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Back to "Vietnamese translation in Australia:A missing link"

Comments on 
"Vietnamese translation in Australia: 
A missing link" by Frank Trinh

Date: 9/11/2002 00:13:26 EDT
Subject: Vietnamese Translation in Australia 

Minh Hồ 

I enjoyed reading Mr Frank Trink's latest article 'Vietnamese Translation in Australia: A Missing Link' that gave some fascinating insight into the difficulties Vietnamese translators face when they attempt to translate English into Vietnamese. This article, as other articles of Mr Trinh, will no doubt be a valuable contribution to the literature on translation practice. Nevertheless, I wish to raise some questions regarding several comments of his.

1. Quoted: [ "... Tito was held in such high regard by his people that they almost believed he was immortal. When his illness lasted so long, the Yugoslavian people gradually came to the realization that he was simply mortal'. 

An average translator would render the expression 'simply mortal' simply as 'rồi cũng phải chết' ('will die eventuallý). However, an experienced colleague of mine rendered the last part of the text as "... Khi thấy ông bị đauốm lâu nhưthế, ngườidân Namtư mới dầndần hiểura rằng Tito cũng chỉ là người. ('His illness lasted so long that the Yugoslav people then gradually came to the realization that Tito was merely human'). To a Vietnamese listener, the concept of 'mortality is implied in the phrase 'cũng chỉ là ngườí ('merely human'), which is considered a better rendering of the phrase than 'simply mortal'.]

There are several issues that need to be resolved when 'simply mortal' is rendered as 'cũng chỉ là người'. To make the whole passage coherent, should one translate the word 'immortal' - in the first sentence, which is the antonym of the word 'mortal' in the second sentence - into Vietnamese as 'Thầnthánh' or 'Thượngđế' (God), which, if using the same line of argument as Mr Trinh's, implies the concept of 'immortality. Is the concept of 'mortality really implied in the phrase 'cũng chỉ là người? Not necessary so. Out of its context, or -- to be more precise -- without the preceding sentence, it is the concept of 'illness', rather than 'mortality', that is implied in the phrase 'cũng chỉ là ngườí: Khi thấy ông bị đauốm lâu nhưthế, ngườidân Namtư mới dầndần hiểura rằng Tito cũng chỉ là người (hiểungầm đã là người tất phải cólúc đauốm). Here is a similar example: Ngaycả ông ấy họcrộng tàicao nhưthế mà cũng cólúc sailầm vì nói chocùng thì ôngấy cũng chỉ là người thôi (hiểungầm đã là người tấtphải đôikhi có sailầm). 

2. Quoted: [In English there are words which occur comfortably with others to form phrases or sentences, but 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 unless the correct Vietnamese collocation is chosen. 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's consider the 'goodness' and the 'badness' inherent in the term 'contribute' in the following sentences:

(7) We must all work together to contribute to the building of a strong nation. (positive)

(8) The Labor Government was blamed by many Australian people for contributing to the poor economy. (negative)

The Vietnamese equivalent for "contribute" is "gópphần" or "đónggóp" which can only be used in a positive sense. Thus, the term gópphần or đónggóp is an appropriate choice for rendering the word 'contribute' in Sentence (7) into Vietnamese, and not Sentence (8), as it would sound less typical Vietnamese if Sentence (8) was translated as:

(8a) Chínhphủ Laođộng đã bị dânchúng đổtội cho là đã đónggóp vào việc làm tồitệ nền kinhtế Úc.

An improved rendition should read:

(8b) Nhiều người đổtội cho Chínhphủ Laođộng đã làmcho nền kinhtế Úc trởnên tồitệ (Many people have blamed the Labor Government for having made the Australian economy worse)

According to the Oxford Dictionary, there are four definitions of the verb 'contribute':

One of which is 'to be one of the causes of something' (just 'one cause amongst other causes', not 'the one and only cause') and has a negative connotation, for examples: 

Human error may have been a contributing factor. Another definition of 'contribute' is 'to increase, improve or add to something' and has a positive connotation, as in: 

Immigrants have contributed to British culture in many ways. It might be worth 
noting that words such as 'increase', 'improve', and 'add' imply a certain state of being and anything happens afterward will only has an add-on effect .

Given the varied, but not widely different, definitions of 'contribute', both version (8a) and (8b) quoted above have their own problems despite the fact that the former has a better content and the latter a better form. 

Whilst version (8a) sounds un-Vietnamese as a whole, 'đónggóp' alone still somehow carries the meaning intended for 'contributing', that is, 'being one cause amongst other causes', no matter how poorly it does this: Chínhphủ Laođộng đã bị dânchúng đổtội cho là đã đónggóp vào việclàm tồitệ nền kinhtế Úc (hiểu ngầm là có nhiều lýdo khiến nền kinhtế Úc trởnên tồitệ mà cách điềuhành nền kinhtế của Chínhphủ Laođộng là một trong những lýdo ấy).

On the other hand, version (8b) does sound more typical Vietnamese but, unfortunately, carry a meaning that is slightly different from the one intended because 'contributing' does not mean 'being the one and only cause': 

Nhiều người đổtội cho Chínhphủ Laođộng đã làmcho nền kinhtế Úc trơnên tồitệ (hiểu ngầm là cách điềuhành nền kinhtế của Chínhphủ Laođộng là lýdo duynhất khiến nền kinhtế Úc trởnên tồitệ)

3. Quoted: [The term 'rocking', as mentioned in the leaflet 'Premature Babies HTS 1980' is another case in point. The occasion often arises when a translator has to choose a specific meaning for the word 'rocking' in the following text:

' Playing with your baby means talking, smiling, putting on some music, putting brightly coloured objects close by (8-12 inches from the head), rocking, hugging.'

Because there is no superordinate term for 'rocking' in Vietnamese, the translator must decide whether it is "rocking in one's arm", or "rocking the cradle where the baby is lying. Strangely enough, the end result in the Vietnamese text in question was ngồi ghế xíchđu (sitting on the swing) as suggested by the final translation checker].

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the verb 'rock' means 'to move gently backwards and forwards or from side to side or to make somebody/something move in this way, as in: He rocked the baby gently in his arms. Similarly, the Cambridge Dictionary defines ' rock' as 'to cause someone or something to move backwards and forwards or from side to side in a regular way, for example: 

He picked up the baby and gently rocked her to sleep. As shown by these two examples of how 'rock' is used, one should not hesitate to abandon 'rocking the cradle where the baby is lying' in favour of 'rocking in one's arm'.

It might be concluded here that even before attempting to translate, one should always attempt to comprehend certain words or phrases, especially how they are used to denote certain things in certain contexts. Making use of a monolingual dictionary appears to be the first step in the right direction for every translator whether he/she is a complete novice or otherwise. 


Minh Ho


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