How is the book translation process

“The girl Kieu” by Nguyen Du
Translation process by Irene and Franz Faber

Translation process by Irene and Franz Faber

On the translation process of Irene and Franz Faber in the German adaptation “Das Mädchen Kiều” using the example of the prologue of the verse epic.
As is well known, the bilingual Vietnamese-French KIÊU edition of Nguyễn Văn Vĩnh (Les Éditions VINHBAO - HOANHSON, 1951), a personal gift from President Ho Chi Minh to Franz Faber during his first stay in Vietnam at the end of 1954 in early 1955, formed the most important source-language text basis for Irene and Franz Faber in their work on the German adaptation “Das Mädchen Kiều”.

The structure of this work can be sketched as follows on the basis of page 8 from the book shown above: In the first, uppermost part there are the respective text excerpts from the original, in this case the two verses “Trải qua một cuộc bể dâu - Những điều trông thấy mà đau đớn lòng ”(vv. 3 - 4.). The second part contains the corresponding French translations (in italics). The third part consists of word-for-word translations from Vietnamese into French. And finally, the fourth, lowest and usually the most extensive part is made up of French-language footnotes and comments on the translations made above. The book by Nguyễn Văn Vĩnh thus fulfills a double function: as a Vietnamese-language primary text and as a foreign-language reference text and quasi-reference work. We know that the translator couple Faber also consulted other secondary sources and that Irene Faber in particular learned Vietnamese for the translation work in order to be able to translate from the original as much as possible. Nonetheless, this work by Nguyễn Văn Vĩnh is of decisive importance as a linguistic and intercultural bridge of understanding, especially for Irene Faber, who bore the brunt of the immense philological research during the seven and a half year work process.
Let us now turn to the text excerpt, on the basis of which the translation process and the working methods of Irene and Franz Faber can be worked out as an example. It concerns the first six lines of verse or the prologue of the work. The next figure contains the original Vietnamese text version based on Đào Duy Anh on the left and the English version by Huỳnh Sanh Thông on the right.

© Goethe-Institut HanoiWhat do we notice first? Both the Vietnamese and the English version consist of 6 lines each; It should be noted in advance that the English version by Huỳnh Sanh Thông - which incidentally holds the rank of the most influential adaptation of "Truyện Kiều" in the English-speaking world - is basically a linear translation that is appropriate to the line. Let us leave it at this provisional determination for the time being and come to the German transmission by Irene and Franz Faber.

In contrast, the German text excerpt consists of 16 lines, almost three times as long as the original. Incidentally, this relationship can also be carried over to the entire post-poetry: 3,254 lines of verse in the original have become a stately 9,384 lines in the German version!
Another formal difference: the German version is consistently written in iambs - that is, in a verse foot of Greek origin, which consists of a short (unstressed) and a following (stressed) syllable. It is characteristic in the present case that there is neither a fixed elevation number nor a (fixed) rhyme order. The Vietnamese original version is composed in the meter lục-bát. Lục-bát has existed since the 15th century, it is the meter of cradle song, of folk songs, but also the meter of the so-called "Truyện Nôm", the verse novel or verse epic, and has thus become the most original and important meter of classic Vietnamese poetry . Lục-bát is the Sino-Vietnamese expression for 6-8: the lục-bát meter consists of a (theoretically endless) alternating sequence of lines with 6 and 8 syllables or words. As for the rhyme order, the 6th syllable of the first six-syllable line of verse rhymes with the 6th syllable of the second eight-syllable line; the 8th syllable of the second line of verse rhymes again with the 6th syllable of the fourth line of verse, etc. There is therefore a regular change between the end rhyme and inner rhyme, whereby the inner rhyme is something very characteristic of the literatures in Southeast Asia and in this intensity neither in China still exists in India, which is what made the phenomenon of the verse epic as an independent literary genre in Southeast Asia possible in the first place.
As we can already see from the text, the German version, which is composed in the iambus, breaks the alternating 6-8 rhythm of the original and breaks it down into different free rhythms. It also miniaturizes, as it were, the thoughts otherwise interwoven in a constant structure into individual word groups and even individual words. In our text excerpt, the first line of verse of the original "Trăm năm trong cõi ngưòi ta" is "accommodated" in 4 lines of verse from the German post-poetry, thus:

“In a hundred years, maybe
a life lasts
in this earth span ... "

The 2nd line of verse of the original "Chữ tài chữ mệnh khéo là ghét nhau" corresponds partly to the 4th line, partly to the 5th line of the post-poetry:

"... often contradict
gift and skill ”.

The 3rd Vietnamese-language line of verse "Trải qua một cuộc bể dâu" is again matched in 4 German lines of verse:

“So at times I had to
Thoughts and people changed like seas - from
the waves grew mulberry fields ... "

Something similar happens with the 4th line "Những điều trông thấy mà đau đớn lòng", which can be found partly in the 9th, partly in the 10th line of the post-poetry:

"... look at things
that tore my heart ... "

From the examples mentioned, we see that the shorter 6-syllable line of verse in the original creates even more lines of verse in the post-poetry than the subsequent longer 8-syllable line itself: e.g. 4 German lines for the first 6-syllable Vietnamese line, but "only" 2 German lines Lines for the second 8-syllable line of the Vietnamese original. However, it is not just a question of a formal-quantitative difference, there is also a significant shift in terms of content and semantics. The Vietnamese literary scholar Phan Ngọc sees it as a law of the meter lục-bát that the 6-syllable line of verse basically has an introductory character, introducing it into a certain context, so to speak [Example: "Trăm năm trong cõi người ta" = "In a hundred years, the / maybe / a life lasts / in this earth span "] and only the following 8-syllable line of verse contains the actual message [" Chữ tài chữ mệnh khéo là ghét nhau "=" often / contradict each other / gift and skill "]. We can easily see that the content-semantic architecture of the original is also being significantly modified by the translator and transferred linguistically and metrically.
Aware of the complex and incommensurable structure of the original work, Irene and Franz Faber wrote in their foreword:
“The translation of the work into one of the Indo-European languages ​​encounters difficulties which at first sight seem almost insurmountable. So it is impossible to reproduce the musicality of the Vietnamese language in German [...] A translation - however faithful it may be - is therefore never more than a text that lacks the score ”.

Is the text of the German adaptation “Das Mädchen Kiều” really missing the score? Here Irene and Franz Faber have really put their light under a bushel. My thesis would be that precisely through the above-described method of German re-poetry, the lyrical-subjective keynote in the work of Nguyễn Du, which otherwise - even for native speakers, is not easily recognizable due to the apparently repeating 6-8 measure, but also Due to the numerous historical similes (điển cố) and classical metaphors (ẩn dụ) used in the original, that this lyrical-subjective keynote of Nguyễn Du is, so to speak, exposed and excellently hit in this way.

Let us leave this thesis alone for now and turn to another problem area - the so-called historical parables (điển cố). In our text excerpt we can, for example, take a closer look at the parable “bể dâu” from the third Vietnamese line of verse “Trải qua một cuộc bể dâu”. "Bể dâu" can literally be translated as "sea of ​​mulberries" or "sea of ​​mulberries" and is itself a Vietnamization of the Sino-Vietnamese term "tang hải" or "thương hải biến vi tang điền" [in English: " Where once there was still the blue sea, there the mulberry fields grow today "and is translated, for example, for the changefulness of life, the volatility of being]. This is a historical parable from the old Chinese book called "Shen hsien chuan" ["Thần tiên truyện", in German "History of gods and immortals"], which is part of the educational canon of the Vietnamese Nguyễn Du in the outgoing 18th century, but is by no means part of today's literary knowledge. The fact that Irene and Franz Faber were able to open up the deeper meaning of this historical parable or this classic metaphor was certainly also due to the learned preliminary work of Nguyễn Văn Vĩnh (see the corresponding explanations in the first illustration). Let us now compare how differently the translators of the German and English versions proceeded in this case.
Huỳnh Sanh Thông, the rewrite of the English version, uses the metaphor “ebb and flow” instead of the historical parable “bể dâu” / “Maulbeermeer”, ie “ebb and flow”, a common image from the Indo-European language area. Irene and Franz Faber, on the other hand, attempted to translate the historical parable, to integrate it into the German text in an explanatory & poetic way:

“So at times I had to
Thoughts and people changed like seas - from
the waves grew mulberry fields ... "

Incidentally, this method has a systemic character in the entire German adaptation and is a major contributing factor to the fact that - as already mentioned - it is almost three times the length of the original. One can be divided about whether this explanatory-integrating method is able to produce authenticity or, on the contrary, it would narrow the poetically ambiguous language of the original, even destroy its almost magical-religious aura. On the other hand, a classic poetic work like “Truyện Kiều” also lives from such stylistic peculiarities as the historical parables, and it would certainly be a loss if this level of expression were to disappear completely in the post-poetry.
Back to the image used in the English text “ebb and flow”. This metaphor certainly also expresses the thought about the changeable nature of existence. But the image "flood" alone - in Old High German it was called "fluot", in Indo-European it was called "plo", in the sense of "flow" - signals more the general meaning of movement and even of dynamism, of oceanic expanse ... The image of the blue sea, from which mulberry fields now grow, contains a feeling of sadness, of the loss of being, means the undoing of what was once great, vast, infinitely mobile ... This thought, in the prologue as the irreconcilability between talent and fate, thematized between gift and skill, will, by the way, pervade the entire verse epic as an existential attitude towards life. For example, it is the fear that what has just been experienced would turn out to be a mirage in no time, which the heroine later felt in the love vow scene with her boyfriend Kim Trọng, even at the moment of the highest moment, so to speak:

“Nàng rằng khoảng vắng đêm trường
Vì hoa nên phải đánh đường tìm hoa
Bây giờ rõ mặt đôi ta
Biết đâu rồi nữa chẳng là chiêm bao "

“Through empty spaces and
by late night
I am,
because of the flowers, again
gone the path to
to be close to the loved one.
Now we are standing
really towards us - yes
who knows,
whether later this not only
as a dream
will live in our memories "(p. 52)

Now that we have dealt with the example of the historical parable and the various ways of coping with it in retelling, let us now turn to the problem of dealing with classical metaphors. According to the literary scholar Trần Đình Sử, out of a total of 3,254 verses in Truyện Kiều, 240 verses, i.e. 7.2%, work with the reservoir of classical metaphors. In the prologue it is mainly the metaphors "trời xanh" ("the blue sky" / "Blue Heaven") and "má hồng" ("rose-red cheeks" / "a rose"). In this context, both Faber and Huỳnh Sanh Thông translate the image “the blue sky” literally into the respective target language:

German version:
"... Got to
the blue sky always
fight with rose-colored cheeks because
jealousy torments him? "

With "the blue sky" is meant here of course the Demiurge, the creator of the world. In the context of East Asian cosmology, however, there is no place for a personal creator, the image “the blue sky” is therefore a genuine metaphor for the East Asian understanding of an eternal, impersonal world law, which in this context is “the rose-red cheeks” - a metaphor for the women, or at least for the most beautiful among them - relentlessly persecuted.
The difference in the way the image “má hồng” is transmitted is also interesting here. The German version translates this literally as "rose-red cheeks"; In the original, “trời xanh” and “má hồng” form a so-called parallelism (tiểu đối), i.e. a parallel and antithetical arrangement of words and word groups - a very frequently used stylistic device in Truyện Kiều (862 of 3254 verses, ie 27%. with 12 different shapes). This peculiarity is also retained - at least to some extent - in the German transmission. In contrast to this, the English version reproduces the image “má hồng” as “rose” (for “women”), probably more of a metaphor from the Indo-European language area (think e.g. of the famous poem “Heidenröslein” by Goethe).
Without making any judgment, one can draw the conclusion that the English version - while maintaining the formal sentence structure of the original - tends to replace the historical similes and the classic metaphors from the Vietnamese and East Asian art tradition with metaphorical images of Western origin . In contrast, the German version - with a radical reshaping of the sentence and rhythmic structure - largely follows the endeavor to integrate the traditional artificial language into the German text in an explanatory and poetic manner.
One last comment on the text excerpt discussed. It's about the role of the lyrical me, or the first-person narrator. Let's read the following passage again:

“So at times I had to
Thoughts and people changed like seas - from
the waves grew mulberry fields -, things look that
tore my heart ... "

In the original text neither the pronoun “I” nor the possessive pronoun “my” exists. Even with regard to Tang poetry, for example Du Fu, literary studies speak of “I-forgetfulness”, which, however, should not necessarily be regarded as a disadvantage.In the prologue of “Truyện Kiều”, for example, the absence of the logical subject “I” is interpreted by many authors as an important means of awakening identification on the part of the reader.
In the German adaptation - the same applies to the English version - the pronoun Ich die quasi represents the figure of the pronounced first-person narrator. This not only has to do with German or English grammar, which requires at least one logical subject for the sentence structure. Beyond the purely formal-linguistic dependency on the system of the target language, the entire aesthetic strategies and intertextualities in the literary tradition of the target language also affect the act of literary translation. In the present case, for example, the saying “So in times - when thoughts ... - I had to look at things that tore my heart” has less in common with the “I-forgetfulness” in the Vietnamese original, but rather reminds of such verses from tradition of classical German literature, here are a few quotations from the "appropriation" from the tragedy "Faust" by JW Goethe:
"Am I trying to hold on to you this time?
Do I still feel my heart inclined to that delusion? "
"My bosom feels youthfully shaken" etc.

Further evidence of the influence of literary traditions in the context of the target language on the retouching is the passage at the end of the 15-year ordeal of Kiều, after the suicide on the Tiền Đường river and before the rescue by the Buddhist nun Giác Duyên. The first-person narrator, or the lyrical self, speaks there (in the German adaptation):

“At all times tended graciously
the sky itself
to the victims of this earth,
which even in hours of deep agony ... "

This stanza is less reminiscent of the original ["Mấy người hiếu nghĩa xưa nay - Trời làm cho đến lâu ngày càng thương"], but more of these verses:
“Tilt, tilt
You unequal "

"Oh dear,
You painful,
Your face gracious to my distress "

This is Gretchen's prayer in front of the picture of Mater dolorosa from Part I of “Faust”.

This kind of Goethean speaking attitude does not harm the spirit of the Vietnamese national epic. On the contrary. The first-person narrator in the Chinese chapter and scene novel from the Ming period (if one may use the term in this context) appears as a pure chronicler or moral key word. The first-person narrator in the verse novels, especially in Truyện Kiều - even if there is no formal logical subject “I” - takes on the function of a lyrical self, which integrates the reader emotionally into the action. Seen in this way, the rewrite is able to develop poetic resources of the original work, which only become reality in the encounter with another language. And strictly speaking, a rewrite belongs neither to the literature of the source language nor the literature of the target language alone. It represents a completely new quality, it is world literature in the best sense of the word.

Revised excerpt from a lecture by the author at the 2nd Forum of Vietnamese Culture on the subject: “Translation and communication of Vietnamese literature in Germany”, which was held on July 2nd, 2004 by the University of Hamburg, Asia-Africa Institute, Department for Thai- and Vietnam Studies.
Berlin-Biesdorf, June 1st, 2020