Analysis of a Mediocre English Translation

Last week I bumped into a lousy English translation of Chinese Zodiac that was already printed in a stamp album featuring Xu Beihong’s painting works. The translation was hideously done and I kept wondering how people so lame at the language could get their hands on such a delicately made album, copies of which were said to have been sent as a gift to many renowned figures in various spheres, even including Hilary Clinton, the present Secretary of State of the United States. Perhaps it is now a good time that we all took a glance at the text in this “specially featured” stamp album. In the first lines of the preface we may see a brief introduction of Xu Beihong, and the original language goes as follows: 徐悲鸿(1895—1953年),江苏宜兴人,原名寿康。中国现代美术事业的奠基者之一,杰出的画家和美术教育家。徐悲鸿的父亲是个小有名气的画家,自幼承袭家学,研习中国水墨画。 Let us go see how “elegant” it is of the English translation of the above text: Xu Beihong(July 19, 1895 – September 26, 1953)(born in Yixing, Jiangsu) was a Chinese painter. He was considered a founder of modern arts in China. His father was a famous painter. Xu began studying classic Chinese works and calligraphy with his father Xu Dazhang when he was six. Simple structured as the original text is, the translation of such introductory content into English is totally worth extra attention and should be properly organized using possible variations of the sentence structure in a logical sense. If we try to translate these lines back to Chinese, we may find it ridiculous: “徐悲鸿(1895年7月19日—1953年9月26日)(出生于江苏宜兴)是一名中国画家。他被认为是中国现代艺术的奠基人。他父亲是一名有名的画家。他六岁起跟随他的父亲徐大章学习中国古典名著与书法。” Let alone using two consecutive brackets, which sort of undermines the literary nature the passage, three out of four of the rest sentences were no more than 16 characters long and put in the childish way that quite reminds me of myself scrambling with my diary at the age of eight. All aside, we can’t even find Xu Beihong’s used name and his contribution to the education of arts as pointed out in the original text. As to its stylistic features, maybe we should just leave out the discussion of such an academic topic since the translator probably has not got to the level of knowing what stylistics is. I am not saying I am a much better translator but I won’t mind sharing my own version of the translation of this passage, which I think at least reflects the writing competence that a grown-up should possess: Xu Beihong (1895-1953), born in Yixing with the used name of Shoukang, is seen as one of the founding fathers of Chinese modern arts. Inspired by his father who enjoyed some reputation of a fine painter, Xu Beihong picked up the family business in his youth studying traditional Chinese painting, which laid the groundwork for his future achievement of being a Chinese painting guru and an arts educationalist.

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