Hey, this has been a post some people have been asking me to make for a while now. It’s been a long time since my last ‘translator thoughts’, but in honor of our billionth view, here you go! This is for translators and aspiring translators. In addition to the usual stuff of making sure your translation is ‘correct’ (this goes without saying as being extremely important, arguably the most important), the below can really help your translation ‘stand out’. I might make a more complete ‘guide’ one of these days, but these five are big ones for me in assessing the quality of a translation! This is meant for those looking for some ideas that might help take the translation to the next level!
1 – Make it sound right in English! Don’t be afraid to rewrite entire sentences or even entire paragraphs to make them sound ‘right’ in English; my personal rule of thumb is to translate the story as though I were writing it in English for the first time. I will sometimes even add in words that don’t exist in the original Chinese, to drive home a point that is clear in the original Chinese but wouldn’t be clear in English. Don’t translate the syntax; translate the meaning, the details, the actions, and the feeling, but NOT the exact syntax, which will drive your readers crazy as they try to parse through pidgin English (and eventually give up). This is a particularly big problem for many newer translators, and one of the biggest problems with machine translation (they can translate but can’t write). The difference can be huge:
Original Chinese syntax – “Actually a place like this? Even the Dao of the Heavens not here…then, the profound mysteries of the Dao, insights, all useless.”
English syntax – “A place like this actually exists? Not even the Dao of the Heavens is present…then, this means that all of the mysteries and intricacies of the Dao are useless here.”
2 – Don’t be afraid to use made-up words or non-English/Latin words. This is fantasy – made up words are the norm! Sometimes as translator, we get too hung up on the ‘right word’ when there is no right word…so make a word up that sounds cool and embodies the meaning/essence of a name or title! That’s one of the great things about English; it’s much easier to make up words by slapping letters together, which isn’t possible for Chinese. Latin is also a great choice when looking for a right word. My latest example of this is in Book 16 of Desolate Era, where Ji Ning is in the ‘寂灭’ region. 寂灭 ordinarily means ‘nirvana’, but is in this case used to refer to a zone of constant destruction, but Destruction Zone sounds cheesy…so I decided to name it the ‘Nihilum Zone’ instead, with Nihilum being an actual Latin word (although I didn’t realize that at first) that will instantly remind people of annihilation, which gets the point across beautifully!
3 – Look for ways to combine words together or drop superfluous words. Due to the way Chinese works, what sounds like a pithy 3-4 character title in Chinese can sound incredibly clunky in English; heck, even 2-3 character titles can sound very clunky in English when translated. A great way to get around this is to combine words together (again, this is fantasy!), a la Darknorth swords instead of Dark North Swords, Wavebreaker Godshark swords instead of Divine Wave Destroying Shark Swords, etc. Alternately, eliminate words that are superfluous and which don’t add much meaning in English; for example, in Coiling Dragon, I translated 众神墓地, Many Gods Grave Land, as Necropolis of the Gods. And as with number one…make it sound good in English!
4 – Avoid over-capitalization. This is a big one for me. Capitals are a way to grab the attention of the reader; they signify ‘hey, this is cool, pay attention!’…but when you over-do it, it all blanks out and all runs together. Seriously consider if the term you are capitalizing is really ‘cool enough’ to worthy the caps and the attempt to draw extra attention to the reader. Is it really necessary for ‘spirit energy’ to be ‘Spirit Energy’? Is the ‘Fifth Rank’ really that cool, or can it just be the ‘fifth rank’ instead? Is that a ‘Golden Fish’ or a ‘goldfish’? Judicious and sparing usage of capitalization makes the cases when you DO use it standout much more, as opposed to inducing caps-blindness amongst readers.
5 – Chinese names are Xxx Yyyzzz, not Xxx Yyy Zzz. This is a pet peeve of mine. Standard spelling of Chinese names in mainland China is Xxx Yyyzzz, such as Mao Zedong, NOT Mao Ze Dong; Xi Jinping, NOT Xi Jin Ping, and so on and so forth.
There’s plenty of other rules, but if you get these five simple rules down (I admit I’m sometimes guilty of not doing it, but I try), it will really help improve the quality of your translation more than you might expect! Good luck!