Fun With Translations (part 6) – Grammer Slam!

Here’s another episode of your regular series on how translation works!  Today, we’re going to take a look at something many people aren’t aware of; namely, how much work (and how messy) the process is of translating from Chinese to English, and how much butchering and re-slicing of grammar needs to be done!

BTW, for those who are interested, the previous parts are below:

Part 1 – Fun With Languages and Names
Part 2 – Fantasy Terms
Part 3 – Translating Techniques
Part 4 – Translation Time Breakdown
Part 5 – Between Laughter and Tears of ‘Fun With Translations’

What many people don’t understand, with regards to translating, is how much of the translator’s “voice” goes into what you read.  It is often believed that translation is a matter of knowing the right words or knowing the right meaning.  While this might be somewhat true within same language families, when you translate from Chinese into English (and vice versa), it is much more than that, by simple virtue of the fact that Chinese grammar/syntax can be completely different from English syntax; the fact that webnovel authors often use lazy grammar makes it even harder!  In many cases, good translators aren’t translating word by word, or even sentence by sentence; we might very well be translating paragraph by paragraph, which is one of the reasons why to this very day, MT produces results so terrible.

Below are a number of examples I randomly picked from the recent chapters.  I have translated them in two different ways.  At top is a translation which is more literal and retains the original syntax, and I think you’ll agree that the meaning is mostly maintained/understandable, but the readability is terrible!  Below is the actual, ‘finished’ version which I used in the chapters.  I’ll let them speak for themselves!

So that’s this fun with translation, part 6 – a short one in the ‘explaining’ part, but one, I hope, that helps you realize how much “butcher’s work” translators have to do to make a work both accurate and flow properly…and really, how much of what you read is the translator’s “voice”, not just the author’s!  These examples below are all for CD, but they are all equally true for the other translators as well!

Original: Hanuman stared. “Our Redding clan, the various branches, and also ultimate expert’s residences, I, Hanuman, am clear, I close my eyes, and can easily find any of their residences.”

RWX: Hanuman stared. “Even with my eyes closed, I, Hanuman, can easily find the residences of any of our Redding clan’s various branches or of our ultimate experts.”

Original: “Banquet, finally is over.” O’Brien laughing, sighed once. “Arrived in Infernal Realm so long, I have never one breath spoken so much. Linley, your these clansmen, about the Yulan continent truly are sufficiently curious.”

RWX: “The banquet finally came to an end.” O’Brien laughed, then let out a sigh. “Despite having been in the Infernal Realm for so long, I’ve never spoken so much in one breath. Linley, these clansmen of yours truly are quite curious regarding the Yulan continent.”

Original: “Right.” Linley thought about that day banquet within scenes, those each clansmen asked him all sorts of questions, that scene, he couldn’t help but laugh. “With these clansmen together, I felt I returned to a large family. Truly very good! If my father, could also see them, definitely would very happy, content.”

RWX: “Right.” Thinking back to the banquet that day, and that scene of how those clansmen all asked him all sorts of questions, Linley couldn’t help but laugh. “When I was with those clansmen, I felt as though I had returned to a large family. It truly was wonderful! If my father could see them as well, he definitely would feel very happy and very content.”

Original: “Right, you didn’t hear wrong!” Baruch solemnly said. “Our Four Divine Beasts clan’s ancestors, those four Sovereigns, and because of the existence of those four Sovereigns, especially because those four Sovereigns were very tight-knit, they raised descendants of the clan, our Four Divine Beasts clan was naturally strong, add in the four ancestor’s support, thus dominated the various planes, no person can defeat!”

RWX: “Right! You heard correctly!” Baruch said solemnly. “The ancestors of our Four Divine Beasts clan were four Sovereigns. The four mighty Sovereigns were a very tight-knit group, and the descendants of their Four Divine Beasts clan, which they raised, were naturally powerful to begin with. When they were present, the assistance the four ancestors provided allowed their clan to dominate the major planes with utter invincibility!”


43 thoughts on “Fun With Translations (part 6) – Grammer Slam!” - NO SPOILERS and NO CURSING

    1. Got that right. Tried using google translate for the raws of CD and I barely understood a thing, so I gave up. Now I’m just waiting patiently for RWX’s translations. hahaha. Thanks for all the hard work RWX! 😀

  1. Yeah that sounds about right… eastern languages have very different grammar structures.
    My first hurdle when I was learning Japanese was in becoming comfortable with the ordering of words and the fact that a lot of things are taken as a given in the language that we normally wouldn’t take for granted in English.

    1. chinese is actually a whole lot more similar to english than what japanese or korean are. something to do with language typology. chinese can still be spoken in the same general word order, japanese is almost completely backwards.

      1. TIL.

        I suppose the difficult part, then, is the writing system itself?
        So much meaning can be crammed into one character… or maybe I’m talking out of my butt :/

  2. One Word, wow. Talk about you sentence flow voes.

    Funny thing is, a slightly-better-flowing variant of the original is usually preferred for manga text translations, since picture + spoken text can give very different meanings depending on the scene.

    A classic example would the Korean WebComic Kubera.

    1. comics are very different from novels, they usually have much shorter sentences or lines of logic. and even there, it is somethimes necessary to twist the sentences around in order to make sense of the translation.

  3. Ren, I think it would been nicer to say that’s it’s harder to translate outside language families. As a Spanish translator for the fan community, I feel insulted here in the post. My translation capstone would of been finished in a day if it was that easy.


    I know or think you meant no offense. The translation process is similar for any translator. It’s about getting the heart of the story out.

    1. You shouldn’t feel offended tasear : English and Spanish are not of the same family language. English is not a latin language like spanish, french or italian, but is a mix of anglo-saxon, germanic and latin. Actually most of the words with latin ethymology in english come from the french (1216 and 1326 invasions). That’s why there are some similarities with spanish. So technically, English and Spanish are not in the same family, you shoul not feel insulted 😉 English is kind of a family of its own tbh XD

      1. sry you meant from chinese/japanese to spanish didnt you ? I’m stupid :/ my bad lets pretend i didnt say a thing XD keep up the good work all the translators out there 😀

  4. I can truly understand the hard work need to translate from Chinese to English. You need be proficient with both languages so that the meaning of the original work matches with the translated text. We understand that you guys are doing a very hard and time consuming work. Thank you very much!!!!

  5. I feel like these are prepping us to all become translators… It’s all part of ren’s plot to have us all become translators and then host our stuff on wuxia world ;o… Kidding. Thanks for the insight into translating again!

  6. Moving forward, Ren I am still looking forward to when you write your own book. I think your voice in the translation has made coiling dragon special.

    On another note, team translation or split team translation over time is a scary process which should always include a glossary in the beginning. One day, someone going to wonder why there are four translations of the same object. Even the main character has two names yuri and yuuri. Both are correct, but for different reasons.Trying to decide which use is confusing.

    The confused translator

    ~ Looking forward to the next fun with translation.

    1. Haha, I completely agree! That’s why in general, I’m not a big fan of working with others; it’s too much hassle!

      As for my own writing…gotta finish CD first T.T

  7. Thanks, as always, for these interesting and fun articles. They might not be for everyone, but I always enjoy reading them.
    I’m learning Korean and Chinese, and I’ve got to agree with this. Modern Korean isn’t quite as bad, but as it gets older it gets worse and worse in reading as a modern English speaker. Especially because it often includes random Chinese in it.

  8. Hahahaha. It’s so funny that you posted this right now. I just decided to take a break from a paragraph that is killing me, then saw this pop up.

    Great post!

  9. guess the chinese might have been right, you might indeed have uplifted the story to a higher literary standard then the original work ^^

    Overlord Ren mastery of the profound truth of translation is just that deep

  10. Thank you so much for the introduction to the woes of a translator. Good read.

    Hahaha, its quite interesting to read the original against the RWX version.

    When I read the original, I can easily translate it back into Chinese and imagine how it was said — with the RWX version, it is superior for reading in English and a headache to read and revert back to Chinese.

  11. Holy s***t the gap is huge, i couldn’t understand the original at all. i have to take my hats off to all the translators out there, it’s like they’ve rewritten the story themselves from the very beginning, No it’s basically rewriting the story from th ground up, no, not rewriting in this case it’s retyping.
    My respect for translators and editors has just skyrocketed , they are amazing, they’re are just like a “sovereign” of our world .
    …unfortunately i don’t have the ability to become on em or support them yet.*sigh* “what a shame…sigh* i’m so useless”.

  12. Goes to show the extreme effort you put in to these translations! I somehow thought it would be a little bit more straightforward for you… I really appreciate your work!

  13. Just saw how much you do for us Ren, and I have to say, I am impressed! Just came here from reading so much good fanfiction and now I find it hard to go back to xianxia. How do you people go back from things written in English to this? I haven`t really read that many ffs before my reading hiatus, so the return is jarring. And my rants seem to get longer if I don`t tightly control myself…
    Help people! ;(

  14. I honestly love this series. And additionally, I cannot wait to see what Ren will do when he has finished translating Coiling Dragon (besides taking a long well-deserved break/vacation, of course)!

  15. First I must say, Thanks for all the hard work you put into translating CD. Just out of curiosity, are most of the translators able to read Chinese and translate, or is this all done using MT? I’ve read before ML translators usually first replace known words, phrases, etc, before translating from Chinese to English as a whole, then proceeds to the editing phase.
    If the translators are able to read Chinese, that is great and the rest of what I’m about to say is unnecessary.
    If translators are able to converse or understand like most “American born Chinese”, but can’t read Chinese, then I found using software that reads Chinese in Mandarin or Cantonese (ie. Ekho) next to a translated unedited chapter much easier to understand and would probably help when translating. Even with bare minimum understanding, or no understanding at all, this might even be useful when one want’s to learn Chinese, just a thought. 😉

  16. Haha, you tell them ren!

    Yes, guys and gals, the translator’s voice (or narrative voice) is very ‘profound’ (if you’d like) within each paragraph of a translated works.

    Much like, I like to extrapolate some terms or chinese phrases into english and expand their meanings to suit the atmosphere or story, or even the personalities of the characters. (Well I try!)

  17. Seeing the original reminds me of the times I used ITH and translation aggregator. Reading all the translation posts I am very impressed about how you translate the fantasy terms and the names of the techniques and I’m glad it was you translating so we could get terms like Armored Razorback Wyrm and Profound Truths, that most people wouldn’t have bothered coming up with.

    As for the translation of 势 I think that instead of choosing impose because it has the pressure component, I think I would have gone with just pressure. The definition of pressure is force over an area (and the impose skill locks down an area so it’s pretty close to the technically correct term of force), and Linley could have been troubled at first if he was supposed to pressure his opponents by appearing intimidating so it could incorporate the outward appearance part as well.

  18. yeppp that is true, i personally tested it. u will spurt blood in machine translations. they are such a pain to understand. nothing better than having a chinese knowing guy to translate the very literal meaning in english

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