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Translation Methods

Translation is a perpetual dilemma. It is a tension between target language and source language, between meaning and form, and between intelligibility and fidelity. This translation project has attempted to find balance between these forces and create compromise.

In order to strike a balance between target and source language, this project has employed the talents of Chinese speakers translating into their native language and English speakers translating out of theirs. This multilingual collaboration results in the transformation of florid 19th century prose into clear vernacular Mandarin. Translations were the product of a rigorous process of collaboration and correction, benefitting from both Anglophone and Sinophone translators’ input on every piece.

Negotiating the demands of meaning and form required some creativity. The transcriptions of the letters, diaries and sermons contained in this archive mirror the form of their source: words are arranged the same way they would look on the page. This presented syntactical issues when translating into Chinese. In order to avoid the awkward constructions that would have resulted from line breaks, Slash [ / ] markings have been employed to maintain the spacing of the original while allowing more clarity in the translation. This allows bilingual users of the site the utility of mandarin while still being able to interact with the original. An index of translation markings and their meanings can be found below.

Finally, striking a balance between intelligibility and fidelity is an ongoing negotiation. While translations generally maximize clarity, they also strive to use language that is appropriate for the context of the archive. Two examples illustrate this compromise:

One of the difficulties in rendering this archive in modern Mandarin is that during the time these documents were written, many foreign words, especially Christian vocabulary, had yet to find fixed translations in Chinese. For example, in a to her father letter [noyes_c_cor_936, http://noyesletters.org/items/show/1047], Harriet Noyes explains the disagreement between English and American missionaries about how to translate the name of the Christian god. The English preferred 上帝, while Americans preferred 神. Although Harriet and the other American missionaries would have used 神in their daily interactions, these translations use上帝 as it is the currently accepted name for the Christian god in modern Mandarin.

In certain instances, a preferred term is inappropriate for the Christian missionary context. For example, many documents refer to the activity of preaching. The conventional translation of “to preach” is 讲道: to lecture on the Dao. Because the term is inflected with the cultural legacy of Daoism, it poorly describes preaching in a narrowly Christian sense. In this context, we have elected to use 传教, to mission, to describe preaching in this missionary context.

Names of people and places in both English and Chinese required specific solutions in the translation. Because Chinese romanization had yet to be standardized at the time the documents were written, transliterations were created by the writers based on the local pronunciation. Whenever possible, we have translated the names of people and places into Chinese. For example, Le Sin Shang becomes 李先生 [noyes_c_cor_482, http://noyesletters.org/items/show/539] and USznai becomes 于师奶 [noyes_c_cor_121, http://noyesletters.org/items/show/177]. However, when a person or place was vague or could be translated multiple ways, it was retained in the author’s original transliteration. Except for well-known Western figures and places, all English names and places have been preserved in the translation.

Below is a list of transcription markings followed by terms like those above that required special attention or translations that were not immediately evident. 

[Illegible] becomes [字迹模糊] 

[Notes:] becomes [编者按:]
[?word?] = 「词」
[Concludes vertically at top of page] =【纵向书写】
[Note: page torn so there are sections missing] =【页面撕毁,部分内容缺失】
[Note: Letter concludes sideways on page one] =【信件结尾边缘书写】

Father = 父亲
Mother = 母亲
Mrs. = 太太
Hymn = 赞美歌
Missionary = 传教士
"Golden city" = San Francisco =旧金山
English Mail = 英国邮局
Preach = 传教
Other side of the world = 在世界的另一端
Cue = 辫子
Missionary conference = 宣教会议
United Presbyterian Mission = UP Mission = 长老会联合宣教
Sabbath = 安息日
Boarding school:寄宿学校
Day School:走读学校
Heathen = 异教 
KwangSai = 广西
Canton = 广东/广州
Sunday School = 主日学校
Missionary Board = 教会