The Linguist

The Linguist 55,1

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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The Linguist 19 FEATURES back to the 1930s, but what the theatre practitioners told us was that they were very difficult for actors to speak and not really theatrically viable. They were too archaic. What we needed was a fresh theatre." They adopted a collaborative approach to the translation, with the actors, director, artistic director and translator sitting around a table for an initial consultation. The translator then worked on the Chinese version, making any necessary changes during rehearsals. During this process, they found most of the comedic situations relatively easy to render, but the punchlines could be tricky. "The Chinese translations rarely translate anything bawdy," Doran explains. Theatre historian Dennis Kennedy directed a Chinese version of As You Like It in Beijing, and will return in 2016 with a new version of The Merchant of Venice. His view is that foreign-language versions of Shakespeare's plays can be limiting. "It is the text that gets the attention. Even when we are talking about performance, commentators will refer back to the text as the primary object. As soon as you move into another language, all of that is lost. There is no longer anything of 'the scripture', no matter how good it is or how close it is to the original. The point is that it is no longer what we would call Shakespeare." From wordplay to blank verse Ching-Hsi Perng is a retired professor of English at National Taiwan University and is based in Hong Kong. He has translated Hamlet, The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure into Mandarin, and is currently working on versions of As You Like It and The Merry Wives of Windsor, the only Shakespeare play to be set entirely in England. To start the process, he looks at the text not just as a reader but also as a scholar, in what he describes as essentially a "solitary pursuit". He leaves the production to the director and actors, although they do discuss the script with him. "The main challenge is always language. In addition to wordplays, there's poetic form. Modern Mandarin is a relatively new lingua, and writers are still experimenting with it, especially its rhythm." "There was no counterpart to blank verse in Chinese poetic tradition; for true poetic drama we have to go back to traditional Chinese opera. But attempts have been made, I believe with some success, to catch that rhythm in more recent Chinese translations," he adds. "I try to approximate the rhythm of the original and avoid paraphrasing. Instead, wherever possible I try to keep the ambiguity or suggestiveness of the original. Hence my translation is more concise than most other Chinese translations." For Perng, wordplays, which exist in all of Shakespeare plays, are the greatest challenge. "As You Like It is my first try at a real comedy and I find in it more wordplays than in the others I've worked on. When it is topical, humour is difficult to render, and explanation in notes will never do in theatre. If you are lucky, you may be able to tackle a single pun here and there. When one pun is followed by other related ones, that would be an impossible job, for instance, the string of Touchstone's bawdy puns." He adds: "History plays, too, are difficult for both the Chinese translator and his audience, not familiar with British history. The titles of the nobilities alone are easily confusing." Noblemen and women are often called by their title, family name, given name and/or nickname within the same play. In Richard II, for example, the audience is supposed to know that Henry Bolingbroke, Hereford, the Duke of Hereford and Henry all refer to the same person. "I have shied away from translating any history plays, which also demand a familiarity with British history of the middle ages," he admits. Having a live audience can be very useful in gauging how successful a translation has been. "Every time the translated work is performed for the first time, I would watch the audience's response to see how the words work on them. I also watch how the actors work with the words. Sometimes I say to myself, 'That is not what I meant at all'. But the staged performance is different from reading; you have to admit it has a life of its own and live with it," says Perng. There may be linguistic losses in translation, but there can also be gains, he adds. "To me, a linguistic gain occurs when you can replace a subtle pun with an equally subtle Chinese pun. But, alas, such gains are rare. On the other hand, the translator should be able to claim that their translations, if generally well done, are gains for the target language, having explored and expanded its vocabulary and thought." As Andrew Dickson, author of Journeys around Shakespeare's Globe points out, audiences hearing a translation of Shakespeare are having an experience that is closer to those rowdy throngs of four centuries ago. He explains: "With each translation, it becomes fresh. In a way, foreign audiences are hearing it like Shakespeare's audiences did, as a new text and not a series of quotations. In a funny way, [English-speaking audiences] never have that proximity to the language." NEW AUDIENCES Richard III, performed at the Globe Theatre in Chinese by the National Theatre of China

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