Discussion Ancient Chinese Pronouns: pinyin or translation?

Discussion in 'Novel General' started by elideli, Mar 1, 2023.

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Do you prefer novels where pronouns are written out in pinyin or translated?

  1. Pinyin.

    5 vote(s)
    23.8%
  2. Translated.

    14 vote(s)
    66.7%
  3. No preference/Other

    2 vote(s)
    9.5%
  1. elideli

    elideli keepin' an eye out

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    When reading a CN novel where characters use old pronouns to refer to themselves (for example: 本宫 ben gong, 本座 ben zuo, 朕 zhen, 臣 chen, etc.) do you prefer it when the translators leave the pronouns in pinyin or when they translate them?

    For example:
    Chen salutes the emperor. <-- pronoun left in pinyin.
    This subject salutes the emperor. <-- pronoun translated.

    I personally prefer when the pronouns are translated because seeing too much pinyin sometimes hurts my brain, but I do acknowledge that some of the nuances of speech are lost when that happens, so I was just wondering what other people thought.
     
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  2. Astaroth

    Astaroth empty

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    translate for sure


    side note I've seen so much MTL and trashlations where 本座 gets translated as "this seat/throne" but I think even that would be preferable over pinyin in this case

    For most readers pinyin won't convey any meaning so other than names or concepts that have no translation I don't think pinyin should be used



    Also if you see just "Chen" how would you even know that it's not the name Chen?

    So if you were to use pinyin instead of translation then I think you should:
    1. add tone markers for complete pinyin instead of just the letters, i.e. Chén vs Chen
    2. provide footnotes to explain what the pinyin means
    3. stylize the pinyin in some way to indicate that pinyin/transliteration is being used. iirc the translator of World of Cultivation would use italics when writing pinyin for terms like shixiong, e.g. Chén vs Chen.
     
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  3. elideli

    elideli keepin' an eye out

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    I've seen this too many times as well lol
    That's a fair point, most of the time unless you're already familiar with how the pronouns are used you get no real value from just pinyin unless the translator adds like a million footnotes explaining the context/usage/etc.
     
  4. null

    null Procrastinate Lv MAX

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    本宮 = pronounce for empress / consort to address people with lower status
    本座 = roughly "honorable me"
    朕 = (imperial) we
    臣 = depend on context, refer to https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/臣

    Personally I would left first one to pinyin because its too long to explain and the direct translation for it is weird (“I, who owns this palace”). The other 3 can be translated to English.
     
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  5. luoxinle

    luoxinle Book Club Founder

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    I prefer pinyin with a footnote, but I also speak some Chinese, so I'm biased. For me, more than pronouns, it's the family names that get me. So much information is lost when you translate 三姑 as "aunt" (father's sister who is third born out of her siblings). For these terms, I want it either in pinyin with an English footnote, or translated into English with a footnote containing the original term and explanation. Really, for any term that doesn't exist in English I want a footnote containing the original term.
     
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  6. elideli

    elideli keepin' an eye out

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    Yeah, I feel like there's certainly a balance to be struck between providing as much info from the original as possible but also making sure the translation doesn't read like an academic paper with a gazillion footnotes :blobdizzy:
     
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  7. emiliers

    emiliers Well-Known Member

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    Definitely translate it. You get zero value from leaving it in pinyin because it's not like non-Chinese speakers even know how to pronounce it/what the term actually means and signifies. (And explaining it in footnotes will yield the same value regardless of whether or not you leave the original term in pinyin or not.)

    A truly great translator will find a way to translate these words into understandable English that doesn't disrupt the flow of the narrative. Because, speaking as a native Chinese speaker, when I'm reading a CN -> EN translation, I'm looking for a similar, frictionless experience to what I'd get in the original Chinese. Leaving the pinyin does not give that experience.

    And, yeah, while you do lose some meaning with familial forms of address (because Chinese is a huge stickler for hierarchy), you can still provide as much information as possible that's necessary in the narrative through translating it. Because sometimes that additional information (e.g. what number child that person is in their family, whether they're from the mother's or father's side, whether they're an aunt/uncle older than your own parents or not) is also extraneous in the original Chinese. So just pick the most important bits that are actually relevant and translate it -- e.g. "Third Aunt" or "Mother's younger brother", etc. Leaving it in pinyin will make it easier for Chinese speakers to parse but not English ones, and when you translate, you're doing it for English speakers, not Chinese speakers. If you need to leave footnotes to explain the meaning anyway, leaving it along with an actual English translation is far preferable to leaving it with pinyin.
     
  8. Kaylee

    Kaylee Well-Known Member

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    Would there be perfect fit translation for such cases?
     
  9. ToastedRossi

    ToastedRossi Well-Known Member

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    Always translate these honorifics. It may seem like a good idea to treat Chinese honorifics like Japanese ones. With Japanese, it's not uncommon for translations to leave honorifics untranslated and the books tend to still read fine. The problem is that a lot of Japanese novels might only have a dozen honorifics, and that's not too bad for a reader to manage. A Chinese novel that takes place in the modern world will often have twice as many so it's going to be tougher going for readers. A historical novel set in Imperial China can have a hundred or more. It's just brutal to expect readers to manage, especially as they won't have much context for what these honorifics are meant to communicate.

    It's actually used by anyone with a palatial rank. Most often it's people married to the emperor, but it can include the previous emperor's consorts and the crown prince. Yeah, Chinese honorifics have a bewildering number of applications and complications.

    "Fricitionless" should be operative word for translations. A translation shouldn't be trying to replicate the meaning so much as replicating how reading it feels. I don't read Chinese translations, but I do spot check them from time to time. And the most common fault I find is that the translation feels far more mechanical than the original so it ends up being a lot less enjoyable.

    I don't think there's a perfect translation exists. Everybody likes something different so what works for one may be the wrong thing for someone else. Personally, I think that translators should be liberal in rewriting text to make it flow better, but some readers are going to hate that.
     
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  10. luoxinle

    luoxinle Book Club Founder

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    I think there's a middle ground, though. For example, laoshi should be translated as teacher, not as Mr. or Ms., and ge can be left as pinyin, since "brother" just sounds too awkward in English (this is context dependent, though - if it's used once, it should be translated as brother, but if it's a title for a specific character that's used all the time, then I think it's better in pinyin). While I agree that a frictionless read is a pleasure, it shouldn't be completely culturally converted. If I wanted something that could have been written in English, I'd read an English novel. I like experiencing literature from another culture. (that and I'm addicted to face-slapping rebirth novels, which basically don't exist in English)
     
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  11. ToastedRossi

    ToastedRossi Well-Known Member

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    There is a middle ground, but it's never going to be something that satisfies everyone, and I don't think that this should be a priority goal for translators to begin with. As I said earlier, whenever I spot check a translation, the problem is that it feels too stilted compared to the original. One major reason for this is that English just has much more stringent rules for a piece of text to look naturalistic. Deviating from these rules ends up changing the tenor for the reader. Following the original text too closely will tend to do this so in my mind, more liberal translations will actually end up better matching the feel of the original.

    So the question here is whether it's more important to retain as much of the text and grammar of the original or if it's more important to better convey feel and the meaning of the original. I tend to strongly favor the latter because I don't think the former accomplishes all that much. As for the fear of losing the feel of a Chinese novel, I don't it's much of a concern until a translator begins truly butchering the work. There are just too many specific turns of phrase, and the characters are framed, and all sorts of storytelling tidbits that will set them apart from fiction from any other country.
     
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  12. Diametric

    Diametric Waifu Connoisseur

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    It's strange being on this side of the issue, for once. Usually, I like it in Japanese novels when the translator keeps in some Japanese words. It adds nuance and style and "reminds me" that I'm reading a Japanese novel, which I like. But I know that if I read a Chinese novel with a bunch of random untranslated words left in, I'd get confused and frustrated since I wouldn't know what any of it means, and going back and forth with TNs would get annoying.

    Honestly, I suppose it depends on your target audience. Do you think the people reading your novel will be people who recognise some of the language or not? That should help inform your decision.
     
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  13. luoxinle

    luoxinle Book Club Founder

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    I think intended readership is a good point. You can't please everyone, nor should you try. So what would your intended reader want? And at the end of the day, we're mostly reading hobbyist translators here, so the real question is, what makes you as a translator happy?
     
  14. ToastedRossi

    ToastedRossi Well-Known Member

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    It should be noted that Japanese words are a lot easier to recognize than Chinese ones. Japanese pronunciations are very regular and they can be romanized pretty smoothly. Once you know the pronunication rules, it's easy to establish the written word to its word sound in your mind. On the other hand, pinyin has a lot of pronunciation rules that are alien to a English-language speaker, and the syllables themselves tend to use sounds that English doesn't use. And even if you know all this, pinyin strips away the tones that are necessary to pronounce the words to begin with.

    A simple exercise can demonstrate this: think of the names of some Chinese characters and compare them to the names of some Japanese characters. Which are easier to remember? I'd be shocked if it's the Chinese ones.
     
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  15. Nightow1

    Nightow1 Well-Known Member

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    Speaking as someone who mostly only speaks English, that example of a Chen sentence would have me scratching my head with a "Wasn't his name XYZ?". This is because I've absolutely no idea what a Chen is other than a name.
     
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  16. EnduringConviction

    EnduringConviction Well-Known Member

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    Unless there is a big discrepancy between the translated word and the original Chinese meaning, then choose pinyin.(This situation Usually occurs in the translation of special nouns in the isekai of Japanese light novels)
    Otherwise, there is no reason to use pinyin instead of translation.
     
  17. sleepycaptions

    sleepycaptions Well-Known Member

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    Translated. The first time I read a translation that used pinyin, I couldn’t keep up with who was who. I’m more experienced as a reader now and can accept pinyin in historical romance stories and find it fun to know some words but it’s still tough to follow as a non-Chinese reader. The current novel I’m reading uses pinyin I’ve never seen and despite the great footnotes, it’s really hard to keep track of everything because there’s too much :confused:
     
  18. luoxinle

    luoxinle Book Club Founder

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    The specific website can make a big difference here. Footnotes that are viewable as mouse-over text are much more accessible than footnotes requiring you to click through to the bottom and then click back up, and linked footnotes are more accessible than footnotes that require you to scroll up and down. I'm happy to have a million mouse-over text footnotes, but if I have to scroll to the bottom, and then search for my place when I scroll back up, I prefer footnotes kept to a minimum.
     
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  19. ToastedRossi

    ToastedRossi Well-Known Member

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    There are some books out there with really impressive notes where mouse-over wouldn't work. Then again, these are so detailed they're just about as worth reading as the actual story. Here's a sampler of one (and it's just for one chapter):

    I can't imagine that too many translators out there would put this much effort into their work though.
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2023
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  20. luoxinle

    luoxinle Book Club Founder

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    Yes, exactly! I love reading these in depth explanations. I admit it's a lot for mouse-over text. I think ideally a footnote will be a link to the bottom (with corresponding link back up to the text) as well as mouse-over text that is cut off when it's too long. That way the short footnotes can be read as mouse-over text, and you can still click down for the longer ones. The story I'm reading right now uses that technology for footnotes, though they don't cut off the length (Second Marriage).