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Students of Studying Chinese in China Found Some Typical Mistranslation for Dessert Names in A Dream of Red Mansions

A Dream of Red Mansions is not only famous for its wonderful plots and beautiful language, but also for the all kinds of delicious Chinese traditional deserts. Most of the desserts mentioned by this book are real foods which are full of Chinese tradition and features and the important part of Chinese catering culture. People who are learning Chinese in China maybe have tasted some of them. These diets indicate the folk culture and medicine culture of China, as well as the luxury of aristocrats’ life in Jia’s Mansions.

studying Chinese in China, you may have found that most Chinese foods are named for the ingredients and cooking methods of the food. For example, 红稻米粥 (congee made from special red rice), 燕窝粥 (bird’s nest broth), 菱粉糕 (caltrop cakes) and 鸡油卷 (chicken-fat rolls).

This kind of food will use word-for-word translation approach to translate so that the language form is remained accordance with the original text and fluent enough. People who have studied Chinese in China for a long time think that this word-for-word translation approach keeps the feature and style of Chinese catering culture and has the effect of spreading the culture of source language. Word-for-word translation requires translator to comprehend the original text well and find the matched language to deliver the meaning of original text. If the translator doesn’t understand the original text, word-for-word translation will lead to mistranslation

For example, in Chapter 14 a sentence describes a series of movements of Wang Xi-feng: (王熙凤)及收拾完备,更衣盥手,吃了两口奶子糖粳米粥,漱口已毕……

Some students who are studying Chinese in China researched several translation editions. One translation for this sentence is: By the time she had finished her toilet, sipped some milk and sweetened rice congee and rinsed her mouth…

The other translation provided by students who are learning Chinese in China is: After having completed every arrangement for the day, she changed her costume, washed her hands, and swallowed a couple of mouthfuls of milk.

The two translations for “奶子糖粳米粥” are totally different: the first one is rice congee with milk, while the second one is just milk and there is no congee at all. If you study Chinese in China and learn some Chinese history, you will probably know that cooking and eating milk congee was often seen in north China, for cattle and goats were usually kept in north China so that fresh milk was easy to get. The polished round-grained rice is nutritious and only rich family could afford this kind of rice. The cooking method is that boil some polished round-grained rice into porridge then add some fresh milk in it and put some sugar while eating. According to the second translation, Wang Xi-feng only drinks some milk, which misunderstands the information in original text. It doesn’t realize the communication of information and cultures between two different languages. Therefore, students of studying Chinese in China think that the second translation is much inferior to the first one, for it doesn’t deliver the language information of the original text.

As the development of Chinese external exchange, more and more things with Chinese traditional features are gradually accepted and liked by foreigners and more people choose to study Chinese in China for experiencing Chinese culture in person. However, most of these things don’t have words with equal meanings in target language. As for these things translators can use transliteration approach, which can make translation easier and faster. In addition to this, transliteration can remain the complete Chinese color, for they have the same pronunciation. For example, lichee (荔枝), Zongzi (粽子) etc.

There are still other typical different translations of food names for A Dream of Red Mansions. People who are interested in them can find some by themselves and this process is a good way to learn Chinese culture.

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