Writing Chinese

On Translation and Chilli Bean Paste

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On Saturday November 1st, 35 keen translators – ranging from undergrads to postgrads, and from those simply with an interest in translation to professional translators – gathered together at the University of Leeds under the watchful eyes of translator Nicky Harman and author Yan Ge. Our task – to put together a translation of an excerpt from Yan Ge’s novel 我们家.

We’d been given the text in advance, to give us chance to prepare. So after fortifying ourselves with lunch and lots of coffee (clearly a key part of the translation process), we were split into groups and got down to work. Each group was a mix of nationalities and levels, which meant that no-one felt out of their depth or worried to ask questions. Nicky and Yan Ge were both on hand to provide guidance, and with each group taking a paragraph to work on, we came up with a full translation.

One of the most interesting things was the different ways in which people got around certain tricky problems. What do you call the place in a town where an outdoor cinema screen was set up? What’s a ‘wedding toast’? Is he fondling or groping? What exactly is going on in this brothel? And just how do you make chilli bean paste? (As to the chilli bean paste, we’re still none the wiser – Yan Ge happily informed us that she’s no idea, either – she just made it up, something her translator was somewhat horrified to learn.)

Having both author and translator there to give feedback was fantastic, and highlighted something that Nicky had brought up during the public talk in the morning – even if there are certain words and phrases which you can’t quite get over in the same way (Yan Ge, for example, uses a lot of Sichuan colloquialisms), you can always translate mood, narrative, and affect.

The day finished with an exercise on translated style and ‘translationese’ (and credit goes to translator Katy Derbyshire here, who came up with the exercise, which was then adapted by Nicky). We were given a worksheet with a number of short extracts, and had to work out which ones had been written in English, and which were translated. It was fascinating trying to work this out, and realizing how difficult it is! It certainly gave us all food for thought…

The day finished with our big announcement – the opening of the Bai Meigui Translation Competition. We’ll be writing more about this on the blog shortly, but you can find the details here, and make a start on your translation!

So thank you once more to Yan Ge and Nicky, and to all of our attendees.  And special thanks to Scott and Hannah for giving up their time to help out.

This entry was posted in Writing Chinese.

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