MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND TRAINING HANOI UNIVERSITY OF FOREIGN STUDIES UNNATURALNESS IN ENGLISH – VIETNAMESE TRANSLATION: CAUSES AND CURES by Le Phuong Lan A THESIS Presented to The English Department In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Bachelor of Arts Supervisor: ng Xuan Thu, M. A. May 2006 – Hanoi 1 Abstract Unnaturalness in English – Vietnamese translation: causes and cures by Le Phuong Lan
The purpose of this graduation thesis has primarily been to define and describe mistakes – the translation unnaturalness – frequently seen in English – Vietnamese translation which, does not completely ruin the whole work though, may confuse or puzzle readers of the target language.
To further develop the argument, the thesis works out some of the major causes of unnaturalness in English – Vietnamese translations by not only students of English but also people who practice translating as their profession.
Each cause is presented with typical examples taken out from published materials like newspaper articles, translated literary works, and students’ translation exercises as well as assignments.
The thesis then boldly suggests possible solutions, i. e. a number of strategies translators and would-be translators can employ to address or, at least, minimize these common mistakes . 2 Acknowledgements First and foremost, I would like to express my gratitude to all those who gave me the possibility to complete this thesis.
I want to thank the English Department of Hanoi University of Foreign Studies for giving me permission to commence this thesis in the first instance and to do the necessary research work. I am deeply indebted to my supervisor Mr. stages of this research for and writing of this thesis. My classmates from class FA1 – 2002 supported me a great deal and I want to thank them for all their support, cooperation and valuable suggestions. I would like to express my sincere appreciation to other fellow students of the English Department for providing me their translation exercises and assignments to use as references.
Especially, I am obliged to my friends who looked closely at the final version of the thesis for English style and grammar, correcting both and offering suggestions for improvement. Finally, I cannot fully express my gratitude to all the people whose direct and indirect support helped me complete my thesis in time. ng Xuan Thu whose reference materials, support, stimulating suggestions and encouragement helped me in all 3 Table of Contents 1. Introduction 1. 1 Rationale 1. 2 Literature review 1. 3 Aims and scope of the thesis 2. Unnaturalness in English – Vietnamese translation 2. What is unnaturalness in translation? 2. 2 Classification of mistakes that cause unnaturalness in English – Vietnamese translation 2. 2. 1 On linguistic aspects 2. 2. 1. 1 At word level 2. 2. 1. 2 At phrase level 2. 2. 1. 3 At sentence level 2. 2. 1. 4 Linguistic untranslatability 2. 2. 2 On cultural aspects 2. 2. 2. 1 Translation of idioms and fixed expressions 2. 2. 2. 2 Translation of implications and classic references 2. 2. 2. 3 Cultural untranslatability 3. Causes of unnatural translation 3. 1 Subjective causes 3. 1. 1 Insufficient language competence 3. . 1. 1 Insufficient target language (Vietnamese) competence 3. 1. 1. 2 Insufficient source language (English) competence 13 13 14 21 23 28 30 30 34 36 38 38 38 38 40 7 7 8 10 12 12 4 3. 1. 2 Inadequate cultural background 3. 2 Objective causes 3. 2. 1 Linguistic differences between English and Vietnamese 41 42 42 3. 2. 2 Cultural differences 4. Translation techniques to avoid unnaturalness 4. 1 Accommodation 4. 1. 1 What is accommodation? 4. 2. 2 Types of accommodations 4. 2 Some suggested techniques 4. 2. 1 Overcoming linguistic problems 4. 2. 1. Choose the right word 4. 2. 1. 2 Choose the right structure 4. 2. 1. 3 Dealing with linguistic untranslatability 4. 2. 2 Overcoming cultural problems 4. 2. 2. 1 Cultural substitutions 4. 2. 2. 2 Dealing with cultural untranslatability 5. Conclusions 5. 1 Overview and summary of the thesis 5. 2 Strengths and weaknesses of the thesis 5. 3 Suggestions for further research and final comments References Literary sources 43 45 45 45 46 46 48 48 50 52 53 53 55 59 59 61 61 63 65 5 List of Tables 2. 1 Words with similar denotation but different connotation 2. Too informal translations 2. 2 Different nuances of the verb “to contribute” 2. 4 Replacements of parts of speech 2. 5 Word order at phrase level 2. 6 Unnecessary use of the passive voice 2. 7 Translation of sentences containing a relative clause 2. 8a Coincidences in English and Vietnamese similes 2. 8b Differences in English and Vietnamese similes 4. 1 Nouns to verbs or adjectives 4. 2 Switch between plural and singular form 4. 3 Cultural substitutions 14 16 18 19 23 24 26 31 32 48 49 54 55 4. 4 Free translation of proper names Chapter 1 Introduction 1. Rationale The practice of translation dates back some two thousand years and ever since has existed until present days. It is generally believed that translation plays a key role in the universalisation of human knowledge. It helps improve international understanding, socio-cultural awareness, professional communicative activities, implementation of technologies, and so much more. Many well-known translators have been praised for their great contribution to the mankind. Translation is of undeniable significance to the development of the world culture and society.
However, the practice of translation has long been criticized for being, more than often, unsatisfactory or even incorrect. The Italians have a saying that goes, “traduttore, tradittore” (translator, traitor). This seems to evoke an immoderate distaste for translators; yet it has its own reasoning. Certainly, almost no translation is perfect even when the general message is conveyed. This is due to the many linguistic and cultural differences between one language and another. Perfecting the practice of translation has been a great desire of generations of translators all over the world.
There have been several senior translators devoting their life to finding ways to overcome difficulties in their work. In other words, they have tried to figure out and resolve common pitfalls that make a translation unnatural and sometimes even incomprehensible. That is also the attempt that this thesis tries to accomplish, though in much more limited scope. 7 1. 2 Literature review In Vietnam, there has been a growing concern about the quality of English – Vietnamese translations. Some have been called by prestigious translators as “disasters of the translation art”.
Indeed, the practice of translation is not only a craft, but also a science and an art (Newmark, 1988), which needs to be constantly improved with a view to bringing the Vietnamese mass culture to new heights. Particularly, English is the language of billions of documents available in all fields, academic or popular. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that many scholars and lecturers teaching translation at universities have spared no efforts to work on the frequently seen types of mistakes in English – Vietnamese translation as well as techniques translators may employ to avoid them.
However, the field of study in Vietnam began comparatively recently and the number of published works remains modest. While some research has focused on the basic theory of translation, other work has sought to show different examples of translation techniques or provide sample translations. Much of the work published for internal circulation in universities emphasizes the former aspect, which is the theoretical basis of translation. Prominent publications of this type (in Vietnam) include Interpreting and Translation Course Book (Bui Ti n B o & ng Xuan Thu, 1999), Theory of Translation (Hu? h Trung Tin & Nguy n Ng c Tuy n, n. d. ) and some scattered academic essays found on the Internet. Different from international books on the theory of translation, these publications are closely related to the English – Vietnamese translation. Written by experienced translators who have spent years practicing translation as a profession and working with students learning translation skills, the books concentrate on addressing the main theoretical issues encountered by translation learners in Vietnam. This can be a solid basis to start any further research on the practice of translation in Vietnam.
For instance, in Interpreting and Translation Theory, the authors have mentioned the basic process of translation with the four-level approach. 8 It is a crucial argument to locate the level of naturalness in the whole translation process. However, about the unnaturalness in translation, none of the books mentioned have a clear definition of it. The description is rather brief and the issue is not placed enough importance on, whereas actually the books have certain examples of unnatural translations in several chapters.
Another trend of coping with translation issues in Vietnam is to figure out what are the weaknesses lingering in translation work and suggest specific techniques to help translators avoid repeating frequently made mistakes. This kind of approach can be seen in Hu ng d n k thu t d ch Anh – Vi t (English – Vietnamese Translation Techniques) (2005) by Nguy n Qu c Hung and Le Van S ’s Translation and Grammar (2003). Both books are practical and useful for readers as translation learners if they are to develop their translation skills and ability to deal with thorny situations.
The authors base their arguments on verified studies by well-known scholars over the world and their scope of study is broad. In Hu ng d n k thu t d ch Anh – Vi t, the author conducts in-depth analysis of each translation technique following every unit, which is in fact a sample translation task. The book focuses on the English – Vietnamese translation, the same as that of this thesis. The classification is rational and examples are practical. The only limitation of the book is that it gives too little room for discussion on problems a translator may face when translating the sample passages and the causes.
It is much like instructions for specific translation tasks rather than suggestions on translation methodology. In summary, this is a good book for translators who have already recognized their weaknesses and are seeking ways to improve their skills and polish their translations. However, for inexperienced translators or translation learners, it is more important to know the potential pitfalls they usually face so as to avoid them. This is why there is a need for a study on common mistakes that make an English – Vietnamese translation unnatural or smooth. 9
Author Le Van S in his book titled Translation and Grammar discusses as many as twenty five translation techniques, under each of them being typical and diverse examples. His way of classifying types of techniques is different from that of the author of Hu ng d n k thu t d ch Anh – Vi t, but it is rational on the ground of English grammar. Nevertheless, the book places too much emphasis on the grammatical aspects while it is crucial for translators to be aware of all linguistic aspects and even many cultural and social aspects. The sample translations are not accompanied by explanation of the translation methods.
In conclusion, so far few publications on English – Vietnamese translation clearly separate the mistakes that damage the meaning of the whole translation work and ones that make it sound un-Vietnamese or unnatural. These mistakes are discussed all together in the books mentioned above. Consequently, readers may not gain the different notions of what a correct translation is and what can be called a good translation. In fact, apart from the efforts to make correct literal translations, translators also need to be trained to better their work to the highest level possible.
It is for the sake of the whole translation culture at present and in the future. 1. 3 Aims and scope of the thesis The term translation can be understood in two ways. In broader term, translation is the process of converting words from one language to another (International Translation Bureau™, 2003). According to this definition, it includes interpreting as the conversion of spoken words from one language into another. However, what this thesis looks at is translation with its narrower definition, concerning only the written words. The rendering of written texts from one language into another requires high accuracy and smoothness.
This is because translation tasks allow considerable time for translators to find the best substitutions while interpreters hardly have time to 10 consider the wording and structure carefully. Inaccuracy and unnaturalness in translation, therefore, need to be studied more cautiously than those in interpreting. Moreover, the thesis concentrates on analyzing in details the English Vietnamese translation, which is much more popular in Vietnam today than Vietnamese – English translation. It touches upon translations of this kind by students of English as well as translators for Vietnamese magazines, newspapers and publishers.
This is due to the fact that not only translations by students but, worryingly, those by some contemporary professional translators in Vietnam can be dubbed unnatural. This is a flaw we need to eliminate or at least reduce to the minimum level with a view to purifying our mother tongue and providing readers with the best possible sources of knowledge and enjoyment. This is of importance to the development of Vietnamese culture and society in the future. The thesis may mention the theoretical base in each of its parts, but it concentrates largely on dealing with translation in practice.
In Vietnam, there have been quite little research work like this and most of the publications are for internal circulation in universities only. For that reason, this thesis is mostly based on the combination and analysis of minute details picked from these publications and materials acquired from personal sources. The primary aim of the thesis is to give students of English, the would-be translators, an overview of the frequently seen types of mistakes in English Vietnamese translation that may make their translations unnatural and incomprehensible so that they are fully aware of and able to avoid them.
The thesis also aims at finding causes of translation unnaturalness and then suggesting some possible strategies to overcome the problems. The targeted subjects of this thesis are mainly students; nevertheless, all people who are interested in translation work can consider it a useful reference helping improve their translating skills. In addition, the thesis touches upon a field of study that is still rather insufficient in Vietnam for further discussion by other researchers. 11 Chapter 2 Unnaturalness in English – Vietnamese Translation . 1 What is Unnaturalness in Translation? Walter Benjamin (1892 – 1940), a German literary critic and philosopher, wrote in his essay “The Task of the Translator” (1923), one of the best-known theoretical texts about translation: It is the task of the translator to release in his own language that pure language which is under the spell of another, to liberate the language imprisoned in a work in his re-creation of that work. For the sake of pure language he breaks through decayed barriers of his own language. (Venuti, 2000)
In his preface to Tianyanlun, Yan Fu (1853 – 1921), a Chinese scholar famous for introducing Western thoughts into China during the late 19th century, explained the three problems in achieving an ideal translation: the “faithfulness to the original text (xin), communication of the ideas (da), and literary elegance (ya)” (Wright, 2001, p. 4). Both Benjamin and Yan Fu, though belonging to two different cultures, agree that the translator should have the ability to not only thoroughly understand the source language text nd convey the same understanding in the target language but also make his “re-creation” sound natural and pure enough to be accepted by readers of the target language. However, for some reasons, the translator may fail to fulfill his tasks and the outcome turns out to be a rough combination of words. To figure out the underlying sources of this failure, we should remember the four levels of translation process: the textual level, the referential level, the cohesive level, and the level of naturalness (Bui Ti n B o & ng Xuan Thu, 1999). 2 However, as mentioned in the previous chapter, this thesis deals with only the fourth level, the level of naturalness, the most advanced one. Naturalness can be understood as “a set of requirements for the target language used” (Shei, 2002) which makes the translation read naturally and fit the context. Unnatural translation does not gravely spoil the general meaning of the text; nonetheless, to some extent, it distorts the writer’s intention, disappoints readers for not meeting that set of requirements.
In short, unnaturalness in translation can be understood as the failure to recreate a text “according to the writer’s intention, the reader’s expectation, and the appropriate norms of the target language”, making the translation imperfect and not literarily elegant (Newmark, 1988). This may be considered a definition of translation unnaturalness, on which the following detailed analysis is based to judge the translations taken out from different sources. 2. Classification of mistakes that cause unnaturalness in English – Vietnamese translation Unnaturalness in translation can be observed from the linguistic angle, analyzing the clumsy use of words, expressions, grammatical structures, etc. On the other hand, translated texts may be criticized for using alien cultural concepts, which seem to be so foreign to target language (Vietnamese) readers, resulting in dissatisfaction. From the above perspective, we can systematize unnatural English – Vietnamese translations on two grounds, the linguistic and the cultural grounds. 2. 2. 1 On linguistic aspects
On the ground of linguistics, the most important aspect on which a translation is judged as good or bad, unnaturalness in translation can be broken down into three levels: word level, phrase level, and sentence level. No matter what level you may consider, perfect equivalence rarely happens between two languages, especially 13 when they belong to two quite different language families like English and Vietnamese. (While English belongs to the Indo-European family, Vietnamese is one of the Austro-Asiatic languages. ) Thus, translators employ various strategies to deal with the non-equivalence.
Some of them succeed, while the others do not and thus produce unnatural translations. 2. 2. 1. 1 At word level a. Loss of connotative meanings Before analyzing translation unnaturalness at the level of word, it is recommended to define and differentiate the two types of semantic components of the word. According to Catchword glossary, denotative component or denotation is the intrinsic, literal sense of a word, excluding its overtones and shades of meaning while connotative component or connotation is a word’s extrinsic, figurative sense, which includes its overtones and shades of meaning.
To better understand these concepts, see the following table of the denotation and connotation of meanings of some synonyms. Noticeably, too often these synonyms are not interchangeable in contexts though they have the same denotation “to look”. Word glare (v) peer (v) ogle (v) gaze (v) eye (v) glance (v) Denotation to look to look to look to look to look to look Connotation fixedly and angrily intently or searchingly flirtatiously or amorously intently and steadily carefully and suspiciously briefly or hastily Suggested Vietnamese equivalent nhin tr ng tr ng dom nhin hau hau nhin cham cham nhin ch m ch p thoang nhin 4 to peep (v) to leer (v) to look to look quickly and secretly in an unpleasant way that shows an evil or sexual interest li c tr m li c u Table 2. 1: Words with similar denotation but different connotation Conspicuously, it is much simpler for a Vietnamese translator to remember the denotation of a word than keeping in mind all of its connotations. As a result, when encountering an English word he is not so sure about, an average or inexperienced translator tends to immediately choose the best Vietnamese equivalent of what he has known so far, regardless if it is suitable in the context or not.
In this way, he may somehow misrepresent the writer’s writing style and his/her intention. Connotation of Formality Perhaps the most frequently mentioned of the aspects of writing style is formality. A clear and general definition of “formality” is not obvious in most linguistic dictionaries; nevertheless, everybody usually makes an intuitive distinction between formal and informal manners of expression. An example of formal language might be the sentence read out by a judge at the end of a trial. A typical informal speech would be produced in a relaxed conversation between close friends or family members.
In other words, almost everybody instinctively has in mind a set of words they believe is of proper use in formal circumstances and another set to utilize only in casual situations. However, sometimes when translating a text in foreign language into their mother tongue, inexperienced translators, for some reason, fail to recognize the necessity to find equivalents of the same formality level. The improper words chosen then make the whole text a mixture of styles and this, to readers of the target 15 language, is unnatural and even confusing. The phenomenon is frequently seen n students’ translations. Sometimes, they tend to be excessively informal: No. English spikes of the ‘70s, discretionary 1. spending of U. S. households had become excessive – setting the stage for America’s most severe consumer – led recession. Instead of addressing its own 2. profligacy, the U. S. risks a ruinous trade war. Vietnamese t kh ng a tr nen ho ng d u vao nh ng nam 1970, s chi tieu vo t i v qua m c, t o ti n M cho m t cu c Second, just prior to the two oil- price Th hai, ngay tru c hai suy thoai do tieu dung tr m tr ng nh t trong l ch s nu c M .
Thay vi tam vao s lang phi c a minh, Mi l i ang anh li u v i cu c chi n tranh thuong m i tan kh c. ng t ra qua h he; khong cho i phuong bi t r ng ung ra b n s n sang hon nhi u. ng y v i m t gia th p 3. Don’t gloat; don’t tell your adversary you were willing to settle for far less. Table 2. 2: Too informal translations Example 1 is extracted from an article on oil crisis in the U. S. translated by a fourth-year student. Apparently, the use of the Vietnamese adjective “vo t i v ” for “discretionary” does not work in this sentence though it might be a very good equivalent in another context.
Similarly, the verb “to risk” in English can be translated as “ anh li u” in sentences like : “He won’t like it, I know, but I’m ready to risk that even if he gets mad enough to fire me. ” (Toi bi t s p toi khong thich th , nhung toi s n sang anh li u m t phen du cho ong y co gi n n sa th i toi chang n a. ) The third example is an excerpt from the materials of a real course on 16 negotiation skills. Instead of the informal word “h he”, the translator should have used a more neutral one, such as “tho man” or “v a y”.
In other cases, the translation turns out to be unnecessarily ceremonious, which sometimes becomes a ridiculous joke. For instance, in her English – Vietnamese translation exercise, a student translated the headline “Chocs downsized in obesity battle” as “Nh ng thanh so-co-la gi m thi u v m t kich c trong cu c chi n ch ng can b nh beo phi”. The translation is rather cumbersome and does not have the sense of humour of the original headline. Generally speaking, it is easier to see over-informal translations than unnecessarily formal ones.
It is understandable given the fact that Vietnamese people tend to use much casual language in almost every situation. A high-ranking official’s speech at a justice ministry’s annual conference may read, “Chung ta ph i ra coi ong nao tieu c c, tham nhung, ph i ‘d t’ m y ong o ch khong th m y ong o hoanh hanh trong b may c a chung ta u c! ” or “Nh ng c tri cho toi bi t noi nao co m y th ng u g u du con la c lang, c ph lo s . ” Thus, to be formal at the right time and in the right place, translators must put a lot of effort in changing their own mindset and practice frequently.
Nuances of meaning Apart from formality, there are a number of other connotative meanings worth considering as we go through the process of translation. Looking at Table 2. 1, we can see emotive connotation, evaluative connotation, connotation of duration, connotation of cause, etc. These can be called nuances of meaning, giving the word some different nuances that differentiate it from other similar ones. Only when a translation conveys all of these nuances, Yan Fu’s criteria of the “communication of the ideas (da)” and the “literary elegance (ya)” are reached. However, too often we observe the missing of these criteria. 7 In English there are words which carry a positive or negative connotation according to the phrases or sentences with which they co-occur. The translation of these words will sound very un-Vietnamese if the translator fails to choose the correct Vietnamese collocation (Minh H , 2002). For example, the word ‘contribute’ in English usually co-occurs with words or phrases which can carry either a positive or a negative meaning. Let us consider the following sentences: No. 1. English a. We must all work together to contribute to the building of a strong nation. (positive) b. The Labor Government was 2. lamed by many Australian people for contributing to the poor economy. (negative) Vietnamese Chung ta c n ph i lam vi c cung nhau nh m gop ph n xay d ng nu c v ng m nh. Chinh ph Lao ng a b nhi u l i v vi c ngu i dan Australia ngheo nan. t gop ph n lam n n kinh t tr nen Table 2. 3: Different nuances of the verb “to contribute” It is clearly seen that while “gop ph n” is The Vietnamese equivalent for “contribute”, it can only be used in a positive sense. Thus, the term is appropriate for translating the word “contribute” in Sentence (1), however not Sentence (2), as it sounds less typical Vietnamese.
In Sentence (2), it is suggested that “contributing” be translated as “ph n nao lam cho” because it helps convey a negative meaning. Unnatural translation occurs with particular frequency in literary texts for they involve much of delicate emotions. For example, when translating the sentence “Sue was quite unperturbed as she ogled at me again with a cute wink. ” an unskilled translator may omit the emotive connotation of some words. The outcome turns out to be: “Sue hoan toan binh th n khi l i nhin toi va nhay m t tinh ngh ch. while it should be: “Sue l i th n nhien li c nhin toi tinh t , nang duyen dang nhay m t v i toi. ” 18 b. Rigid use of the part of speech Most translators, even unskilled ones or translation learners, know that they should avoid the word-for-word translation. Nevertheless, this is not a simple task especially when you are not very flexible in the use of words and parts of speech. Some sentences from Translation and Grammar by Le Van S (2003, pp. 2831) was given to fourth-year students of translation at the English Department, Hanoi University of Foreign Studies.
A large number of them do not provide satisfactory translations. No. English She is a beautiful dancer. A woman with a baby in her arms. He was a failure in art. Vietnamese Co y la m t vu cong gi i. M t ph n v i m t em be trong tay. Ong y la m t th t b i trong ngh thu t. Suggested Vietnamese version 1. 2. 3. Co ta khieu vu M t ph n tren tay. Ong y a th t b i trong ngh thu t. p l m. m em be Table 2. 4: Replacements of parts of speech In the first example, because the translator does not change the part of speech, she must use the word “gi i” instead of “ p” (beautiful) to avoid misunderstanding.
If she changed the part of speech of the noun “dancer” like in the suggested version, the problem would be easily solved. The noun in Sentence (1) is replaced with a verb, and so is the preposition in Sentence (2). Obviously, the translations (second column) sound unnatural while, with a little adjustment, the suggested ones (third column) are much more Vietnamese. 19 To enhance the effectiveness of his translation, a translator should definitely try to escape the prison of the source language towards a more target-languageoriented translation.
Only in this way will the Vietnamese language regain its purity and Vietnamese readers no longer have to encounter such unnatural expressions like “thu nh nh t la loai doi n t Thai Lan” instead of “thu nh nh t la loai doi Thai Lan” or “Ban van hoa giao d c n m trong thanh ph n c a qu c h i” instead of “Ban van hoa xa h i tr c thu c qu c h i” as quoted in an article on translation by Bui Vi t B c (2005, para. 2). c. Plural form Another un-Vietnamese translation occurs when the translator encounters plural nouns in the English text.
The Vietnamese people are not as precise as English people in terms of singular and plural forms. In theory, Vietnamese words “cac” and “nh ng” are “used as plural noun markers to convey the notion of plurality” (Frank Trinh, 2002). But using them automatically, according to Trinh, is ungrammatical to Vietnamese people. For instance, the sentence “Premature babies usually have breathing problems. ” should not be translated as “Nh ng tr sinh non thu ng g p cac ch ng kho th . ” though it is right in principle. Omission appears to be a good strategy in cases like this.
In his article, Bui Vi t B c (2005, para. 2) also cites a Vietnamese writer who uses redundant plural form indicators in his own writing. This can be considered a direct negative impact of carelessness in the practice of translation. The citation goes: “Nh ng chi c la tren m t canh cay ang t ra rung rinh tru c nh ng con gio. ” In their daily conversation or in their own writing, most Vietnamese people are intuitively aware of this phenomenon; however, when they translate into Vietnamese an English text, people seem to forget about it and stick hard to the use of plurality in the source text. 0 The unnatural translations at word level mentioned above are some but not all of the faults that might make a translation fail to convey the writer’s intention and satisfy the target language readers. To continue with, the thesis will discuss unnaturalness in translation at the phrase level. 2. 2. 1. 2 At phrase level a. Noun phrase Noun phrases tend to be used a lot in written English, especially in formal documents. Certainly, it is not a habit of Vietnamese language users.
So, when encountering a bare word-for-word translation of an English noun phrase, a Vietnamese reader would immediately see it as not having met the criteria of a good translation. Worryingly, this phenomenon occurs frequently not only in students’ translation exercises but also in many translated publications. The fact has it that Vietnamese translators tend to automatically render English nouns into Vietnamese nouns by using markers such as “s ” and “vi c”. In so doing, there is a risk of not sounding right to a Vietnamese ear (Frank Trinh, 2002), especially when those markers appears repeatedly in a text.
The translation of a fourth year student below may serve as an illustration. The original text is: “With real… oil prices having more than tripled since the last recession ended in late 2001, a pullback by the heretofore unflappable American consumers is a distinct possibility that would spell trouble for the rest of the world. ” And the translated version is: “V i vi c gia d u th c t tang hon ba l n k t giai o n suy thoai cu i nam 2001, m t s c n tr c a nh ng ngu i tieu dung M cho n nay v n luon i m tinh la t kh nang ro r t cho vi c cac nu c khac tren th gi i cung g p ph i kho khan. ” 21 This translator is not skillful enough to avoid using too many Englishsounding noun phrases. Most readers in this case cannot understand what the sentence conveys without much effort. Comparing the two Vietnamese versions of an English sentence: “Toi xin l i vi s tr l i ch m c a toi. ” and “Toi xin l i vi tr l i anh ch m. ” we can say the former translation is too foreign to Vietnamese people and somehow wordy while the latter is much more natural and familiar.
This is because in the first sentence the translator used the word-for-word rendering of the English noun phrase “my delayed response” whereas the second sentence has suitable adjustments. Another cumbersome translation of English noun phrases is presented below. The English version is extracted from the novel The Da Vinci Code (Brown, 2003) and the translation is the published Vietnamese version by a renowned professional translator. The English version: “In an instant, the curator grasped the true horror of the situation. The Vietnamese version: “Trong giay lat, ngu i qu n ly ch t hi u ra s kinh kh ng th c c a tinh c nh nay. ” Surely, the underlined phrase is nowhere to be found in a standard Vietnamese written text. It is too unnatural to be accepted as a translation of a literary work, which requires high level of smoothness and elegance. b. Word order Every English learner knows that the English word order is quite different from, if not usually opposite to, the Vietnamese one. The key point here is whether he is fully aware of this when translating from English into Vietnamese. 22
For instance, Vietnamese language users tend to use adverb(s) before the verb; however, when translating an English sentence, many stick to the source language and do not think of a proper switch of word order. Below are some illustrations extracted from The Da Vinci Code (Brown, 2003). No. English The curator froze, 1. turning his head slowly. Vietnamese Ngu i qu n ly th y minh nhu ong bang, ong quay He… seemed to 2. reconsider, smirking calmly at Sauniere’s gut. The students in the 3. crowd nodded enthusiastically. ul im t cach ch m ch p. … du ng nhu h n nghi l i, cu i kh y binh tinh tru c s gan l? c a Sauniere. ng g t u ng tinh … du ng nhu h n tru c s c ch u l? c a Sauniere. khan gi nhi t thanh tan thu ng. i y, th n nhien cu i kh y ng gan Suggested Vietnamese version Ngu i qu n ly g n nhu b t l i. ng, t t quay u Cac sinh vien trong am Cac sinh vien trong s m t cach nhi t tinh. Table 2. 5: Word order at phrase level Apparently, if the translator does not switch the position of the verb and adverb, he may have to use “m t cach” before the adverb to clarify its function, which sometimes makes the phrase rather awkward. Even when there is no adverb marker, the phrase still sounds unfamiliar to Vietnamese readers. . 2. 1. 3 At sentence level The sentence is a combination of words that expresses a complete thought (Le Huy Tru ng, ng inh Thi n, & Tr n Huy Phuong, 1998). We have simple sentences, compound sentences, complex sentences, and even compound-complex sentences. The interpretation and analysis the source language sentence; the 23 choosing of appropriate structures in the target language; and the reformulation of the sentence are very complicated processes. This gives room for host of flaws which, in turn, make the translated sentence awkward or even nonsensical.
There are potential “traps” in which Vietnamese translators usually find themselves caught. They are the English passive voice, relative clauses, time adverbials, and so on. This thesis would concentrate on the main types of mistakes concerning unnatural translation at sentence level. a. Passive voice This is one of the most frequently seen problems in English – Vietnamese translation. Though most translation learners have been taught to avoid the unnecessary use of passive voice in the Vietnamese version of a translation task, this kind of mistake still occurs regularly.
Worse still, it can also be seen here and there in many Vietnamese published translation works. The following table presents some illustrations: No. 1. English He was trapped, and the doors could not be reopened for at least twenty minutes. 2. The person whom the letter was stolen from needs the letter badly. We stayed there for two days and I 3. willing to accept. khong th Vietnamese Ong a b nh t, va cac canh c a u c m l i it nh t trong vong hai muoi phut. Ngu i co la thu b m t c p r t c n n no. Chung toi i. o hai ngay va a u c was offered more kindness than I was ban t ng nhi u long t t hon la toi ch Table 2. : Unnecessary use of the passive voice The first example is another excerpt from The Da Vinci Code (Brown, 2003) and the other two are from Vietnamese books on translation techniques (Nguy n Qu c Hung, 2005; Le Van S , 2003). Almost all Vietnamese readers reading the 24 Vietnamese version of these examples may immediately presume they are translated sentences without knowing in advance. This is simply because they are too unnatural. Passive sentences beginning with “It is said that… ” or “It is believed that… ”, where the pronoun “it” is used as an unreal subject are also typical of the English language.
Although it is recommended that this sort of sentence be rendered as “Nhi u ngu i cho r ng… ” or “M i ngu i tin r ng… ” so that it would sound Vietnamese, quite a few translators are too inflexible to modify it that way. As a result, when reading translated texts, we may still see sentences like : Gi ng nhu Sao Diem Vuong, no u c tin r ng u c c u thanh ph n l n t va bang, va co m t m t trang. (http://vi. wikipedia. org/wiki/H%E1%BB%87_M%E1%BA%B7t_Tr%E1%BB%9Di) a – M c du u c vi t ki lu ng, TeX qua l n (va cung ch a qua nhi u ki thu t m i m ) n n i no u c cho la a phat hi n it nh t m t b trong m i h th ng bien d ch.
TeX ch y tren g n nhu m i h i u hanh. (http://vi. wikipedia. org/wiki/TeX) Pascal dung – Trong kinh i n Ph t giao, no u c noi r ng th gi i la vo thu ng gi ng nhu may mua thu, r ng sinh va t gi ng nhu khieu vu, va r ng gi ng nhu m t l n ch p hay thac nu c. (http://www. quangduc. com/coban/0134giacngo11. html) i s ng con ngu i Translators should always keep in mind that the use of the passive voice in English is quite common while in the Vietnamese language, the active voice is much preferred. There are some ways to avoid sounding unnatural whereas still be able to keep the passive meaning. This thesis will discuss them later. 5 b. Relative clauses In Vietnamese there are words like “ma”, “khi ma“, and “r ng” used to signal a relative clause in a sentence. Yet, the unyielding use of these words whenever encountering a sentence with relative clause(s) without reasonable modification may spoil the outcome. Consider the following illustrations as cited in Translation and Grammar (Le Van S . , 2003): No. 1. 2. 3. English The young man who is helping my father is his son-in-law. The factory which produces cars is modern. The girl whose hat is pink is tall. Vietnamese Ngu i thanh nien ma giup ba toi la con r c a ong.
Nha may ma s n xu t xe hoi thi hi n i. Co gai ma non c a co y mau h ng thi cao. Table 2. 7 Translation of sentences containing a relative clause To overcome the unnaturalness in these cases, the translator should employ the omission of the marker “ma”. Especially, in sentences containing the relative pronoun “whose”, it is necessary that the translator be flexible enough to think of another suitable structure in Vietnamese rather than that in the table of illustrations. Then the suggested Vietnamese version of Sentence (3) is: “Co gai co chi c non h ng cao th t/ nh . ” c.
Time adverbials This issue concerning word order at sentence level is another potential trap for careless translators. They appear to be unaware of the subtle differences between English and Vietnamese with regard to the order of adverbs of time. Though the position of a time adverbial in a sentence is not of great significance in both languages, it should be noted that time expressions in Vietnamese usually come at the beginning of the sentences. This is because the initial position in the sentence 26 helps set the scene and bring into focus the events to be talked about in a certain time-frame.
Interestingly, it is this fact that allows Vietnamese language users not to resort to the complex use of tenses and aspects. Hence, in Vietnamese common parlance, it is rather strange to put expressions of time at the end of a sentence. When the English people say, “I will visit them today,” Vietnamese people tend to say, “Hom nay toi s i tham h . ” Similarly, the sentence, “I haven’t met Mr. Floyd for months until now,” should be translated as, “ a vai thang nay toi chua g p ong Floyd. ” Nevertheless, observing translations by students of English, we can see that not all are fully aware of this.
Consequently, the “unusual” position of the time adverbials make the Vietnamese translation sounds English. Below is an typical example. “Tinh hinh an toan giao thong c a Vi t Nam ngay cang tr nen y u kem trong su t mu i nam qua. Theo th ng ke chinh th c, c tren 10. 000 phuong ti n giao thong u c ang ky, s tru ng h p t vong la vao kho ng 8. 3 ngu i… trong nam 2004. ” “T l sinh s n c a Vi t Nam gi m xu ng con 2. 3 t 3. 8 t nam 1989 2002. ” The above two examples contain various elements of unnaturalness, but apparently the position of expressions of time is among them.
We do not need to look at the source sentences to know they are translation texts. d. Order of importance vs. order of time Besides, Vietnamese people intuitively observe “the law of continuity in syntax” (Trinh, 2002). In the Vietnamese language, what happens first should be described first while English speakers and writers usually emphasize the importance of the events rather than the time order of them. Consider the examples below. n 27 Original sentences: (1) Dad has just come home from work. (2) The Canadian sprinter, Ben Johnson, has returned to Canada from Seoul.
An average translator may translate these sentences as: (1a) B v a v t s lam. (2a) V n t Seoul. But a more skillful translator will know how to make the translated sentences more Vietnamese: (1b) B v a i lam v . (2b) V n Canada. The thesis has gone through several mistakes with regard to the linguistic aspects of translation. The analysis is not a comprehensive one but it has touches upon some most common issues at word, phrase and sentence level. However, translation is also considered the process of cultural de-coding, re-coding and encoding (Karamanian, 2002, para. 3).
The next part of the thesis will discuss problems arise during this delicate process. ng vien ch y nu c rut Canada, Ben Johnson, a t Seoul v n ng vien ch y nu c rut ngu i Canada, Ben Johnson, a v n Canada 2. 2. 1. 4 Linguistic untranslatability Untranslatability can be considered a property of a text in one language, for which no equivalent can be found in another language. There are two types of untranslatability, linguistic untranslatability and cultural untranslatability. The latter will be discussed later in this thesis. 28 Untranslatability is also frequently seen in translation of poetry and wordplay.
In these two areas, there is hardly any approach to reach perfect equivalent. Poetry is difficult to translate because of its reliance on the sounds (for example, rhymes) and rhythms of the source language. Without proper rhythms, the translation of poems cannot sound natural. The translation of the verse below fails to “translate” the original rhythm, therefore does not go far in making readers moved. I’ve been the king, I’ve been the clown Now broken wings can’t hold me down I’m free again The jester with a broken crown It won’t be me this time around to love in vain Goodbye to Romance – Ozzy Osborne) Vietnamese version: Toi a t ng la chua t , co luc bi n minh thanh th ng h oi canh du d p nat khong lam toi chui nga Toi l i u c t do Lam m t th ng h i cai vuong mi n v Yeu trong tuy t v ng u? L n nay s khong ph i la toi The translation of puns, and other similar semantic puns and wordplay, are also challenging because of they are tightly tied to the original language. Cited here are two examples from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling, 2000). When Harry, the main character departed his home, he found himself in the middle of a suburbia with lots of luggage and no money.
Suddenly, the Knight Bus, “emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard” appeared. This name incorporates an interesting pun. Spoken aloud, the name sounds like “night bus” – a bus that runs at night. But the spelling is “knight bus” – suggesting a knight in armour coming to the rescue. This virtually untranslatable pun is not handled well 29 by the Vietnamese translator. She ignores the pun and just translate the name as “Xe o Hi p Si”. At Chapter 13, Lavender Brown, Harry’s classmate, squealed excitedly when she saw the planet Uranus.
And Ron, Harry’s best friend, took this opportunity to make a joke: “Can I have a look at Uranus, too, Lavender? ” Ron’s seemingly innocent request conceals a vulgar schoolboy joke as “Uranus” is pronounced exactly the same as “your anus”. This is difficult to convey in foreign languages because the equivalent expressions are unlikely to have identical pronunciations. So how do the translator fare? She also bypasses the pun and translate the utterance as: “Cho dom cai sao Uranus m t cai co u c khong? ” (Can you give me a peep at the planet Uranus? ) 2. 2. 2 On cultural aspects
Under the cultural perspective, translators is supposed to be the messengers whose task is to convey a message from one language to another in anything but an alien way that may cause confusion or feeling of foreignness to target language readers. This is definitely not a simple task because culture is a notion too broad and sophisticated to be fully grasped. Raymond Williams (1983), once said, “Culture is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language” as quoted by Tuan Ngoc Nguyen (2004). This causes various disagreements among scholars on what to be called an unacceptable translation in cultural terms.
Yet, unnaturalness in translation, on cultural aspect, can be divided into two following main problems. 2. 2. 2. 1 Translation of idioms and fixed expressions As already mentioned somewhere in this thesis, rarely can we find a perfect equivalent between two languages. This is particularly true when translating idioms and fixed expressions. 30 What is an idiom? According to English Idioms in Use (McCarthy & O’Dell, 2004, p. 6), it is a fixed expression which “has a meaning that is not obvious from the individual words”. In other words, in the idiom, words have lost their individual identity.
The structure of the idiom is, to a large extent, fixed and unchangeable. Every language has a set of idioms and fixed expressions of its own, which has been created and developed throughout history. It is profoundly influenced by the geographical position, natural and social conditions of the culture in which the language is used. Thus, the sets of idioms and fixed of expressions in different languages varies in many ways. Let us consider some of the major respects directly relevant to the unnaturalness of the practice of translation. a.
Similes The formulae of similes are as follows: (1) as + Adjective + as (2) like + Noun Though coincidences occur sometimes, in essence, English similes are quite different from those in the Vietnamese language. To avoid translations like “so-cola cho nh ng oi tai” (a word-for-word translation of “chocolate for the ears”) instead of a familiar Vietnamese simile: “noi nhu rot m t vao tai” in the translated version of The Da Vinci Code or “ p nhu cong” (from “as beautiful as a peacock”) instead of “ p nhu tien sa”, translators need to be sensitive to this kind of rhetorical figure.
No. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. as hot as fire as quick as lightning as bright as day as hard as rock as slow as a turtle English Vietnamese nong nhu l a nhanh nhu ch p sang ro nhu ban ngay c ng nhu a ch m nhu rua 31 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. as stupid as a bull as fat as a pig as like as two drops of water as loud as thunder as light as a feather ngu nhu bo m p nhu heo gi ng nhau nhu hai gi t nu c vang nhu s m nh nhu long h ng Table 2. 8a: Coincidences in English and Vietnamese similes No. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14.
English as easy as ABC as black as coal as white as snow as cold as ice/ as cool as a cucumber as heavy as lead as merry as a cricket as lazy as a lizard as soundly as a log as dumb as a statue/ as quiet as a mouse as gentle as a lamb as poor as a church mouse as pale as a ghost as smooth as butter as soft as wax hi n nhu b t ngheo r t m ng toi xanh nhu tau la mu t nhu nhung m m nhu bun n ng nhu a eo vui nhu t t lu i nhu h i ng say nhu ch t cam nhu h n Vietnamese d nhu tr ban tay en nhu m c tr ng nhu bong l nh nhu ti n Table 2. b: Differences in English and Vietnamese similes Two tables above may show that the coincidental similes are the ones containing things familiar to both English and Vietnamese cultures, such as natural figures (lightning, thunder, fire, etc. ) and common animals (pig, bull, turtle, etc. ). As such, the different similes originated from differences in natural and social 32 features between the two cultures. Things like snow, ice, statue, and butter is as alien to Vietnamese readers as bun, m ng toi, and h n to English people.
This is what translators should pay due attention to so as to make proper cultural substitutions in their translations. b. Metaphors Metaphors are similar to similes in the way that they both are comparisons between things. However, the explicit use of the word ‘like’ or ‘as’ which always seen in a simile, is not used in a metaphor which is rather a comparison of two things not directly alike using the verb “to be”. In other words, metaphors suggest a comparison but do not make it explicitly. Hence, they usually sound more forceful and suggestive.
Without knowing the metaphor the author uses in his/her original text, the translator may fail to produce a sound translation. For example, in an exercise for fourth-year students studying translation and interpreting, students were required to translate the sentence: “Economics and politics often make strange bedfellows. ” Many of the students did not know that the metaphor “strange bedfellows” is used to describe people who are brought together though have little in common. That explains the clumsy translations of this metaphor as: “c p bai trung k? l ”, “c p oi k? ”, “nh ng v n c a nhau”, “Nh ng k It is “nh ng k this. As such, sentences like “She’s kind of a cold fish” cannot be rendered as “Co y la m t con ca l nh lung” and “He’s the teacher’s pet” as “C u ta la v t nuoi c a giao vien”. To sound natural, the translator must translate the sentences as “Co y la ngu i l nh lung” and “C u y la tro cung c a th y giao”. 33 kho hi u”, “nh ng i tac l lung”, “nh ng c ng s l lung i”, “hai linh v c thu ng luon i ng hanh khong mong oi v i nhau”, etc. Actually, in Vietnamese, there is an equivalent to this metaphor. ng sang d m ng”.
It would be much easier for Vietnamese readers to catch the idea of the sentence if they meet such a familiar metaphor like c. Proverbs Different from all kinds of fixed expressions mentioned above, proverbs are sayings, usually full clauses or sentences, describing certain experience that is considered true by many people. Translating these sayings requires great background on both languages and cultures; otherwise the outcomes would be dissatisfactory as in the examples below. A Vietnamese television program showed a puppet-play for children titled “Don’t cry over the spilt milk” in English.
Instead of translating the title as “An nan thi s a r i” so that it would be much more understandable, they gave the show a ng khoc vi l s a a . ” very un-Vietnamese title, “ An English article titled “Gain through pain”, conspicuously inspired by the proverb “No pain, no gain” (Co cong mai s t co ngay nen kim), was translated by translation learners as “Thanh cong ch u n sau th t b i” or “Thanh qu co u c nh ng kho khan”. These would-be translators, though somehow conveyed the meaning of the title, failed to make it clear and sound right to Vietnamese readers. . 2. 2. 2 Translation of implications and classic references Cultural and social background is so important to people who practice translating as their profession. Without which, they would probably produce unnatural translations because just like any other, the English culture has gone through a long time of existence and development. During this time, many concepts unique to the culture have been universally accepted by its members by many ways. For example, when English people write, “To his foes, he is a Judas Priest who betrayed loyal friends.
To others, he remains an unrepentant agentprovocateur on the public payroll,” they do not talk about a real Judas but about a traitor as Judas Iscariot in the Bible was the betrayal among Jesus’ disciples. Without knowing this, it is difficult for translators to naturally render this text into 34 Vietnamese. This kind of metaphor or implication is popular in written English, thus, requires appropriate consideration by Vietnamese translators. The comprehension of what is implied is not “a piece of cake”. How can a translator make his readers understand the pun in this short title: “Robbie
Williams: The Show-off Must Go On”? The article is about a pop star famous for being boastful. The idea seems clear if we translate the title as: “Robbie Williams: S pho truong con ti p di n”. But does it sound right to Vietnamese readers? If the answer is no, why is it a good title in English? The unnaturalness here occurs as the Vietnamese people have not been familiar with Western and American music until recently and not many of them know a hit named “The Show Must Go On” by Queen, a broken-up rock band, also famous for their show-off attitude in their time.
With a subtle modification to the title, the author has made an effective classic reference. It does exist too in Vietnamese journal writing style. For instance, an article carried by Tu i Tr Ch Nh t newspaper on the pollution condition of i” (A river has passed away), Saigon River is titled: “Co m t dong song a qua name of a well-known song by Vietnamese late composer Tr nh Cong Son. As mentioned on the ground of linguistics, connotative meanings of a word are much more difficult to render than its denotation. This is especially true when the word contains characteristics distinct of each culture.
For example, when English people talk about a “pub”, they are talking about something very close to them, something that they would remember when they are away from their hometown. If the translator simply renders it as “quan ru u”, Vietnamese readers will not comprehend thoroughly the whole notion. Sometimes it may even evoke negative prejudices because Vietnamese people usually relate pubs with noisy places with rude drunkards. In cases like this, the translator’s task is exceptionally hard not to make the positive implications in English turn into negative ones in Vietnamese. 35 . 2. 2. 3 Cultural untranslatability No matter how excellent a translator may be in terms of both linguistic and cultural backgrounds, there are always concepts that cannot be translated from one language to another. Referring to these concepts, quite a few scholars in translation studies have used the term “cultural untranslatability”. This phenomenon is almost unavoidable, especially in the case of English – Vietnamese translation because English culture is a Western one and the Vietnamese culture is Oriental. They contain so many differences that cannot be rendered verbally.
Besides, due to the differences in geographical features, history, and development level, the English language hold concepts that cannot be translated in a way that Vietnamese people can easily comprehend and accept. This makes the practice of translation become a decrease in the meaning of the source text. In such a case, although it is not really a mistranslation of the source language, it cannot be called a good re-creation in the target language. Below are some illustrations of cultural untranslatability: Stakeholder.
An inexperienced translator would immediately use the definition he finds in an English – Vietnamese dictionary to render the word stakeholder into Vietnamese, that is “ngu i gi ti n t cu c”. However, consider the whole sentence: “[The U. S. ] also warns China that ‘it must act as a responsible stakeholder that fulfills its obligations’ and guarantees political freedom as well as economic freedom. ” Then we can see the word does not have any direct relation to “ngu i gi unsound in Vietnamese. Collect call. Vietnamese communications technology has been developed long after that in America and Western countries.
Communications terms, thus, are not enough to translate all concepts from English to Vietnamese. Certainly, ti n t cu c”. The mechanical translation, hence, fails to convey the full meaning and can bee seen as 36 people may translate “collect call” as “cu c g i i n tho i ma ngu i nh n tr ti n” ( Nguy n Qu c Hung, 2005) but it sounds rather unnatural. Examples of similar problem in translation of terminologies are abundant. Continental breakfast. This is a distinct cultural characteristic. There is no way to translate it into Vietnamese but explanation.
By rendering it as “b a sang g m co ca phe, banh mi va m t”, it becomes a clear concept to Vietnamese readers, but is still a strange unfamiliar one. Cultural untranslatability is also observed when translating texts with proper names. English names like Mary, Peter, Washington, and Thames in fact cannot be translated satisfactorily into Vietnamese. Even when they are transcribed as Ma-ri, Pi-to, Oa-shing-ton, and Them the names are still unfamiliar to Vietnamese people. As English is still developing everyday, more and more unprecedented concepts are being added to it.
This phenomenon is called neologism. The practice of English – Vietnamese translation, thus, has become evermore challenging. Examples of these new words in English include bad hair day (ngay xui x o), telecommuting (lam vi c t i nha qua may tinh n i m ng), wannabee (ngu i mu n gi ng th n tu ng c a minh), byte (bai – on v co s (bi u tu ng th hi n c m xuc tren m ng Internet), etc. Above are some practical issues worth mentioning on unnaturalness in translation. These types of mistakes are different in many ways but they all to some extent damage the quality of the translation.
The phenomenon need to be looking at with great care in order to find the right causes of and solutions to it, for the sake of the purity of the Vietnamese language and the quality of Vietnamese translation texts. d li u c a may tinh), audiophile (ngu i me suu t m cac phuong ti n va trang thi t b am thanh), emoticon 37 Chapter 3 Causes of Unnatural Translation Unnaturalness in translation can be avoided as long as translators are aware of the potential traps they may get caught in and know strategies to overcome these pitfalls.
But prior to this, it is strongly recommended that all translators identify the main causes of unnatural translation. To help translators and translation learners have a clearer view of the major causes of unnaturalness in translation, this thesis classifies them into the following categories. 3. 1 Subjective causes A translation of high quality must be the work of a skillful translator. To be able to produce good translation, the translator must be competent in both the source and target languages and have extensive cultural background. 3. 1. 1 Insufficient language competence
First and foremost, the practice of translation belongs to the linguistic realm. Thus, the primary reason of a poor translation must be the insufficiency of the translator’s language competence. The incompetence may be of Vietnamese, the target language in English – Vietnamese translation, and/ or of English, the source language. 3. 1. 1. 1 Insufficient target language (Vietnamese) competence Before being a translator, one must be a good writer. It is to say that he is capable of using his mother tongue effectively to express the ideas. Unnatural translation, hence, is most of the time direct consequence of a poor or insufficient 8 target language competence. As the thesis focuses on the English – Vietnamese translation, the target language is the Vietnamese language. Vietnamese is known for its sophisticated grammatical rules on which not all Vietnamese people hold appropriate knowledge. The fact has it that only a few Vietnamese translators excel at their own mother tongue, let alone students who are still learning to become translators. Language incompetence can be observed in two broad areas: the vocabulary and the grammatical structures. Insufficient knowledge on either of the two areas may lead to translations of poor quality.
Noticeably, many would-be translators learning at university nowadays do not know a remarkably large number of old Vietnamese words often use in formal documents. This causes limitations in their practice of translation, especially when the text strictly requires proper writing style. “Forgotten” formal words like these, as observed, include “quan” (to lie in state), “hoi hu m” (a slight tendency of something), th c (to acquire) and “ r ng” (to allege). Some unskilled translators tend to use one neutral word to translate all words of similar meaning in English for they are unwilling to improve their Vietnamese vocabulary.
They do not have in mind that academic English should be translated into academic Vietnamese and vice versa. This requires all translators to ceaselessly enlarge their vocabulary, especially academic ones, which quite a few Vietnamese people lack. Vietnamese grammatical structures are just as diverse as that of any other language, sometimes even more. Most Vietnamese people can intuitively use these structures but fail to connect them with certain foreign structures, hence cannot translate naturally.
Besides, Vietnamese language users are known for over-using commas instead of conjunctions, and run-on sentences. Overcoming these weaknesses is crucial to the improvement of English – Vietnamese translations. 39 3. 1. 1. 2 Insufficient source language (English) competence It is easy to learn English but it is difficult to master it. The more you learn, the more complicated you find English is. Almost all English – Vietnamese translators are native Vietnamese or overseas Vietnamese, therefore it is difficult for them to have an expert-like English vocabulary as well as grammatical structures.
Some people think that lack of English language competence is justifiable for Vietnamese translators because it is not their mother tongue. To my mind, this is a totally erroneous opinion. To better the quality of translation, translators must master both the source and the target languages. In other words, before being a translator, a person must first and foremost be a bilingual. Just like Vietnamese, English contains many word layers, formal or informal. Lack of vocabulary in any of these layers may cause serious unnaturalness and affect the flow of a translated text.
Along with a considerable basic vocabulary that can be use in texts neutral in stylistics, translators must “equip” themselves with informal as well as formal vocabulary so as to be as flexible as possible in their translation. Most Vietnamese unskilled translators lack both the informal and formal words in their English vocabulary. On the other hand, they tend to abuse the words and phrases they know and risk making themselves sound improper in certain contexts. For example, answering the question: “Tell us about the weather in Saigon when you left a few days ago. in a casual conversation with foreign friends, a student said: “My dear friends, when I took leave of my beloved fatherland, which is situated near the equator, the weather was scorchingly hot. ” His lengthy grammatical structure and his use of archaic, flowery, and unnatural English made the sent
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