Translating Chinese into English, two languages with very distinct linguistic roots, is a tough prospect. This becomes even trickier when taking into account cultural differences, language-specific wordplay and puns, regional dialects, typos, and the real-time nature of Twitter, which encourages a more colloquial expression of language.
At Bird’s Nest, we aim to keep true to the spirit of Ai Weiwei’s work. Though obviously very opinionated, Mr. Ai presents much of his art in spare terms, to encourage others to interpret his message. Everything from our Tumblr design to our Twitter handle stems from this, ensuring we intrude as little as possible on Mr. Ai’s creative intentions.
We therefore translate as closely as possible to the original and offer as little proactive interpretation as possible.
Augmented Formal Equivalence
Our trusty friend Wikipedia sums up the translation debate at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_and_formal_equivalence.
Dynamic equivalence and formal equivalence are two approaches to translation. Dynamic equivalence (also known as functional equivalence) attempts to convey the thought expressed in a source text (if necessary, at the expense of literalness, original word order, the source text’s grammatical voice, etc.), while formal equivalence attempts to render the text word-for-word (if necessary, at the expense of natural expression in the target language). The two approaches represent emphasis, respectively, on readability and on literal fidelity to the source text. There is, however, in reality no sharp boundary between dynamic and formal equivalence. Broadly, the two represent a spectrum of translation approaches.
At Bird’s Nest, we’re experimenting with something we might call “augmented formal equivalence”. We realize that simply translating word-for-word can leave English speakers and Westerners puzzled. Thus, we augment our translations with footnotes, hyperlinks and comments to help readers put together the details.
Real Time Wiki
We’re working toward adapting the Wikipedia model into the realtime nature of the Twitter and Tumblr communities. Thus, our translators, who are scattered across the globe in different time zones, have the ability to post their translations at any time of day. This ensures that Ai Weiwei’s words are brought into English as close to real time as possible.
However, per the Wikipedia model, we also aim to ensure accuracy. We do this in two ways:
Social Media - Our Tumblr is integrated with Disqus, a popular blog commenting system. We welcome any and all feedback, suggestions and alternative translations. We regularly make retroactive edits per feedback (e.g., http://aiwwenglish.tumblr.com/post/683720496/call-it-grass-dahexie-aiww-teacher-ai-i-built-a). We also welcome discussion via Twitter at @aiwwenglish.
Editorial - At present, we have one language/culture editor, Jennifer Ng. Our editor reviews all posts for accuracy, smoothness of translation, clarity of details, consistency with previous translations, and basic spelling and grammar. Editors may retroactively edit posts per their discretion, and, where relevant, will explain their reasoning in a public comment.
In this way, we aim to strike a balance between real-time and accuracy.
Translator Rules of Thumb
We ask our translators to follow a few basic rules of thumb when engaging in translation:
* Be open to both giving and receiving edits and suggestions. Translating Chinese to English is hard, and there will be varying opinions. We hope you’ll share those while being open to the suggestions of others.
* Prioritize tweets that have a stand-alone quality, rather than snippets of a tweet conversation, as English speakers won’t be able to go back and follow the thread of chats. If you find it to be a particularly interesting conversation, be sure to translate the entire string (http://aiwwenglish.tumblr.com/post/670130261/twitter-dialogue-between-ai-weiwei-and-wang-dan-june) for readers.
* Add footnotes! When dealing with idioms and cultural references that may not be familiar to Westerners, feel free to translate as literally as possible. Then, add a footnote to explain the meaning.
* Along those lines, add tags where helpful and relevant. Popular tags have included “tiananmen” and “512birthday”.
* Certain terms have already been translated in a certain way for consistency, e.g., “God Ai”, “Grass mud horse”, etc. We list these terms here: http://aiwwenglish.tumblr.com/reference and are constantly adding and refining the list. Let us know if we should add anything.
* If you’re unsure of a translation, save it as a draft; our editor will review it first and then publish it.
* Remember to check the Drafts and posts before translating, to make sure someone else hasn’t translated the tweet or queued it up for Jennifer to review.
Ultimately, the views expressed on this blog are those of Ai Weiwei and the individuals he quotes or retweets. We do not represent the artist and while we make every effort to ensure accuracy in translation, we cannot guarantee it; we are simply providing this site as a service for English speakers.