Phonological translation (音譯) is often treated as a last resort when all other strategies for translation are unable to unerringly convey the often polysemic meaning of a source text. Thus 7th century Buddhist monk Xuan Zang (600-664) gives five source text types, covering euphonic, incantational, polysemic, and culture-specific terms, where phonological translation is preferred to a semantic rendering. But what is less often asked is what does a phonological translation achieve? Does it faithfully reproduce the original sounds of the source language so as to preserve the text’s intended effect? In this talk, we argue in the negative, and show how, through centuries of development in each language, any pretense to preserving the original sound of medieval and earlier Sankrit pronunciations is misguided. We show also how, due to different phonotactic and syllabification constraints in languages, phonological translation is a lossy process that is inevitably forced to choose between phonemic and metric fidelity, which are often at odds. Finally, we explain the historical basis of current Sanskrit-Chinese phonological translations practices, and show how these conventions produce, in the contemporary language, sounds that are far removed from their centuries-old source.
In this talk, we explore the notion that the reading and comprehension of a translated text necessarily involves input from the life experiences and cultural background of its target audience – experiences and backgrounds which may differ significantly from those of readers reading the work in the source language. As such, translations are not to be created in a vacuum for an implied language-neutral general readership, but must be tailored specifically to the socio-economic, socio-historical and socio-cultural background of specific target readerships if the work is to recreate its intended meaning and achieve its intended effect. We look at examples from the translation of Chinese literature into English to show what type of content is experience and background-dependent and must undergo cultural transformation, and also what options are possible in performing such an operation. We discuss also the pros and cons of preserving reference versus achieving equivalent effect.