You Can Translate Everything!

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The review provides a detailed analysis of the recently published manual on the translation of Vietnamese art texts “How to Understand the Dragon’s Descendants’ Language.” It is noted that this is the first and so far the only complete study of the theory and practice of translating literary works from Vietnamese intoRussian. The book provides a rich regional geography material that allows you to present the Vietnamese picture of the world. All theoretical positions are illustrated with examples from classical and contemporary works of Vietnamese literature. The book is written in a fascinating language, with a good sense of humor, it will be of interest not only to students studying the Vietnamese language, but also to everyone who is interested in Vietnam and its rich culture.

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I.V. Britov, Nguyen Thi Hai Chau. Kak ponyat' yazyk potomkov drakona. Perevod v'etnamskih hudozhestvennyh tekstov na russkij yazyk: teoriya i praktika. Uchebnoe posobie dlya studentov- v'etnamistov [How to Understand the Dragon’s Descendants’ Language. General Principles and Peculiarities of Translation Vietnamese Fiction into Russian: Theory and Practice. Training Manual for Vietnamese Students]. M.: R.Valent, 2021. 304 p. ISBN 978-5-93439-618-4. “R.Valent” Publishing House has published the book “How to Understand the Dragon’s Descendants’ Language. General Principles and Peculiarities of Translation Vietnamese Fiction into Russian: Theory and Practice” by I.V. Britov and Nguyen Thi Hai Chau. In its sub-title the book is called a training manual. i.e., it can help Vietnamist students to comprehend gradually principles of literary translation from Vietnamese into Russian. But following the authors, it should be noticed that this manual is useful and of interest not only for those who either has already gained required language skills, or has just begun to learn Vietnamese, but also for those who are interested in Vietnam or who are fond of literary prose and poetry. Some information on the authors. I.V. Britov learned Vietnamese in MGIMO. Nearly 30 years he worked as a journalist in the “Voice of Russia” Vietnamese department. Then he became a teacher. Since more than ten years Igor Britov has been making Russian translations of Vietnamese fiction. Nguyen Thi Hai Chau graduated from the State University of Moldova. Her doctor dissertation she defended in the RAS Institute of State and Law. For many years she has been living in Moscow, teaching nearly ten years. I.V. Britov and Nguyen Thi Hai Chau have written an innovative and unusual manual. Its very title is attracting attention and making to guess, who the Dragon’s descendants are. One wishes to open this book immediately and to find the answer to this intriguing question. The manual comprises not usual lessons, but chapters attracting with their paradoxical titles. To mention just a few: “Linguistical mazes and the ways out of them”, “Is phraseology a flavor or a toughie of the language?”, “The direct speech and its curve turns” etc. The epigraphs to every chapter are original and precise. The review format does not allow to give numerous successful titles and epigraphs, but, believe me, the sense of humor, erudition, original approach to complicated material, present in every chapter favorably distinguish this manual from numerous other manuals referred to problems of translation. The manual on literary translation is the first and (so far) the only complete study of theory and practice of fiction from Vietnamese into Russian. It comprises 18 chapters. Each of them deals with a special theme. The manual’s motto can be the title of chapter 9: “You can translate everything!” But what a difficult task it is! One should know much, learn much, be able to do much. The way to a good translation is rocky. It begins with the acquaintance with the first translators of Vietnamese prose and poetry into Russian. Appreciating the pioneers, the authors mention that they used to create through inspiration. But now one must support the inspiration with the newest theoretical developments. Each of the 18 chapters deals with a special aspect of translation, which has been developed in a simple form, without any detailed theorizing. The reader becomes acquainted with problems of the unity of translation levels (linguistic, phonetic and symbolic, culture ones); with current approaches to the “precision” concept; learns to translate Vietnamese pronouns, proper names, and realities into Russian, thinks over the equivalents of idioms and puns; seeks inter-textual references in the original. Much attention is paid to Vietnamese as an isolating language, i.e., it means the choice of grammar variants by a translator. The authors’ obvious success is their address to the principles of yin and yang harmony. This is a relatively new direction in the research of the Vietnamese language, which for a long time has been investigated from the Eurocentric standpoint. The harmony of dark and light, passive and active, feminine and masculine is a kind of mental reality, which reveals the language’s multi-dimensional nature. It is not sufficient for the translator just to learn a foreign language’s words and a set of grammar rules. It is necessary for him to penetrate into the culture (in the widest sense of the word) of the people speaking this language. And the unity of yin and yang has deep roots in Vietnamese culture. If the translator consciously or unconsciously ignores this feature of the Vietnamese worldview, the translation will be inadequate, defective and perverted. I.V. Britov and Nguyen Thi Chau touch the problem of the differences of linguistic world image in different languages and offered their own ways to overcome these difficulties in translations. Every people put its own concepts into the words, and the translator needs to find the reality behind the concrete word. To solve this task, one should possess knowledge of culture. The reader will know such strange customs of the Vietnamese like to chew betel and to blacken teeth, to make tattoos and re-bury their dead, to taboo names, as well as he will know the subtleties of the Vietnamese cuisine. The samples of concrete translations will show the importance of this knowledge for the adequate translation. There are no trifles for the translator. He must know the smallest details of the Vietnamese everyday life. Chapter 10, “What show weights, price tags and clocks in Vietnam” continues the theme of realities’ translation, emphasizing that the negligence of these concepts may result in the corruption of historical truth and to mislead the reader. Chapter 14 “How not to get lost in the weeds” describes space (hypotyposis), its structure and its organization in a literary text. A separate chapter deals with the translation of poetry. The Vietnamist usually works at the word for word translation, which he prepares for a professional poet. The authors advice to begin this work with the analysis of the subject matter and then address to the lexical, stylistic and phonetical levels. Also, the manual describes the Vietnamese rhyme and how to rhyme. Giving examples of successful translation of Vietnamese poets’ works into Russian, the authors conclude: when techniques are indissoluble from talent, inspiration and intuition, the translator creates works worthy of the original. All the chapters of the manual comprise a necessary quantity of illustration, i.e., fragments of literary works of various epochs and their translations into Russian. It is clear that the authors, discussing, advising and concluding, do not come from nothing. They have chosen and researched stories and novels which show the life of the Vietnamese both in the past and nowadays. The cited writers and their works are widely known and loved by the Vietnamese. The chosen fragments are representative; they reflect difficulties for the translator discussed in every chapter. Each chapter is followed with tasks to repeat the material and the translation exercises. Besides traditional translations this part of the manual comprises a significant quantity of creative tasks: your reception of a writer’s or a character’s concrete saying; to choose names-symbols for Vietnam; to identify the heroine in the Russian translation etc. Such tasks are not easy even for an excellent student. The more interesting and fascinating the learning process is, the more useful are these tasks for the students. In their work I.V. Britov and Nguyen Thi Chau studied and applied creatively the research works on the problems of literary translation. In the bibliography we see the names of such leading figures like S.G. Ter-Minasova, N.I. Nikulin, T.N. Filimonova, Tran Van Cо who develops the theory of the Yin and Yang grammar, the recent works by S.I. Vlakhov and S.P. Florin. The book is rich in its content, bright, interesting and useful for everybody who is fond of philology. Read it and remember that you can translate everything!

About the authors

E. I Tyumeneva

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation

Ph.D. (History), Professor, Higher Foreign Language Courses


Copyright (c) 2021 Tyumeneva E.I.

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