A charming fairy from China — about film translations, language aesthetics and crepes

A charming fairy from China — about film translations, language aesthetics and crepes

The film industry has surrounded us since the 19th century and is becoming more and more popular every year. Have you ever thought how to translate the names of foreign films? Tang Jiazheng (Faculty of Philology, China) talks about filmonyms (names of films) and strategies for translating from Chinese into Russian.

Why did you decide to go to study in Russia?

I studied Russian at my bachelor’s back in China. There was a choice — a master’s degree in China or Russia. One of my professors said that Russia is a good place to study philology since it’s a motherland of numerous linguists and literary scholars. There are also a lot of original materials for research and you can improve hearing and speaking skills. In addition, Russia and China have many joint educational projects. One of them is a government grant, which I got to come to Russia.

What did you feel when you first landed in Russia?

It was October, it was raining, and I was wearing nothing but a light jacket. The only thing I could think about was cold. I was nervous when I came to campus of RUDN University. I didn’t know what to expect: who will be my roommates, will we get along. This was a fresh start. The staff and students helped me making me feel warm and forgetting about the cold.

What surprised you in Moscow?

A very long day in the summer. There is no such thing in China. And also in the Tretyakov Gallery I saw for the first time the original paintings of Ivan Shishkin. I have loved his paintings since childhood,. And I also liked Russian food — crepes, especially with cottage cheese, beetroot soup and solyanka (famous Russian soup), I enjoyed pilaf and shawarma among other things.

What events or people helped you to adjust to life in Moscow?

My roommates and a friend who graduated Literary Studies, told me about life and studies at RUDN, for example, how to communicate with professors, how to write essays, and where to eat Chinese food. They supported me before exams and helped me stay self-confident.

Scientific advisor Natalia Bubnova helped me choose research topics, for which I am grateful. We met in November 2019, and I had no ideas for my course paper and dissertation. She gave useful tips on what materials to read, where to find them, and how to publish articles in journals. And she always found time for detailed comments.

What do you like most about learning Russian?

I like complexity, rhythm, consistency and flexible word order in the Russian language. The most tricky thing in oral speech is grammar, because it takes me a long time to remember what declension and conjugation to use. It happens that my voice trembles and I can’t find the right words. There are no such difficulties with phonetics. And my favorite word is feya (fairy), it sounds so nice. This is what my name means.

And in Chinese, my favorite word is 顾盼 生 姿, which originated in Three Kingdoms Chinese poetry 1,800 years ago. It describes a woman whose beauty is reflected in movement, look and character.

The word with the most meanings is 上 (Shan). In Russian there are 43 meanings. For example, “upward”, “emperor” or “note”. And in Chinese it is the simplest word that is used all the time.

Why did you choose filmonyms for the article?

A filmonym is a category of proper names for a film, that is, a title. I like cinema, as a child I wanted to become an actress. The plans changed, but the interests remained, so I chose to connect research with my childhood dream. Back in China, I studied social problems in the film “12”, directed by Nikita Mikhalkov, and the difference from the Chinese film “12 Citizens”.

Briefly describe your research

Film names consist of a word, phrase, or sentence. Therefore, their translation becomes separate linguistic units, that is, lexemes. The functions of filmonyms and lexemes overlap in the transmission of information, advertising and aesthetics.

I am studying the semantics and translation of Chinese film titles into Russian. There are three translation strategies:

  1. Literal translation
  2. Transformation
  3. Replacement

I reviewed popular Chinese films of 2017-2019. For example, “地 久 天长” - “Long as the sky, and constant as the earth” was translated as “Goodbye, my son.” The film “红海 行动” - literally “Action of the Red Sea”, in Russia it was translated as “Operation in the Red Sea”.

Of the three strategies for translating from Chinese into Russian, substitution is most often used, and less often — transformation. Those names that have a Chinese cultural characteristic are subject to replacement.

  1. Denotative — answers the question “What does this mean?”, That is, the meaning of the word in the context
  2. Emotive — meaning with evaluative and expressive characteristic

In literal translation, lexemes that have an understandable meaning in the dictionary are often chosen. When replacing or transforming, context, expression and emotion are important in order to attract more viewers and make the title look nice.

Is translating movie titles an art or a science?

Both. Translation of movie titles cannot be separated from translation theory. But a motion picture is a work of art, a form of mass art. When translating movie titles, it’s important to reflect aesthetics.

Why do so many people resent localization of the original titles?

A film is a means of conveying culture. The title is an important part of the film that contains cultural elements. Localization, on the other hand, is adaptation of a product to the specifics of a particular country. The director’s idea can get lost. For example, the famous American film “The Sound of Music” in China has two translations:

“音乐 之 声” is a direct and visual translation, so people accepted it. But “仙乐 飘飘 处处 闻” is not loved by many because it has nothing to do with the original. It is from the very famous Chinese song “Song of Endless Sorrow.” The full stanza is “骊 宫 高处 入 青云 , 仙乐 风飘 处处 闻”, which means “The Highly Ascended Lishan Palace rested against the blue of heaven. Unearthly tunes, flying with the winds, reached the borders of the country.”

However, there are quite suitable localizations. Sometimes the title of a film contains an idiom or phraseological unit that is difficult to translate literally. For example, “Trainspotting” in the Russian box office — “On the needle”.

What is your advice for students who are just starting to write a course paper?

Science develops logic and analytical mind, enriches knowledge and teaches to use information. But without interest and purpose, there will not be enough energy for science.

Take notes or an outline when you read scientific materials. If your hands get tired of writing, type on your computer or phone. This will make the task easier and you will find the information you need faster. And, of course, try to understand, not memorize. Advice to foreign students — translate into your native language, go deeper and understand.

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