The Linguist

The Linguist 57,3 – June/July 2018

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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WHERE PAST AND FUTURE COLLIDE Clockwise from bottom left: Wuxia games 'Heroes of Kung Fu'; and 'The Legend of Sword and Fairy'; Utagawa Kuniyoshi's woodblock print of Yang Lin, a hero from Outlaws of the Marsh; cover art for Wuxia games 'Key of Heaven' (originally 'Kingdom of Paradise'); and 'Jade Empire'; an illustration for Chinese classic Journey to the West; the lóng, usually translated as 'dragon'; and game play from 'Age of Wulin' 16 The Linguist Vol/57 No/3 2018 FEATURES they related to Chinese culture. While a few were loosely based on periods of European history, the majority featured recurring Chinese themes. These games were typically MMORPGs, either based on – or inspired by – Chinese classical literature, such as Journey to the West (Wu; 1592), Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Luo; 14th century) and Heroes of the Marsh (Shi; c.13th century). Many other MMORPRGs were inspired by Wuxia novels, which are set within ancient or pre-modern China and involve heroic martial artists, delivering justice and stamping out corruption throughout the land. One of the main challenges of translating video games based on these texts is that they feature Classical Chinese, which evolved in the 5th-2nd centuries BC. It is markedly different from modern Chinese and more concise (typically twice as compact), featuring more pronouns but dropping subjects and objects when reference to them is inferable. In addition, Classical Chinese has a rhythmic quality and is sometimes delivered in verse. A translator who can read modern Chinese is likely to struggle with Classical Chinese. Fortunately, my interest in Chinese classical literature was one of the main reasons I began learning the language. As soon as I was able, I started reading the classics and watching TV and movie adaptations. Without this knowledge, it would have been difficult to translate the many culture-specific references typical to these games, including historical characters, mythological creatures, poetic verse and even traditional Chinese medicine. It is not uncommon in these games to come across a wandering scholar (often a historic figure) roaming the mountains, drinking wine and giving your character details of the next quest in poetic verse; or an eccentric hermit, who is really a grand master and will teach you a secret form of martial arts, but only after you help him to gather medicinal herbs. Although I was aware of China's pride in its long recorded history, I was still surprised that so many Chinese video games had such a high degree of culture specifity. Some Western games are based on legendary tales, for example King Arthur or Robin Hood, but very few are based on classical literature such as Shakespearean plays. After some research, I learned that, in 2000, the Chinese Ministry of Culture had banned foreign consoles, as they were considered to disturb social order, threaten state security and be harmful to young people. 2 Developers were then directed to promote Chinese culture within the gaming community to build a stronger sense of Chinese identity, 3 and this is why there are so many MMORPGs based on classical Chinese literature and wuxia novels. Mythical beasts & how to translate them Among the many cultural elements, Chinese mythical creatures exist in the majority of the nation's video games, either as beings with which the player interacts, or as symbols, images or text references. There is no mythical beast more central to Chinese culture than the lóng (龙), which is almost always translated as 'dragon'. However, the Western concept of 'dragon' and the Chinese concept of lóng are opposites in several respects. The dragon is often an evil, reptilian, fire-breathing creature, while the lóng is an auspicious, magical being, typically described as having the antlers of a deer, the head of a camel, eyes of a demon, neck of a snake, belly of a clam, scales of a carp, claws of an eagle, paws of a tiger and ears of an ox. However, as the translation 'dragon' has already been firmly established in Western references to Chinese culture, especially celebrations, architecture and the Chinese zodiac, translating it as anything else would be problematic. While not as renowned as the lóng, the qílín (麒麟) is one of the most commonly depicted mythical creatures featured in Chinese video games, and is sometimes inaccurately translated as 'unicorn'. Where a Western unicorn is a magical horse with a single horn, the qílín is more of a chimerical creature with the ability to walk on water and clouds, typically having the scales of a dragon, the body of an ox, horse or deer,

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