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Translating “普通话” with “Mandarin” in Mandarin Language Program Translating “普通话” with “Mandarin” in Mandarin Language Program

The situation that abstracts of some thesis on domestic linguistic or language teaching magazines translate “中文”,“汉语”or “普通话”with “Mandarin” in Mandarin language program will be seen sometimes. While the situation that books and official files published by our country use “Mandarin” to translate “中文”,“汉语“or ”普通话“ is seldom to be seen. Recently, a student who learn Mandarin in China found one example for each of the two situations. One is a book published by China Population Publishing House is titled with “Mandarin Phrasebook” (Here “Mandarin” means “汉语”). The other example is the Criteria of International Chinese teachers published by the Offices of Chinese language Council International, among which the Criteria 1.2 is “teachers should have good comprehensive ability of Chinese listening”, the first term of its “basic ability” is: “能听懂在各种场合下的普通话或带有方音的普通话”, the English translation for this term is “Be able to understand speeches and daily conversation in standard Mandarin or slightly-accented Mandarin in a variety of situation in Mandarin language program”; Criteria 1.3 is “teachers should have good oral Chinese expression ability”, the first term of its “basic ability” is:“能用较为纯正的普通话以正常语速进行口头交际”, the English translation for this term is “Be able to communicate orally at normal speed with standard Mandarin or slightly-accented Mandarin”. Here ”普通话“is also translated with “Mandarin”.

This situation is a sign in Mandarin language program ——the usage of “Mandarin” in the formal publication even official files of our country has the tendency of expansion. But the author thinks that this translation is not exact. Therefore it is worth of being discussed to make the learners who learn Mandarin in China more clearly about it.

How the terms like“汉语“,”中文“or ”普通话“should be translated in Mandarin language program has not been stated from the aspect of theory too much, but it has different translations in translation practice. The most common translation of “汉语”or “中文”is “Chinese” or “the Chinese language”; “普通话”according to the practical situation is translated with “common speech” or “standard Chinese pronunciation”, or even “Putonghua”. Chinese-English Dictionary edited by Wang Hai translates it with “Standard Chinese language”. These translations are acceptable.

Studies of the contemporary era which translate these terms with “Mandarin” in Mandarin language program are only seen in some overseas scholars’ and some domestic scholars followed this translation method. The author doesn’t agree with this. Since I became the English editor of World Chinese Teaching, in the translated English titles and abstracts, it has been required to use “Chinese” or “the Chinese language” to translate “汉语”or “中文”and use transliteration to translate “普通话”usually; in the English titles or contents of domestic or overseas Chinese scholars’ manuscripts, every “Mandarin” and “Mandarin Chinese” should be corrected to “Chinese” of “the Chinese language”; if it emphasizes “普通话”, it should be transliterated with “Putonghua”. As for overseas authors use “Mandarin”, we will ignore it.

The reason why we can’t translate “汉语”,“中文”or “普通话”with “Mandarin” is that “汉语” ,“中文”or “普通话”are all terms and terms have specific intension and definition; they can’t be translated arbitrarily. “Mandarin” is not the synonym of “汉语” ,“中文”or “普通话”。Someone may say that “Chinese” or “the Chinese language” can’t express the “汉语”he said is “standard language” and readers may understand this as all kinds of dialects; while the word “Mandarin” refers to “the standard language” of Chinese. In fact, it’s not, for “Mandarin” has no the meaning of “standard language” and “汉语”itself will not be considered as any other dialects. “汉语”in linguistic studies just refers to standard language——Putonghua. Just like the “English” we says refers to the standard language of English——“GB” or “GA”, no one will think of “English” as Cockney English of London.

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