Translating John Banville into Chinese
The few samples of translated passages from the opening part of John Banville’s Doctor Copernicus are from my 2016-2017 fall semester undergraduate course on English to Chinese translation. Altogether 20 students participated in the translation, all of whom were third-year undergraduates from School of English and International Studies, Beijing Foreign Studies University, China. For most of them, John Banville was a new name, though several reported later that they felt so interested that they finished reading the whole book of Doctor Copernicus after the translation.
Thus, the first difficulty they came across was John Banville’s writing style. Several students felt uncomfortable with the first few sentence when the pronouns “it” and “he” were not specified. Some found the free flow of little Nicolas’ consciousness hard to understand since no quotation marks were provided to help them. Others found the sudden shifts of tense between the past and the present in the sixth paragraph quite confusing, and hard to represent in its Chinese translation since the Chinese language does not have tense inflexion. We had a very heated discussion about all those ingenious discoveries, together with possible ways to understand or translate them.
Another difficulty came from religious practices. Fortunately, the students had movies and on-line pictures to help them understand how a night pray is usually done and how Madonna looks in the candle.
The most interesting part might be how to translate the two rhymed short quotations in the chosen excerpt (“Matthew Mark Luke and John…” and “See saw Margery Daw”) . The first one is from a bedtime prayer quite popular in the West, and the second one is a nursery rhyme. The students took great pains in getting their translated lines rhymed too. Some even made a point that the two should differ from each other in style and diction. We shared in class our translated versions of the two quotations, with every one reading his/hers aloud in turn, and gained much laughter and inspiration in the process.