Translators should always keep in mind the purpose of translation
By Cao Minglun
To solve these problems we will of course have a look at the history and culture of the United States, and of course, have a look at America’s public land measurement (The Public Land Survey System, or section, township, and range system), and have better knowledge of the U.S. Homestead Movement and later the “Homestead Act”. We will realize that here the “a section” means “a quantity of land”, and is a specific amount – 640 acres. But if we discuss the translation only from the perspective of culture and history, we are likely to come to a conclusion such as “inappropriate choice of words”, “not completely free from the shackles of the original text,” “cultural loss”, or “did not reach the height of a greater level of chapter units of language” which is nonsense or even incomprehensible. And if we look into the purpose of translation, we will find that the translation did not reach the purpose to help the reader understand and even appreciate the ideological content of the original text. Translation that does not meet the purpose of the translation is definitely unsuccessful translation of course, and unsuccessful is indeed the case and we should not use any standard, principle or trick of terms for defense.
Some people may ask: how would the translator submit such translation that he knows for sure is unsuccessful translation to the readers? I believe that one of the reasons is that the translator ignores the purpose of translation while unconsciously obeying a habit of translation or state of mind that developed as a beginner: that for original content that he does not understand clearly, as long as it can be found in the Dictionary of the so-called “equivalent” then will be okay, because his mentorship or peers who understand the original text will most likely give only superficial criticism listed above, at the worst “tiny blemish on the white jade” or “fly in the ointment” only. Of course, such “tiny blemish on the white jade” cannot be too ridiculous, for example it translates the text “a half-section” into “half of the land”, or translates “a quarter-section” to “a quarter of the land”, although it’s certain that the reader will not understand what on earth this “half of the land” and “a quarter of the land” means, but in terms of language itself, “half of the land” and “a quarter of the land”, after all, is ideographic Chinese. But what if encounter “three sections” or “eight sections”, how shall we translate them? The following excerpt is relevant provisions which the government returned part of the reserve land to them in the contract signed in 1832 between the Indians in Indiana land and the U.S. government when they were returning their land to the government:
ART.III. The United States agree to grant to each of the following persons, the quantity of land annexed to their names, which lands shall be conveyed to them by patent:
For Mon-i-taw-quah, daughter of Swa-gaw, one section;
For Wee-saw, three sections;
For Po-quia, the sister of Jose, one section;
For Ben-ack, eight sections; …
Hopefully no one would follow suit to translate “one section, three sections and eight sections” into “one place”, “three places” or “eight places”, wouldn’t they?
In those years when Mr. Zhu Shenghao was translating Shakespeare he was actually like “before translating each paragraph, the translator must first imagine himself as the reader and check the translation to see if there is any obscure unknown place.” He also declared in “the translator’s preface” that “Only the reader knows what I achieved and what I sucked.” It is obvious that the reader’s position is far above his mentorship and peers, showing that how deep Mr. Zhu is aware of the purpose of his translation. Beginner translators should regard Mr. Zhu as a model and should always keep in mind the purpose of translation (It is important to know that the reason we set standards, develop principles and summarize techniques are all aimed at achieving this purpose), and should overcome habits and attitude to be satisfied only by finding in the dictionary as long as the so-called equivalent, and should examine your translation by putting yourself in the reader’s position like Mr. Chu. Only in this way you may find the ambiguous part in your translation, for example in this translation, you then may be able to translate a half section into “320 acres” rather than “half of the land”, and “a quarter- section” into “160 acres” rather than “a quarter of the land”, and the last sentence of the paragraph 3 “The history of every country” into “the history of every piece of land” instead of “the history of each country”, also the penultimate sentence of paragraph 8 “independent landowners” into “self-sufficient subsistence farmers” rather than “independent real estate master”, and furthermore, you will even think of adding two comments to “watershed areas” and “Clover” like some reference translation. (consciousness and principles of translator’s comments will be our future topic to discuss)