Volume 8, No. 3 
July 2004

  Mark Hooker

Mr. Hooker with a samizdat copy of The Hobbit.

Front Page  
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From the Editor
The Seven-Year Itch
by Gabe Bokor

Index 1997-2004

  Translator Profiles
Observations from a Rear-View Mirror
by Tony Roder

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
Source Language versus Target Language Bias
by David Petersen, Ph.D.

  In Memoriam
Moustafa Gabr: 1964 - 2004
by Anthony Pym

  Translators and Computers
Machine Translation and Computer-Assisted Translation: a New Way of Translating?
by Olivia Craciunescu, Constanza Gerding-Salas, Susan Stringer-O'Keeffe
Computer Collocations and Computer Metaphors
by Anca Irinel Teleoacă

  Literary Translation
Linguistic and Cultural Issues in Literary Translation
by Mohammed Albakry
A Little Conversation about Tone and Translation
by Vasconcelos de Carvalho

  Cultural Aspects of Translation
Accommodation in Translation
by Aiwei Shi

  Translator Education
Testing and Evaluation in the Translation Classroom
by Dr. Carol Ann Goff-Kfouri

  Book Review
Tolkien in Chinese: A Thesis Review
by Mark Hooker
Enrique Alcaraz and Brian Hughes'
Diccionario de términos jurídicos Inglés-Español, Spanish-English

by MĒ Angeles Ruiz Moneva
New English-Polish and Polish-English Dictionaries: Some Problems Related to Legal, Financial and Insurance Terminology
by Łucja Biel

  Arts & Entertainment
Este traductor no es un gallina: El trasvase del humor audiovisual en Chicken Run
Ana Isabel Hernández Bartolomé, Gustavo Mendiluce Cabrera
A Case Study: Spain as a Dubbing Country
M. Carmen Gil Ariza

Coping with You
by Danilo and Vera Nogueira

  Translators' Tools
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Book Review


Tolkien in Chinese:1

A Thesis Review

by Mark T. Hooker

Contents: Comparative Translation Studies | The Analysis | Punctuation | Forty Leagues | Daddy Twofoot | Tolkien's Style: Repeats | Tolkien's Neologisms: Gentlehobbit | Hybrid Text | Conclusion |

Comparative Translation Studies

olkien is increasingly becoming the topic of Comparative Translation Studies.2 The second volume of Walking Tree Publisher's "Translating Tolkien" series is due out this spring, and I recently came across a thesis written in English on the two Chinese translations of The Lord of the Rings. It was done in 2000 by a Dutchman—David van der Peet—at Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan. The thesis discusses the two Chinese translations of The Lord of the Rings, concluding that both versions made "countless sloppy mistakes," failing to convey the meaning of the original, because the translators did not understand it correctly, or because they lacked a knowledge of "the complicated linguistic and cultural backdrop" against which Tolkien's epic plays.

The author of the thesis devotes a considerable amount of space to summarizing Tolkien's major works, pointing to their roots in "Norse mythology and Christianity." This is a necessary first step in the analysis of any translation, because the quality of the translation cannot be judged without an understanding of what it was that needed to be translated.

The Analysis

the quality of the translation cannot be judged without an understanding of what it was that needed to be translated.
Within the main body of the thesis, the author looks at the translations of seventeen prose passages and three poems, selected to provide examples of the characteristic mistakes and problems encountered in the two Chinese translations. Drawing on this analysis, the author demonstrates how "the unique character and genesis of Tolkien's fantasy world, ... the invented languages, plot, and humorous style of The Lord of the Rings require special attention during the translation process." He finds that without a complete understanding of the "elaborate historic, linguistic, cultural, geographical and mythological setup," the translator will be unable to "preserve the content and spirit of the original."


In his analysis of the prose segments the author looks at a number of areas, pointing out that "Tolkien's sometimes lengthy sentences, often held together by generous use of colons, semicolons, and dashes, are a tough challenge for the Chinese translator." Tolkien's use of brackets for humorous asides also seems to have been a considerable problem for the Chinese translators for the same reason. "After all, these punctuation marks (like the use of brackets) are a relatively new addition to Chinese literary usage-not to mention that the use of any punctuation marks was unknown in classical Chinese literature up to the Ching dynasty."

Forty leagues

One of the lexical elements that the author examines is the measurement 'Forty leagues.' This is a part of Tolkien's description of how large The Shire was. In Tolkien's first edition (1954), the Shire was 50 leagues east to west by nearly 50 north to south. With the fourth edition (1965), it changed to 40 by 50, omitting the "nearly."

One of the Chinese translators apparently interpreted league as an organization, instead of a unit of measure. The other Chinese translator converted Tolkien's dimensions for The Shire (40 by 50 leagues) into 120 by 150 miles, a solution that the author considers satisfactory, because "'miles' are for the Chinese reader probably roughly as 'exotic' as 'leagues' for the English reader, since China directly adopted the metric system after abandoning its own traditional measures of length."

This would indeed appear to be a viable solution, as the Polish, the Czech, the German and the Dutch translations3 of the title of Jules Verne's famous 20.000 Lieues sous les mers all use the word miles for the translation of lieues, which is rendered in the English translation as 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.

The leagues-to-miles solution (120 by 150 miles) was also the one taken by the Czech translator,4 the unofficial Dutch translation and the revised edition of the official Dutch translation.5 The first edition of the official Dutch translation had said: "50 miles ... almost 50 miles," following the description from the first edition of The Lord of the Rings that was later changed, but substituting miles for leagues on a one-to-one basis, which is the case in the translation of the title of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. The 'mile to a league' conversion was also repeated by the Russian Grigor'eva and Grushetskij translation. It was, however, based on Tolkien's revised dimensions (40 by 50) for The Shire. Their smaller Shire was also kept company by the second Polish translator's version of 30 by 40 'miles.'

The first Polish translation (Skibniewska)6 used the archaic word staje for league. This is a unit of linear distance equal to 1.067 kilometers. Her Shire was 40 by 50 staje, which is 42.68 kilometers by 50.34 kilometers, or 26.46 by 31.2 miles. The Karrik and Kamenkovich (K&K) Russian translation7 used the more widely recognized archaic Russian unit of measure, the verst. One verst is equal to 1.06 kilometers, essentially the equivalent of the Polish staje. The K&K Shire was 60 by 70 versts, making it only slightly larger than the Skibniewska Shire.

The Matorina Russian translation introduced the archaic, dialectical word гон [gon], which is variously defined as between 50 and 80 сажень [sazhen']. One sazhen is 2.13 meters. This makes her Shire either 4.260 kilometers by 5.325 kilometers or 6.816 kilometers by 8.52 kilometers, depending on the number of sazhens per гон [gon].

The most inventive rearrangement of the dimensions of The Shire was in the first edition of the Murav'ev and Kistyakovskij Russian translation, where The Shire was described as being 100 leagues from east to west and 150 leagues from north to south. The second edition corrected this mistake.

Most of the Russian translations used the word лига [liga]. In the standard, modern, desk-top dictionaries, лига [liga] is an organization, not a unit of measure, though, in the classic dictionary of nineteenth-century Russian, лига [liga] is also defined as a unit of measure. Modern Russian dictionaries list льё [l'ë] as the unit of measure, as in the title of Jules Verne's famous novel 20,000 Leagues under the Sea: 20.000 льё под водой [20.000 l'ë pod vodoj].

Both German translations8 used an interesting, old-fashioned measurement to define the size of The Shire. In German, The Shire was 40 by 50 Wegstunden ('road-hours'). This is not the modern—especially American—concept of an hour's drive by car, but rather the distance covered on foot in an hour, approximately 3 miles, which exactly matches the conversion of leagues to miles found in the majority of the other translations: 120 by 150 miles. This is the most elegant of all the solutions to this problem. It matches the decidedly slow, pre-industrialized pace of life in The Shire.

Daddy Twofoot

The author of the thesis also ponders the translation of the name Daddy Twofoot, which Tolkien, in his notes to translators, says to "translate by sense." The author is perplexed about how to do that, because in Chinese, the ambiguity of the name "Twofoot" needs to be resolved. Is the element foot in this name a unit of measure, or does it mean that the old Hobbit has two feet? The author believes that it is a unit of measure. In his view, "tallness varies, and may deserve some special comment, whereas there is nothing worth mentioning about the fact that someone has two feet, be he Man or Hobbit—two feet is the normal thing, and only less (or more feet) would deserve any particular attention."

This same conundrum exists in the Slavic languages. In Russian, for example, the words for 'foot' (unit of measure) and 'foot' (appendage) are not the same. The unit of measure is фут (fut), and the appendage is нога [noga] for humans and лапа [lapa] for animals. Most of the nine Russian translations said 'two paws' (Двулап [Dvulap]). The CD-ROM Gruzberg translation said 'pair of paws' (Паралап [Paralap]), and the Grigor'eva and Grushetskij read "bigger feet' (Большеног [Bol'shenog]), while the Nemirova rendered Twofoot as 'three feet' (Триног [trinog]). The first Polish translator left it untranslated ("Twofoot"), as did the print version of the Gruzberg translation (Туфут [Tufut]), while the second Polish translator (Łoziński) changed it to Dwustopczyk ('two foot,' stopa = foot). The Czech translator (Pošustová) made it Dvounožka ('two foot,' nožka = little foot).

More important for the resolution of this name than the question of whether it is a unit of measure or an appendage, it the fact that the element foot is a component part of a number of Hobbit names, like Whitfoot, Harfoot, Proudfoot and Puddifoot. The element foot should be the same in all of them for best effect. Most translators fail on this score.

Tolkien's Style: Repeats

The author similarly addresses Tolkien's stylistic predilection for repeating text elements within close proximity to each other, pointing specifically to the segment where The Shire is defined: "The Hobbits named it the Shire, as the region of authority of their Thain, and a district of well-ordered business; and there in that pleasant corner of the world they plied their well-ordered business of living . . . ." [Emphasis added.] Avoiding repeats is the universal admonition of language arts teachers everywhere, but the author of the thesis rightly feels that this repeat deserves to be preserved. Tolkien layers the information in his text with studied repeats, that often fall prey to translators who 'normalize' the text for their readers, depriving them of the subtle significance that Tolkien's repeats give to the text.

All of the Russian translators avoided a repeat here, as did the second Polish translator, the second German translator and the first (official) Dutch translator. Even the translators who did include a repeat, apparently found Tolkien's phrase "well-ordered business" clumsy to deal with, and only the Czech translator had a good rendition of it. Tolkien's phrase is clumsy on purpose. The reader is meant to stumble over it, and having stumbled over it the second time, to remember it. Tolkien uses this trick repeatedly. It is a recognizable part of his style that few translators manage to replicate.

The Czech translator gets credit for half a repeat. She had a wonderful rendition of "district of well-ordered business" (oblast spořádaného podnikání), but could only bring herself to repeat the adjective half of the phrase 'well-ordered business.' Her version of the repeat was: "led a (well-)ordered life" (se zabývali spořádaným žitím). The first Polish translator did even less well, because, while she does have a repeat, it is not a full repeat, but only an echo: peace ... peaceful (spokój ... spokojny), which is true enough, but not the point that Tolkien was trying to make. The unofficial Dutch translator got the point across, though even she was not prepared to repeat a linguistic unit as large as "well-ordered business." She said that The Shire was a region where everything that happened was orderly and that the Hobbits led an orderly life (alles ordelijk toeging ... hielden zij zich bezig met hun ordelijke leventje). Only the first German translator came close to producing a viable repeat that was nearly as clumsy as Tolkien's. Her repeat was "well-ordered work" and "ordered work" (wohlgeordneter Arbeit ... widmeten sie sich ihrer geordneten Arbeit). Even she could not bring herself to replicate the entire thing.

Tolkien's Neologisms: Gentlehobbit

I would, however, take exception to the author's evaluation of the translation of Tolkien's neologism 'Gentlehobbit.' The author feels that "since both the person speaking and his audience are Hobbits, the subject of their talk also being Hobbits, there is really no specific need to come up with the slightly awkward [Chinese characters that hopefully say: Gentlehobbit], since it is clear from the context that Bilbo is a Hobbit." Tolkien's neologisms are part and parcel of the "elaborate historic, linguistic, cultural, geographical and mythological setup" of which the author speaks in his evaluation of the translations. As such, the translator should make an effort to recreate them in the target language.

Although 'gentleman' is well enough accepted in Russian to have its own dictionary article (джентльмен [dzhentl'men]) and some derivatives with Russian word formation elements (джентльменство [dzhentl'menstvo], gentlemenliness), only one of the Russian translators (Gruzberg) was daring enough to use it to recreate Tolkien's neologism, producing (джентльхоббит [dzhentl'khobbit]). The same is true of Dutch, where the second translator (Mensink-van Warmelo) simply imported gentlehobbit, apparently considering it recognizable enough in Dutch, where gentleman is also an entry in the standard Dutch defining dictionary. In German, the first translator (Carroux) created a very readable neologism of her own: Edelhobbit, which is transparent as an analog of the German word for noblewoman (Edelfrau). The second German translator (Krege) took it out. The first Dutch translator (Schuchart) likewise made a readable neologism, combining hobbit with the Dutch word for gentleman (heer), to form Hobbitheer. The Czech and the two Polish translators all avoided gentlehobbit.

Hybrid Text

Tolkien's use of repeats and his neologisms are two of the things that add to the illusion that The Lord of the Rings is a translation from the long-lost Red Book of Westmarch. They are types of otherness that mark his fictional translation as what is known in academic translation studies as a hybrid text.

A hybrid text is a text that results from a translation process. It shows features that somehow seem 'out of place'/'strange'/'unusual' for the receiving culture, i.e. the target culture. These features, however, are not the result of a lack of translational competence or examples of 'translationese', but they are evidence of conscious and deliberate decisions by the translator.9

Tolkien's use of repeats and his neologisms are conscious and deliberate decisions that Tolkien the 'translator' took in order to convey a sense of the 'out of place' to the target culture, i.e. English Literature. Translators translating Tolkien's 'translation' should be conscious of the hybrid nature of Tolkien's text and attempt to replicate it. "Hybrid texts allow the introduction into a target culture of hitherto unknown and/or socially unacceptable/unaccepted concepts through a medium which, by its non-conformity to social/stylistic conventions and norms, proclaims the otherness of its origin and thereby legitimizes its right to be heard. There is freedom of expression which is unhindered by said conventions," say Schäffner and Adab in their "The Concept of the Hybrid Text in Translation."10 Translators who ignore the hybrid nature of Tolkien's text are rejecting the legitimate claim of the otherness of his text to be heard.


In general, I found the author's comments interesting, but regretted that he had not included a back translation for the Chinese text for those readers interested in the translation process, but unable to read Chinese. On the whole the thesis was readable, but there were a number of English mistakes (there are two examples in the paragraph below, marked by corrections in square brackets [ ]), which, considering that the thesis was written by a non-native speaker, is not surprising, or necessarily disturbing.

In his conclusion, Van der Peet notes that for a novel as long as The Lord of the Rings, replete with so many plot lines and different characters (many of whom have more than one name), "careful reading and consistency are of quintessential importance." In the Chinese translations, "neither the translators nor the editors seemed to have made much effort at harmonizing the completed translation and making 'everything fit' the way Tolkien had done so masterfully in the original." The author's conclusion is that the ideal translator for Tolkien's novel, where "everything is interwoven in an intricate pattern," would be "an intimate 'cognoscente,' or a very thorough and professional translator (ideal would be a combination of both) with [a lot of] time on his hand[s]." His appraisal of the Chinese translations is much the same as the one that I expressed in my book on the Russian translations.11 He has "the hope of one day seeing a better translation of The Lord of the Rings into Chinese."

Contents: Comparative Translation Studies | The Analysis | Punctuation | Forty Leagues | Daddy Twofoot | Tolkien's Style: Repeats | Tolkien's Neologisms: Gentlehobbit | Hybrid Text | Conclusion |


1 A Thesis Submitted by David van der Peet to the Graduate Institute of Translation and Interpretation Studies of Fu Jen Catholic University entitled "The Lord of the Rings: Critique of the Two Chinese Translations" (April 15, 2000) <http://www.lucifer.hoolan.org/paper/paper/paper02.pdf>

2 Comparative Translations Studies examine the translations of a text in order to come to a better understanding of the source text. Tolkien may—to some extent—be regarded as an proponent of Comparative Translation Studies, though he was not talking about his own work, but of the work of another chronicler, dear to his heart. In "The Monsters and the Critics," he said: "The effort to translate, or to improve a translation, is valuable, not so much for the version it produces, as for the understanding of the original which it awakes."

3 20.000 mil podmorskiej żeglugi (Polish), 20.000 mil pod mořem (Czech), 20.000 Meilen unter den Meeren (German), 20.000 mijlen onder zee (Dutch).

4 The Czech translation by Stanislava Pošustová was not published until 1990, after the fall of Communism.

5 The Dutch translation by Max Schuchart (published 1956-1957) was the first translation of The Lord of the Rings (published 1954-1955) into any language. He was awarded the Nijhoff Prize for his translation, in 1958. It was revised by Mr. Schuchart in 1996. In the late-1970s, Mrs. E.J. Mensink-van Warmelo prepared her own unofficial translation of The Lord of the Rings, because she did not like the translation by Max Schuchart. For a more detailed examination of the differences in these three versions, see: Mark T. Hooker, "Dutch Samizdat: The Mensink-van Warmelo Translation of The Lord of the Rings," Translating Tolkien, volume 2, Switzerland: Walking Tree Publishers, 2004. Published in Dutch as: "Nederlandse Samizdat: De Mensink-van Warmelo vertaling van The Lord of the Rings," Lembas (the journal of the Dutch Tolkien Society), number 113, 2004.

6 The first Polish translation by Maria Skibniewska (published 1961-1963), was right on the heels of the Swedish one (published 1959-1961) and ahead of the Danish (1968-1970), German (1969-1970). A revised Polish translation was done by Jerzy Łoziński in 1996.

7 There are seven Russian translations and two re-tellings. For a detailed who's who of the Russian translations, see: Mark T. Hooker, "Nine Russian Translations of The Lord of the Rings," in Tolkien in Translation, Thomas Honegger (ed.), Switzerland: Walking Tree Publishers, 2003; or Mark T. Hooker, Tolkien Through Russian Eyes, Switzerland: Walking Tree Publishers, 2003.

8 The First German translation by Margaret Carroux was published 1969-1970. Many still consider it to be the best of the two. A new translation by Wolfgang Krege came out in 2000. For a discussion of the two see: <http://homepage.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/Nikolaos.Aslanidis/1.12.htm>, <http://homepage.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/Nikolaos.Aslanidis/1.01.htm> and Rainer Nagel, "The New One Wants to Assimilate the Alien," Translating Tolkien, volume 2, Switzerland: Walking Tree Publishers, 2004.

9 Christina Schäffner, Beverly Adab, "The Concept of the Hybrid Text in Translation," <http://www.les.aston.ac.uk/hybridhypotheses.html>.

10 Schäffner and Adab.

11 Mark T. Hooker, Tolkien Through Russian Eyes, Switzerland: Walking Tree Publishers, 2003.