Chinese language interpreter – How to avoid excessive interpretations in Chinese

Come evitare le interpretazioni eccessive in cinese

When translating and interpreting languages of very distant origins and cultures such as Chinese and Italian, various complications can arise.

Chinese, with its incredible conciseness, can often express in a couple of characters what seems like a long full sentence in Italian.

What do we mean by over-interpretation

By over translation or over interpretation we mean a broad concept, which can take on many shades of meaning in translation theory. In this article, however, we are going to touch on a very specific aspect, namely that of interpreting things that do not necessarily need to be translated explicitly.

This is something we see quite frequently when we do quality reviews. Avoiding over-translation can help the Italian text read more naturally and make it more useful for the customer. To better understand the concept of over translation, here is a practical example.

An example of over translation

A widely used word in Chinese is deng 等, which means “etc.” or “so on”. A common mistake made by translators is to use “etc.” in the Italian translation when this may inadvertently change the meaning of the sentence.

Original text: 亞投行在網站公布13個新成員名單,包括香港、加拿大、阿富汗等

Over translation: The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has published a list of 13 new members on its website, including Hong Kong, Canada, Afghanistan, etc.

More natural translation: The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has published a list of 13 new members on its website, including Hong Kong, Canada and Afghanistan.

In more formal contexts like this, or when dealing with long, complex sentences, it's much better to leave "etc." out of translation. The meaning of the source text is not lost and the record of the source is preserved.

How to avoid excessive interpretation from Chinese to Italian

Like many other things that have to do with the world of translation and interpreting, there are no hard and fast rules. The best way to avoid over translating is to make sure you don't translate character by character: read the whole sentence before you start translating, determine the function that each character or sentence plays within the sentence or sentence as a whole, and contextualize information, rather than slavishly translating according to the literal dictionary definition. In short, be prepared to adapt your translation strategies to the specific text you are working on.

An improvised but exceptional Chinese interpreter: Ezra Pound

Few people have “translated too much” as much as Ezra Pound, the modernist poet who freely translated the works of Li Bai and other Chinese authors into English despite having little knowledge of the language. Sometimes, he even translated each of the component parts of Chinese characters into English, as in the first line of the Analects:

Original text: 學而時習之,不亦說乎?

Over translation: Studying with the white wings of the passing of time, isn't that our pleasure?

A more natural translation: isn't it a pleasure, after learning something, to try it at due intervals?

Here he understood the character xi 習 (to practice) in terms of its components yu 羽 (wing) and bai 白 (white) to obtain the translation "white wings". This is wonderfully poetic, but unfortunately it means that the emphasis on "repeated practice" is missing from the original. Compare the much more natural but less poetic translation of the same sentence by the famous scholar DC Lau.

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