì sòng jiāng biān wàng, qiān lǐdōng fÄ“ng yí mèng yáo."

Version 1:

So talented and high-minded.

She is born too late for luck to come her way.

Through tears she watches the steam

On the Clear and Bright Day.

But her home in her dreams is far away.

Note: The festival, usually on the 5th of April, when the Chinese visited their family graves. (by Yang Xian-yi)

Version 2:

Blessed with a shrewed mind and a noble heart,

Yet born in time of twilight and decay.

In spring through tears at river's bank you gaze,

Borne by the wind a thousand miles way. (by Hawkes)

The last two sentences of this poem describe the sadness and sorrow of Tan Chun when she was forced to be married far away and her family went to see her off at the riverbank. The writer of this novel Cao Xueqin, put this phenomenon in the background of "Qingming Festival" in order to fix up the sad atmosphere. Yang, famous for his "faithful and clear" translation style, (Feng, 342) translates it as "on the clear and Bright Day", which provides no relevance information about feeling. So he adds a footnote: "the festival, usually on the 5th of April, when the Chinese visited their family graves" to explain the cultural connotation. Compare with this, "in spring" adopted by Hawkes has less contextual effects and reduce the artistic feature of the original poem. So Hawkes translation of this poem has not reached maximal relevance.

3、Liberal translation

If there is no approach to make up the cultural differences and the audience cannot reach any relevance with the original text through no matter how much efforts they pay, the translators should adopt the liberal translation to transfer the source text's meaning rather than literal translation. Let us go through it by listing several poems as examples.

A famous poem "Zhu Zhi Ci" (Bamboo Branch Song) is always a heated discussion spot for critics to explore the deeper meaning of the last two sentences because the writer Liu Yuxi uses the phonogram, which of course bring some problems to translators.

竹枝词¼ˆæ¨æŸ³é’青¼‰ 刘禹锡


东边æ-¥å‡ºè¥¿è¾¹é›¨¼Œé“是æ- æ™´è¿˜æœ‰æ™´ã€‚

Zhú ZhÄ«Cí (Yáng LiÇ” QÄ«ng QÄ«ng) Liu Yuxi

Yáng liÇ” qÄ«ng qÄ«ng jiāng shuǐ píng, wén láng jiāng shàng chàng gÄ“ shÄ“ng.

Dōng biān rìchÅ« xÄ« biān yÇ”, dào shì wú qíng hái yÇ’u qíng.

Version 1:

My Gallant's Love Tune: "Bamboo Branch Song"

Between the willows green the river flows along;

My gallant in a boat is heard to sing a song.

The west is veiled in rain, the east enjoys sunshine;

My gallant is as deep in love as day is fine. (by Xu Yuanchong)

Version 2:

Bamboo Twigs Ballad

Calm are the river waters, green the willows,

From this bank I've heard my love singsing fine

Here the sun shines but there it showers,

Can you read my mind if it's rain or shine? (by Huang Xinqu)

In the last two sentences, the writer Liu Yuxin is expressing his feeling through the current scene. Especially in the last sentence, phonogram "Qing" stands for both "the fine day" and "love". The original poem reads interesting. If we divide the image in this poem into two parts: objective and subjective, objective meaning the object the writer describes and subjective the writer's subjective feeling, we could analyze these two sentences in this way: "æ- æ™´"¼ˆWú Qíng¼‰'s objective is rain while subjective is "loveless"; "有晴"¼ˆYÇ’u Qíng¼‰'s objective is the fine day while the subjective is "with love". (Xu&Xu, 2006: 107)As a matter of fact, the writer's intention is to show that they have love between them though he speaks it in a doubt way. According to relevance theory, translators need to find the optimal relevance with the subjective and objective of the poem.

In Huang's version, the third sentence is translated good but the fourth provides no objective or subjective: it is a mistranslation. It seems that he intends to translate it in liberal way but failed because Huang does not understand the original correctly. As for the Xu's version's last sentence, we see only the subjective without objective. That is, he translates it in a liberal way because he grasps the deep meaning of the original exactly. As a translator, he has prepares the readers to get the optimal relevance through the least efforts.

â…£ Conclusion

Relevance theory is a theory to account for the translation rather than teach translators how to translate. According to relevance theory, no matter which approach translators adopt, literal, liberal or literal with footnotes, they need try to reach the optimal relevance and the best translation effects through cognitive ability. The aim of the pragmatic translation is to focus on the context, namely, translate not only the content but also the context of the poem. The main task of the translation is to transfer or express the original text to audience in a pragmatic way which abides by the target language. Therefore, in this way, if they reach the optimal relevance and utmost contextual transformation, the purpose of translation is greatly achieved and there is no untranslatability in poetry translation.