Lost in translatio­n

Chi­nese schol­ars pro­pose al­ter­na­tive English name for China’s ‘dragon’

Global Times US Edition - - LIFE - By Chen Xi

For cen­turies, China’s iconic mytho­log­i­cal crea­ture long has been trans­lated as “dragon” in English. How­ever, long in China is ac­tu­ally quite dif­fer­ent from dragons in the West. In China, long is usu­ally seen as an ami­able and aus­pi­cious an­i­mal while dragons in the West are usu­ally de­picted as danger­ous mon­sters like the dragon from the Old English epic Be­owulf or high fan­tasy novel The Lord of the Rings.

For this rea­son, some schol­ars have pro­posed using ‘loong’ in English when talk­ing about the Chi­nese dragon.

“The Chi­nese word long should be translit­er­ated as ‘loong’ to dis­tin­guish the crea­ture from the vile im­age of dragons in the West,” Huang Ji, a teacher at the East China Nor­mal Univer­sity’s School of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, told the Global Times.

How­ever, many Chi­nese ex­perts are op­posed to the pro­posal, call­ing it an un­nec­es­sary change that would de­te­ri­o­rate China’s cul­tural con­fi­dence and lead to more mis­un­der­stand­ings among for­eign­ers.

“Peo­ple in other coun­tries who know even just a little about Chi­nese cul­ture can dis­tin­guish the dif­fer­ence be­tween the Chi­nese dragon and Western dragon. It is totally un­nec­es­sary to change it into the strange word ‘loong,’” Huang Youyi, for­mer vice pres­i­dent of the China In­ter­na­tional Pub­lish­ing Group and ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the Trans­la­tors As­so­ci­a­tion of China, told the Global Times.

Chang­ing mean­ing

The 2010 ver­sion of the Ox­ford Dic­tio­nary of English says “dragon is a myth­i­cal mon­ster like a gi­ant rep­tile. In Euro­pean tra­di­tion the dragon is typ­i­cally fire­breath­ing and tends to sym­bol­ize chaos or evil, whereas in East Asia it is usu­ally a benef­i­cent sym­bol of fer­til­ity as­so­ci­ated with wa­ter and the heav­ens.”

Although the au­thor­i­ta­tive English dic­tio­nary in­cludes an ex­pla­na­tion about the crea­tures de­pic­tion in Asian cul­ture, Huang Ji said that a dif­fer­ent translatio­n is still needed.

“The dic­tio­nary only records how the word is used at this stage, but it can­not prove that the us­age is cor­rect,” Huang Ji said.

“For­eign mis­sion­ar­ies in China mis­trans­lated long into ‘dragon’ 200 years ago, and the English dic­tio­nary has to con­tinue ex­plain­ing the sit­u­a­tion since we Chi­nese have not cor­rected the mis­trans­la­tion. If we separate ‘loong’ from ‘dragon,’ the English dic­tio­nary will be mod­i­fied.”

How­ever, Zhu Yuan, an edi­to­rial writer in the Opin­ion Depart­ment of China Daily, told the Global Times that he did not agree with the idea of using translit­er­a­tion in­stead of trans­lat­ing.

“‘Dragon’ has been used for a long time in translatio­n and has grad­u­ally been ac­cepted by Western peo­ple. If we change it into an­other word, the word’s mean­ing will be­come un­sta­ble, which will cause com­mu­ni­ca­tion bar­ri­ers be­tween peo­ple around the world,” Zhu said.

He ex­plained that word us­age is some­thing that should change nat­u­rally in­stead of be­ing dic­tated by peo­ple.

“The se­man­tics of a word change dur­ing the use of a lan­guage. For ex­am­ple, the 2010 ver­sion of Ox­ford Dic­tio­nary of English has added the Chi­nese dragon’s kind im­age into the word ‘dragon,’ which shows that the word’s mean­ing has changed nat­u­rally. Those who want to use the translit­er­a­tion ‘loong’ have a dis­torted un­der­stand­ing of lan­guage as they see words as dead things that can­not be changed,” he said.

Far-reach­ing im­pact

Ac­cord­ing to Huang Ji, the im­por­tance of using the right word will have an im­pact that goes far be­yond the field of translatio­n. It in­volves China’s na­tional im­age and avoid­ing diplo­matic in­ci­dents.

“The Chi­nese claim to be ‘the de­scen­dants of the dragon,’ which might give those who are not friendly to China the op­por­tu­nity to be­smirch China’s im­age,” he noted.

“Long is just a folk sym­bol. It is un­rea­son­able to say its translatio­n is con­nected to the nation’s future. Even if the translatio­n of long is changed, those who are not friendly to China will still make some other ex­cuse to target China,” Wang Pingx­ing, a specialist at the Xin­hua News Agency’s For­eign News Depart­ment, told the Global Times.

Un­der­stand­ing cul­ture

Many words be­sides “dragon” have dif­fer­ent or even the op­po­site mean­ing in China and the West due to the two sides’ his­tor­i­cal, so­ci­o­log­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences, so trans­la­tors need to find ways to trans­late from one lan­guage to an­other with­out dis­tort­ing the orig­i­nal mean­ing, Wang noted. “Translit­er­a­tion has been widely used for many words in ei­ther lan­guage like cola, kung fu, jiaozi, tofu and the like, but these words usu­ally need to be an­no­tated to pro­vide a more de­tailed ex­pla­na­tion,” Huang Ji said. “There are many dif­fer­ent ways to ap­proach translatio­n. I can’t say which is the best, all that mat­ters is that it achieves good results when it comes to com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” Zhu said, not­ing that find­ing a word in English that has a sim­i­lar mean­ing to a Chi­nese word is eas­ier to un­der­stand than translit­er­a­tion of a for­eign word. “The translatio­n of long has been dis­cussed for years, and I think it is use­less to con­tinue it. It will be bet­ter if we trans­fer our en­ergy in helping for­eign peo­ple bet­ter un­der­stand Chi­nese cul­ture,” Huang Youyi told the Global Times.

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