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Translating Translations: no pound of raisins for Екатерина Лобкова

December 31, 2012

Not long ago, I found on a translation competition website how Екатерина Лобкова (Ekaterina Lobka) translated into Russian how David Bellos translated into English the following Chinese “shunkouliu” exactly a dozen different ways:

Lobka also translated what Bellos wrote to introduce these twelve translations.  He wrote:

Chinese people love to pass around shunkouliu on oral grapevines. These are satiric rhythmical sayings, often consisting of quatrains with seven-syllable lines. The regularity of the form is audible and also visible in writing, because each Chinese character corresponds to one syllable. Here’s a jingle of that kind […]
Compact, patterned, dense, allusive, bitter, and humorous … translating a shunkouliu is a tall order. So why bother to try? Yet despite the odds, this barbed rhyme about New China’s old guard can be tailored into a pleasing and meaningful shape in a language completely unrelated to its original tongue. Here’s how it can be done, step by step.

And so she wrote:

Китайцы любят передавать из уст в уста shunkouliu на злобу дня. Это ритмизованные сатирические высказывания, часто состоящие из четверостиший, в каждой строке которых семь слогов. Регулярность этой формы слышна и видна на письме, поскольку каждый символ китайской письменности соответствует одному слогу. Вот один из таких стишков […]
Компактный, узорный, насыщенный, иносказательный, горький, юмористичный… Перевести такой shunkouliu – не фунт изюму. Зачем и пробовать? Но, несмотря на сложности, этот колкий стишок о старой гвардии Нового Китая можно перекроить в изящное и глубокомысленное произведение на языке, совершенно не родственном языку оригинала. Вот как это можно сделать, шаг за шагом.

And so I’d like you to note:  Bellos’s “a tall order” is matched by Lobka’s “не фунт изюму“!

What’s “a tall order” mean in English anyway?  Click here to read some English readers musing about the phrase.

And what’s “не фунт изюму” mean in Russian anyway?  Click here to read in English what this Russian idiom (literally “no pound of raisins”) might mean.

Now enjoy all of the different ways of translating that both Bellos of the shunkouliu and Lobka of Bellos and of shunkouliu have been able to demonstrate.  These can be found at “the Custom Cuts: Making Forms Fit – Индивидуальный пошив: подгоняем по фигуре.”

Does a Russian translation of an English translation of the Chinese “shunkouliu” have more political ramifications?

What’s involved in translating translations that is more of a tall order than just translating an original?

What are the implications for Bible translation, especially passages that must be translations of translations?

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