Monday, January 26, 2009

Blue-stained translations?

Just enjoying this Washington Post article, this article on the mind-boggling growth of China's hydropower system and carbon emissions, and the gorgeously uncharacteristic New Year's weather, when my wife flipped me this piece on translation in the Liberty Times from last week. The writer argues that the China Times translations are biased, complaining about the translations of Jerome Cohen's letter condeming the swap of judges a couple of weeks ago in the Chen case, and observing that the translator appears to have softened criticisms of the KMT:


Kong Jie Rong paid great attention to the development of the Chen case.He felt that the custody decision of the Court to detain Chen Shui-bian, is obvious "violation" of Article No. 653, but asked the "contradictions" over a sum. As for changing "adverse evidence" to "evidence of a crime", that is not only unprofessional, but also exposes the "darkness" in [his?] heart.

So I went to check myself. The China Times translation and the English text are both here. In addition to some reparagraphing of Cohen's text, there's an interesting change in the second paragraph....

...The vibrant democracy for which so many in Taiwan have struggled is in trouble. Corruption threatens the integrity of the political system. This cancer cannot be controlled without a credible, fair and transparent judicial system to enforce the law....


....where it appears that strong English word cancer has been replaced with weaker trouble. Is this systematic? After all, the translator had no trouble retaining the word corruption though the reader might well see that as a reference to Chen. In that same paragraph....

...Their convictions after proceedings perceived to be fair would vindicate the values of clean government, deter potential wrongdoers and heighten confidence in courts that began to free themselves from decades of authoritarian Kuomintang government fewer than 20 years ago....


The phrase decades of has disappeared from the text although autocratic was retained.

Further down the translator appears to have mislaid the word embezzle:

The battle between Taipei District Court Judge Chou Chan-chun's three-judge panel - which twice took the unusual step of ordering Chen's release without bail, pending trial - and Taiwan's High Court - which twice reversed that decision - only ended when the case against the Chen group, originally assigned by lot to Judge Chou's panel, was merged into the earlier prosecution of Chen's wife for embezzling special state funds.

兩度裁定無保釋放陳的台北地 院周占春庭長的專庭與兩度駁回該庭裁定的台灣高等法院之間的爭議,以將經由抽籤分配給周庭長專庭審理的陳案之眾多公訴合併於蔡守訓庭長的專庭審理之陳與其 妻吳淑珍侵占國務機要費案作終結。

....which in the Chinese has now been replaced by invading and occupying the state funds. Moving on, Cohen's next paragraph notes:

The dilemmas of a defendant's detention before final conviction plague every country. More distinctive to Taiwan are the unresolved mysteries surrounding the recent merger of the Chen group's case into the embezzlement case brought against his wife in 2006 - a time when Chen, although involved, still enjoyed presidential immunity from prosecution.


The last sentence -- a time when Chen, although involved, still enjoyed presidential immunity from prosecution -- is completely missing, no doubt to save space, but then some of the mystery that Cohen identifies is reduced.

Anyone can compare the two pieces, and there's plenty of stuff in there. Further on Cohen writes:

Was this entire non-transparent process the court's response to angry public criticism of Judge Chou?


Note how the Chinese translation completely drops angry public criticism and substitutes instead some of the media and KMT legislators strong criticism.

As the writer of the Liberty Times case notes, there are too many of these to count, but he ends by saying:


....the messed-up translation of a question does not admit the politicization of Taiwan's judiciary: "Did any politician intimidate the court with secret threats?" was translated "Did any politician coerce the court?" Why did the word "secret"

The entire China Times translation of that sentence reads: 有無政治人物脅迫該法院對案件為如此安排?"Secret" has indeed gone missing.

As bonus for this week's translation puzzle hounds, in the Chinese of passage in Chen's new book the Financial Times translated last week, does the term "fenli zhuyizhe" (splittist) occur in the Chinese of this paragraph?
Some people believe that if Taiwan makes concessions to China , China will respond benignly. This is a very naive fantasy. China cannot remove the missiles it has aimed at Taiwan , just as under the “one China ” principle it cannot accept separate interpretations of what one China means. China 's basic attitude towards Taiwan has already been set. It cannot be changed by people in Beijing but only by the 23m people in Taiwan . I admit that I seek not just de facto independence for Taiwan but also de jure independence. Therefore the criticisms levelled at me by China and the US during my eight years in office were not groundless. Just like they said, I am a splittist. I am a seeker and practitioner of de jure independence for Taiwan.
....I may have identified the wrong paragraph (p189), but in Chinese that sentence says: "I am just what they say, I am a 'Taiwan independence advocate' (taidu lunzhe). "Splittist" isn't in there.

And don't forget to enjoy another unforgettable performance from the Justice Minister in the post below this one.


Dixteel said...

Indeed...all these faulty translations create problems in the dialogs between the US and Taiwan government and public. When the US officials say one thing, Taiwan public heard completely different things...etc...

It's better to just read the original document...but I wonder how can these problems be remendied in the long term because certainly not everyone in the US and Taiwan can read both English and Chinese.

Anonymous said...

Chinese is too much neanderthal to translate 100% from any language to it. They have a lack of syllables. Besides, newspapers manipulating is nothing really new in Asia, is it?

channing said...

In some of the cases, a direct translation would be poor word usage in Chinese. The rest are more debatable.

Media manipulation is nothing really new anywhere in the world, is it?

Anonymous said...

Chinese is too much neanderthal to translate 100% from any language to it.

So is any language to the other. However, if you are the same anonymous poster responding to my posts. It make me feel a lot better. With your support of DPP movement, I can see where the movement and Taiwan is heading. However, the good news is that the majority of Taiwan people disagree with you at least from the last two elections.

The biking viking said...

I'll have to agree with Channing, some expressions would sound awkward in Chinese. I don't think "cancer," for example, would translate well into Chinese in this context. Also, 侵占 really is the Chinese word for embezzlement, just check the Ministry of Education's online Chinese-Chinese dictionary for example. Generally speaking, I haven't read enough translations of English texts into Chinese to know if mistranslation is deliberate and systematic, or if it is simply a case of the translator not knowing English well enough to pick up on nuances.