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  •  Your example reminds me of an old (12+ / 0-)

    story.

    Back during the Qing dynasty, there was this very talented young scholar named Ji Xiaolan. He was from northern China. During that time, southern China was very prosperous and produced many famous scholars. In contrast, northern China was poor and had few scholars.

    One day, someone was arguing with Ji about whether northern China or southern China was better. This guy wrote half of a couplet as a challenge to Ji:
    多山多水多才子
    (duo shan duo shui duo cai zi: Many mountains, many waters, and many scholars)
    This was to describe that not only southern China wins in its beautiful scenery, it also wins in the number of scholars it produces. It took Ji only a few minutes to complete the couplet with this sentence:
    一天一地一圣人
    (yi tian yi di yi sheng ren: One heaven, one earth, and one Sage)
    The Sage, of course, was Confucius, who was born in northern China. So no matter how many scholars southern China produced, the only one that counted was Confucius. :-)

    •  I like the story about the Northern Chinese guy (7+ / 0-)

      Here’s two stories from my life.

      1) When I was in college I had a friend who was learning Chinese, with the idea he might take the State Dept’s Foreign Service exam (I lost track of him, so I don’t know if he succeeded). He told me he could learn the writing system, and the words, and the pronunciations, but the metaphors were driving him nuts.

      For example, he said there might be some phrase that literally means, “lantern in a rainy forest” – so you know the words and you know what they mean, but the phrase has some metaphorical or idiomatic meaning you don’t understand (but to Chinese speakers, they know exactly what it means). Here’s an example in English. Suppose I called you a “lazy rabbit” but I was referring to the fable about the race between the rabbit and the turtle. I pointed out to my friend that English has lots of those kinds of things, but we don’t think about them because they’re just in our heads. The squeaky wheel (gets the grease). You scratch my back (and I’ll scratch yours). Hair of the dog (that bit you).

      OK, another story about translating. While my friend was learning Chinese, one of my languages was Old English (aka Anglo Saxon). I learned the various poetic metaphors (like the “whale way,” which means the ocean, or “edge” which can refer to a sharp-edged sword). In one of the chronicles of a battle, I forget which one but probably either Maldon or Brunnanburh, the Anglo Saxons are losing and one of them runs away from the battle. And there’s a line, “Thaet waes unhold mann” (which could be translated literally as “that was not a nice man.”) My professor focused on that line and said what is “hold”? OK. It can mean nice or friendly or gracious or loyal. Then he said, to the Anglo Saxons one of the worst things you could do as a warrior would be to abandon your friends and fellow warriors (to whom you were probably related by blood or to whom you had sworn an oath to fight to the death). So why doesn’t the poet call him a fucking coward? Because the Anglo Saxon poets sometimes used understatement. The author says, “he was not such a nice guy” and the audience knows exactly what is being said. The poet underexaggerates instead of overexaggerating.

      Just a couple of stories about the difficulties and the subtleties of translating.

      "Stupid just can't keep its mouth shut." -- SweetAuntFanny's grandmother.

      by Dbug on Sat Mar 02, 2013 at 09:10:12 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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