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更新时间:2018-7-30 20:23:20 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

Why Mistranslation Matters

Translation is the silent waiter of linguistic performance: It often gets noticed only when it knocks over the serving cart. Sometimes these are relatively minor errors — a ham-handed rendering of an author’s prose, the sort of thing a book reviewer might skewer with an acid pen.


But history is littered with more consequential mistranslations — erroneous, intentional or simply misunderstood. For a job that often involves endless hours poring over books or laptop screens, translation can prove surprisingly hazardous.


Nikita Khrushchev’s infamous statement in 1956 — “We will bury you” — ushered in one of the Cold War’s most dangerous phases, one rife with paranoia and conviction that both sides were out to destroy the other. But it turns out that’s not what he said, not in Russian, anyway. Khrushchev’s actual declaration was “We will outlast you” — prematurely boastful, perhaps, but not quite the declaration of hostilities most Americans heard, thanks to his interpreter’s mistake.

尼基塔·赫鲁晓夫(Nikita Khrushchev)1956年那项臭名昭著的声明——“我们要埋葬你们”——开启了冷战时期最危险的阶段之一,其中充满了偏执,人们坚信双方都在竭尽全力,试图摧毁另一方。但事实证明,他的话在俄语中不是这个意思。其实,赫鲁晓夫的意思是“我们会活得比你们长”——这话或许自夸得太早,但不完全是大多数美国人所理解的敌对行动宣言,而是他的口译员出了错。

The response of Kantaro Suzuki, prime minister of Japan, to an Allied ultimatum in July 1945 — just days before Hiroshima — was conveyed to Harry Truman as “silent contempt” (“mokusatsu”), when it was actually intended as “No comment. We need more time.” Japan was not given any.

1945年7月,日本首相铃木贯太郎(Kantaro Suzuki)用一个词对盟军的最后通牒(发生在广岛核爆炸前几天)做出了回应,这个词传达给哈里·杜鲁门(Harry Truman)时,被译为“无声的蔑视”(mokusatsu),实际上,它的意思是“无可奉告。我们需要更多时间”。结果日本没有得到时间。

And the events of Sept. 11, and everything that followed, might well have been averted had the Arabic-language messages that American intelligence intercepted on Sept. 10 been processed sooner than the 12th — a matter less of misreading than of personnel shortages, but a failure of translation nonetheless.


These are recent instances, but examples stretch back to antiquity. The Bible, reportedly the most translated book of all time, has begotten not only the longest-running debates about translation, including the endless war between fidelity and felicity, but also some notable misconceptions.


When Jerome, the patron saint of translators, rendered the Bible into Latin, he introduced a pun that created one of the most potent symbols of Christian iconography, turning the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (“malus”) into the tree of apples (“malum"). It’s true that “malum,” in Jerome’s day, could mean any number of fruits: the serpentine creature on Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling, for instance, is coiled around a fig tree. But in the 16th century, both Albrecht Dürer and Lucas Cranach the Elder, following Jerome’s lead, famously depicted Adam and Eve beside unambiguous apples. And when, the following century, John Milton wrote of Eve’s “sharp desire … / Of tasting those fair Apples,” he helped concretize the image of the bright rubine Malus pumila that we know today.

当翻译者的守护圣人耶柔米(Jerome)将《圣经》译为拉丁语时,他引入了一个双关语,创造了基督教图像学中最有力的象征之一——他将善恶之树(malus)译成了苹果树(malum)。诚然,在耶柔米的时代,“malum”可能意味着任何一种水果:比如,米开朗基罗(Michelangelo)在西斯廷教堂天花板上绘制了蛇形生物盘绕在一棵无花果树上。但在16世纪,阿尔布雷希特·丢勒(Albrecht Dürer)和老卢卡斯·克拉纳赫(Lucas Cranach the Elder)都效法耶柔米,在其名作中明确地描绘出亚当和夏娃站在苹果树旁边。而在接下来的世纪,约翰·弥尔顿(John Milton)写下诗句——夏娃的“深切欲望……/品尝那些美丽的苹果”,从而进一步巩固了我们如今所知的那种明亮鲜红的苹果形象。

Of course, “mistranslation” is often in the eye of the beholder, and its consequences can range from the philosophical to the fatal. A populist English translation of the New Testament by the 16th-century scholar William Tyndale got him executed by the clergy for heresy, and not long afterward the French printer and scholar Étienne Dolet was hanged and burned at the stake for a translation of Plato that was also deemed heretical.

当然,“误译”通常是从旁观者的视角来看的,其后果多种多样,可以停留在哲学层面,也可以带来杀身之祸。16世纪学者威廉·廷戴尔(William Tyndale)对《新约》的民粹主义英译本导致他被神职人员以异端的罪名处死,不久之后,法国印刷商和学者艾迪安·多雷(Étienne Dolet)因其柏拉图译本被视为异端,遂被绞死之后焚烧。

More recently, The Armed Forces Journal reported in 2011 that interpreters in Iraq were “10 times more likely to die in combat than deployed American or international forces.” Perhaps, in a further twist on the old Italian pun “traduttore, traditore” (“translator, traitor”), neither the troops they were interpreting for nor the enemy they were speaking to had complete faith in what they related.

还有较近的例子,《武装部队期刊》(The Armed Forces Journal)在2011年报道说,在伊拉克的口译员“在战斗中死亡的可能性是部署到这里的美国或国际部队的10倍”。也许,古老的意大利双关语“traduttore,traditore”(“译者即叛徒”)还可以引申一下——译者所服务的部队和他们面向的敌人都不完全相信他们的话。

One of the most infamous cases of translation-related killing involves the 1991 murder of Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator of Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses.” What makes Mr. Igarashi’s assassination even more deplorable is that it is due, at least in part, to a mistranslation, and not even his own.

1991年,日本译者五十岚一(Hitoshi Igarashi)遇害事件是和翻译相关的最无耻的杀人事件之一,他是萨尔曼·拉什迪(Salman Rushdie)的小说《撒旦诗篇》(The Satanic Verses)的日文译者。五十岚一的暗杀事件中,更加令人痛心的是,它虽然至少部分是由于误译造成的,但误译的人并不是他。

The phrase “satanic verses” was coined by 19th-century British Orientalists to designate one or several suppressed verses in the Quran, which the Prophet Muhammad is said to have repudiated as having been suggested by Satan. This is not how the Muslim world refers to these verses, however, so when the Arabic translator of Mr. Rushdie’s novel rendered the title literally, he inadvertently made it sound as if the Quran itself had been dictated by Satan. The perceived blasphemy, unintended by the author, led to international rioting, Mr. Rushdie’s enforced seclusion, Mr. Igarashi’s stabbing and the attempted murder of the book’s Italian translator, Ettore Capriolo.

“撒旦诗篇”这个词语是由19世纪的英国东方主义者创造的,指的是《古兰经》中一段或几段被禁的诗篇,据说先知穆罕默德已经否认了它们,因为它们受到了撒旦的暗示。然而,穆斯林世界提及这些诗篇时并不是这个意思。所以,拉什迪小说的阿拉伯语翻译只是从字面上去理解“撒旦诗篇”的涵义,因而无意中让人认为,它的意思好像是在说,《古兰经》本身是由撒旦口述的。虽然并非出自作者本意,但这本书被视为亵渎神圣,结果导致了国际骚乱,还导致拉什迪被迫隐居,五十岚一遇刺身亡,以及该书的意大利语翻译埃托雷·卡普里奥洛(Ettore Capriolo)遭遇谋杀未遂。

Lately, the perils of mistranslation have taken on renewed currency. How to convey Donald Trump’s free-form declarations to a global audience? The president’s capricious employ of his native idiom, his fractured syntax and streaming non sequiturs are challenging enough for Anglophones, so imagine the difficulties they pose to foreigners: How, exactly, do you translate “braggadocious”?


The speed and frequency of Mr. Trump’s tweets have spawned an explosion of equally fast, equally viral amateur renditions, with little thought as to how they might be interpreted worldwide. The incendiary nature of many of his statements about other political leaders only exacerbates the problem. As an article in The Boston Globe suggests, Mr. Trump’s dealings with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, given the two men’s “mercurial speech patterns,” is a potential minefield of catastrophic miscommunication. One can all too easily imagine another disaster on the order of Khrushchev’s “We will bury you” or Suzuki’s “silent contempt,” with far more cataclysmic results.

特朗普更新推文的速度和频率催生了同样快速、同样如病毒般传播的业余解读的爆炸式增长,在这一传播过程中,人们很少考虑它们在世界范围内会如何被解读。特朗普关于其他政治领导人的许多煽动性言论只会加剧这个问题。正如《波士顿环球报》(Boston Globe)的一篇文章所指出的,鉴于两人“善变的言论模式”,特朗普与朝鲜领导人金正恩的交往可能会构成灾难性理解错误的雷区。人们很容易想象与赫鲁晓夫的“我们要埋葬你们”或铃木的“无声的蔑视”类似的灾祸,乃至更为灾难性的结果。