Publication: Jia Dao’s Rhythm


I recently published an essay on an experimental method of translating classical Chinese poetry, namely by using a form of English quantitative verse. See the abstract below or click here to read the essay.

Mazanec, Thomas J. “Jiǎ Dǎo’s Rhythm, or, How to Translate the Tones of Classical Chinese.” Journal of Oriental Studies 49.1 (2016): 27–48.

Abstract: Since the early twentieth century, translators and critics of classical Chinese poetry have tended to focus on imagery and suggestion, balking at rhythm. It is commonly assumed that modern English and classical Chinese are too different, phonemically, for any of the aural qualities of one to translate into the other. My essay aims to overcome these differences through a series of experimental translations of poems by Jiǎ Dǎo 賈島 (779–843). I begin with a discussion of linguist/translator Henri Meschonnic’s definition of rhythm as “the organization of movement in speech,” a concept which includes a poem’s performance and audience, its effect on its community and language at particular points in time. For a master craftsman of tonal patterning and parallelism like Jiǎ Dǎo, this means it is necessary to establish a method for translating medieval Chinese tonal prosody. Drawing on the theory that the medieval Chinese tonal binary of “level” 平 and “deflected” 仄 tones emerged out of the Sanskrit syllabic binary of light (laghu) and heavy (guru) syllables, I translate each level tone into a stressed long vowel and each deflected tone into a stressed short vowel in English. This creates a real yet subtle shift in the rhythm of the translation, carrying over some of Jiǎ Dǎo’s force on language in time. Thus, in translating Jiǎ Dǎo’s rhythm, I aim to translate his illocutionary power: not just what his poems say, but what they do.

余泰明,「賈島的節奏,翻譯中古漢語格律的實驗方法」《東方文化》49.1 (2016): 27–48.
內容提要:自二十世紀初,古代漢語的翻譯家和評論家皆以意象和暗示為主,回避節奏。就音位而言,人們通常認為現代英語和古代漢語的差距較大,並不能引出中文的音感。為了克服這些分歧,本文章用試驗性的方法將賈島的詩歌翻成英文。首先探討語言學、翻譯家梅肖尼克(Henri Meschonnic)的節奏理論,重點強調節奏是「語言中移動的組織」。這個概念包括詩歌的演唱和聽眾,以及其對社群和語言的影響。如要翻譯賈島這種平仄對偶的巨匠的作品,必須建立翻譯中古漢語韻律的方法。借鑑陳寅恪的假設,即中國的平仄區分是受梵詩格律輕重(laghu—guru)區分的影響而創立,我把平聲字翻成英語重讀音節的長元音,仄聲字則翻成輕讀音節的短元音。翻譯的節奏經歷了一個微妙的變化,並帶着賈島對語言歷史的影響力 。於是,本文有望在翻譯賈島的節奏時,能翻譯他言外之力,不僅表達他詩歌所說的,也展示出他詩歌所做的。

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