Recently a comment on Sinosplice brought to my attention the fact there are many different videos of poems read in ancient Chinese (古代汉语) [more information on Wikipedia’s classical Chinese entry].
In case you’re not familiar with the concept, every language is slowly changing over time. So not only would the vocabulary and grammar of a language be different if you were able to go back in time and observe, but so would the actual pronunciation. The farther back you go, the bigger the change. As you can imagine, it’s difficult work piecing together the ancient pronunciation of a language when there are no audio records.
I can’t vouch for the accuracy of these videos (I don’t know much about ancient Chinese poetry), but they’re certainly interesting. Try showing them to a Chinese friend and see what kind of response you get. (It’s my impression that while the Chinese are well schooled in ancient poetry, they are often pretty clueless how different the ancient pronunciation of that poetry actually was. It’s not just a tone here or there!)
李白 靜夜思 中古漢語朗讀
The second one is by a Chinese guy who goes by the name of biopolyhedron. He’s got a bunch of videos on both YouTube and on Youku. If you’re interested in this stuff, definitely check out his videos!
1. Jingle Bells
2. We Wish You a Merry Christmas
3. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
4. Silent Night
5. The First Noel
6. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
7. What Child Is This
8. Joy to the World
9. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
10. Jingle Bells
11. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
12. Silent Night
13. Joy to the World
[The sharper among you may have noticed that some of the songs towards the end repeat. That’s because there are multiple versions of some of the same songs. See also the original blog post from 2006, or download the songs individually, for a limited time.]
OK, this one is so ridiculous I had to share it. What happens if you put classic 90’s video games, East vs. West, racist toothpaste, and strong homosexual overtones into one little Christmas-themed Chinese commercial?
I saw Crazy Heart the other day, and to my surprise, I rather liked it. While I can certainly understand my wife’s view that it was “boring” and that “nothing really happens” in it, I found it enjoyable.
Perhaps what I enjoyed the most was seeing Jeff Bridges (who will always be “the dude” in the Big Lebowski to me) and Colin Farrell play American country singers and actually sing their own songs. I was impressed. Colin Farrell is Irish!
Not only that, but several days later I’m finding that a few of those songs are still stuck in my head. I tried to find them online, but it’s a bit difficult. I turned to a Youku video of the entire movie. The Jeff Bridges / Colin Farrell “Fallin’ and Flyin'” duet begins at 47:30 in that video. Watching this scene for the second time, I paid much more attention to the Chinese translation of the lyrics (provided in full at the end of this post), and found a few interesting points.
The opening few lines were done very nicely, both in terms of reproduction of the parallel construction, as well as in rhythm. These lines match the rhythm of the song perfectly, meaning they could even be sung in translation.
> I was goin’ where I shouldn’t go 我去不该去的地
> Seein’ who I shouldn’t see 看到不该看的人
> Doin’ what I shouldn’t do 做了不该做的事
> And bein’ who I shouldn’t be 成了不该成的人
It’s always interesting to see translations of the verb “to be,” as in “bein’ who I shouldn’t be,” and this one was done well.
Unfortunately, after this the Chinese translation breaks the rhythm and gets way too long for the English:
> A little voice told me it’s all wrong 有个微弱的声音对我说 这一切都不对
> Another voice told me it’s all right 另个声音对我说 这一切没关系
What initially caught my attention, though, was the translation of the main chorus:
> It’s funny how fallin’ feels like flyin’ 奇怪奇怪 有那么一瞬
> For a little while 感觉堕落好似飞翔
Translating this Chinese translation back into English, it would be something like:
> It’s strange, it’s strange… just for an instant
[Being] fallen felt like flying
The use of the Chinese word 堕落 makes sense; it’s commonly used in phrases like “fallen angel” (堕落天使). The problem is that it means “fallen” and not “falling”; it emphasizes some kind of degeneration or “Fall from grace” rather than a physical fall. So whereas “fallin’ feels like flyin'” can be understood on both the literal level (like skydiving, maybe) as well as a figurative level, this Chinese translation chucks the literal interpretation out the window. I wonder whether both meanings were just too difficult to translate into Chinese, or if perhaps the translator heard “fallen” rather than “fallin’.”
Also, there’s the use of 一瞬, which means “an instant.” “For a little while” is certainly not an “instant”… especially when this song represents the main character’s own life, and he’s been “falling” for decades, perhaps.
The translations of these lines made me smile:
> Never see it comin’ till it’s gone 失去后才知道珍惜
> It all happens for a reason, even when it’s wrong 就算错事也有因
> Especially when it’s wrong 尤其是错事
The “never see it comin’ till it’s gone” sounds very country, very American, and rather cliché to me, and yet “失去后才知道珍惜” sounds so typically Chinese, the kind of line you hear in countless Chinese love songs. And yet, it’s a pretty accurate translation. Well done.
I was also amused by the use of 错事 for “when it’s wrong.” The Chinese language likes to bring in 事 when it can. It works.
Overall, the translation is pretty solid. With a little more work, I think it could even be sung. I’d be interested in hearing other thoughts on this translation into Chinese (尤其想知道中国朋友的看法！).