Daur Dictionary Revamp on the Cards

A brief news item on January 13, 2014, 《达斡尔语辞典》征求专家修订意见, informs us that a meeting was recently held at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences where experts were invited to discuss revising the existing 《达斡尔语辞典》, a dictionary of the Daur language. It took more than three decades to compile, and a contact of mine tells me it was originally published by Harbin Publishing House (哈尔滨出版社).

According to Wikipedia, Daur is a Mongolic language with 96,000 native speakers in China as of 1999.

This project is just one of many started or completed since 2011 for dictionaries involving non-Han languages.  For background on some of the others, see French-Buyi Dictionary Dogged by Concerns over Political Correctness; Premier Tibetan-Chinese Legal Dictionary; Chinese-Lahu Dictionary; Miao-Han Dictionary, and Rejuvenating the Tujia Language. Read a few of them of these items and you’ll be reminded that language — or in this case — language reference tools such as dictionaries, can be rather political. [Read more…]

“Time Regulation Institute”: English Version of Tanpinar’s Classic to Launch

Arguably the greatest Turkish novel of the 20th century, Saatleri Ayarlama Enstitüsü  has been translated into EnglishThe Time Regulation Institute as of January 7.

Writes Istanbul-based Kalem Agency:

The Time Regulation Institute, true to the style of modernity, exposes the dominance of time over modern man’s life and their ever-changing relationships. The ebb and flow of time guides the reader through the novel’s four parts. From Great Expectations to Small Facts, Towards Morning and to Each Season Has Its End we follow Hayri Irdal on his tumultuous journey from East to West, from the Ottoman state to the westernized society of modern Turkey.

Hayri is employed by the Time Regulation Institute, an organization founded for the sole purpose of changing all of Turkey’s clocks to Western time. At the Institute, he becomes involved with a mixture of colorful and fascinating characters: a television mystic, a pharmacist who dabbles in alchemy, a dignitary from the lost Ottoman Empire, and a “clock whisperer”. In a description as mocking as it is accurate, Tanpınar relates the collision of Western modernity and Eastern tradition—a collision whose aftermath the Turkey of today still experiences.

Kalem has sold the rights to many publishers worldwide including Shanghai Literature & Arts Publishing House (上海文艺出版社), which is expected to publish it in 2014 in time for the Beijing Int’l Book Fair at which Turkey will be the Country of Honor. See here for details on all three of Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar’s novels due for translation into Chinese.

Candidates for Romanized Zhuang Exam: Few and Far Between

Some 318 candidates took part in Dec 6 exams testing literacy in the written Zhuang language held in Guangxi’s Nanning and Baise, according to a report in Nationalities Newspaper (会说不会写). Mind you, that’s a microscopic figure for a people who reportedly number around 18 million speakers.

The most numerous non-Han ethnicity in China, the Zhuang reside mainly in Guangxi, but are also present in Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangdong and Hunan.

Curiously, the article points out that schools offering bilingual education (双语教育) are on the rise. In Guangxi, there are reportedly now 108 bilingual elementary schools, up from 64, though we aren’t told when there were just 64.

I say “curiously,” because this is happening when it is getting more difficult for other ethnic groups such as the Uyghur, Tibetans and Mongols, to be taught in their own language.

I don’t know Zhuang and haven’t studied the history of central government policies regarding the language since 1949. Predictably, the article makes no mention of any statistic or date before 2009, which—to me—suggests past policies didn’t actively promote Zhuang literacy, to put it mildly.

I’d hazard that these factors figure in the current campaign to promote Zhuang literacy: [Read more…]

Capturing Endangered Tongues of Yunnan

After decades of Chinese central government policies that baldly aimed at replacing non-Han languages with Mandarin, or at best simply tolerated their existence, real money is apparently now being spent to document and preserve them in ways that meet international standards.

According to an article published at Chinawriter.com.cn (临危语言), several linguists from the Yunnan Endangered Languages Audio Laboratory (云南临危语言有声语实验室) were sent to University of London for training, and related equipment has been imported and installed.  The lab now boasts 4 specialists and 20-plus researchers.

Yunnan’s most highly endangered languages have been identified, with 9 used by less than 500 native speakers.  For instance, Xian dǎo yǔ, the language of the A Chang people (阿昌族的仙岛语) has only 76 living speakers.
The laboratory is currently implementing basic steps for these endangered languages such as establishing audio databases and developing recording software. Unlike earlier homegrown efforts, these files aim to be consistent with international best practice, and include documentation in IPA, Hanyu Pinyin, literal translations in Mandarin and English, and free translations into both languages.

The laboratory is a project of the Endangered Languages Research Center at Yunnan’s Yuxi Normal University  (云南玉溪师范学院民族文化语社会发展研究所 临危语言研究所中心). A senior manager for the center, Professor Bai Bibo, said that considerable work has also been done to document and teach one of Yunnan’s living languages, Hani (哈尼语), spoken by over 700,000. A Hani language center has been established in Red River Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture (pictured: bright red, bordering on a dark green Vietnam) where the training program aims to cultivate professional linguists who can speak, read and write Hani, and document and translate the language. They have published several research papers, such as An Analysis of Hani Discourse (哈尼语话语分析).

The 2013 Istanbul Book Fair, Xinjiang Connections and “English”

When Chinese author Wang Gang brought a smile to the faces of his Turkish listeners as he recounted how a musician back in Xinjiang had sung him a tune dubbed “Istanbul” just a few days ago, it’s unlikely few in the audience recognized the irony.

After all, the theme of China’s presence at the 2013 Istanbul Book Fair is Ipak Yolu—Yeni Sayfa (The Silk Road—A New Page).  One major traditional Silk Road route began in Chang’an, today’s Xi’an, and ended in Constantinople, today’s Istanbul, skirting Xinjiang’s deadly Taklamakan Desert along the way.

Wang Gang was speaking at the closing event of a series of seminars on Nov 3 highlighting China’s role as “Country of Honor” at this year’s Istanbul Book Fair. He was just one of five speakers, because this was primarily a platform for celebrating the translation and publication of two Chinese novels into Turkish, thanks to a project jointly subsidized by Turkey and China: Sonsuz Ne Kadar Uzun (How Long is Forever?) by Tie Ning (铁凝), and Ingilizce (English) by Wang Gang (王刚).

Given the state of translation—in fiction, at least—between the two languages, 2 new novels is not an insignificant contribution. The only modern Chinese novel I’ve seen in any bookshop in Ankara, Antalya or Istanbul is Mo Yan’s Red Sorghum (Kızıl Darı Tarlaları), but thankfully there are a few more Chinese novels in Turkish translation than that (see Obligatory Pretty Face). Meanwhile, thanks mainly to Turkey’s TEDA, a program under the Ministry of Culture & Tourism that subsidizes translations and publication into foreign languages, the number of contemporary Turkish novels already in print or appearing in Chinese during 2013-14 will top 30 (see table).

But back to Wang Gang, the decision to translate his book, and the meaning of his presence at the dais yesterday. [Read more…]

Translation Crunch: Turkey Revs up for Role as Country of Honor at 2014 Beijing Book Fair

It has been officially announced that Turkey will be the Country of Honor at the 2014 Beijing Int’l Book Fair, as China was at the Istanbul In’tl Book Fair this year.

A dearth of Turkish-to-Chinese translators means Turkish works like this one are often translated from the English.

Which raises several questions:

  • What contemporary works of fiction by Turkish authors are already available in Chinese?
  • Which additional novels are to be published in time for the Beijing Book Fair in late August 2014?
  • Who is going to translate them, and what language(s) will they be translated from?

My table below — which I believe is fairly comprehensive — helps to answer some of these questions, but it’s hard to believe that the Turkish publishing industry would be content with such a short list of works in Chinese.

For its part, Turkey’s government-sponsored TEDA, a program under the Ministry of Culture & Tourism that subsidizes translations and publications into many languages, has offered financial support to the translation and publication of 16 books into Chinese [Dec 28 update: 19], of which 10 have been published so far.

While that may sound like a decent effort, over the years TEDA has subsidized an incredible 1,333 titles, the top recipients being German (209), Bulgarian (169) and Iranian (66) (见表).

Surely Turkey’s government sees a bigger potential market in China than in . . . Bulgaria?

Regardless of who bankrolls the publication of Turkish works to be launched in time for the Beijing Book Fair, another pressing problem is their translation. There are reportedly only a handful of professional Chinese translators who can handle literary translation straight from the Turkish. Shen Zhixing, Xia Yongmin, Yin Tingting and Tang Jiankun do; several of the others listed in the table below can’t. [Read more…]

“Madam Atatürk: The First Lady of Modern Turkey” Now Out in English

Ataturk and his wifeThe English translation of the biography of the woman who married Turkey’s “Father of the Nation,” Madam Atatürk: The First Lady of ModernTurkey, has just been launched. Author Ipek Çalışlar stood trial over charges of insulting the memory of Atatürk in her biography of Latife Hanım (Latife Uşakizâde) but was acquitted several years ago. Reports Hürriyet Daily News:

A multilingual intellectual educated at the Sorbonne, Latife’s marriage to Atatürk in 1923 set her apart from her contemporaries, raising her to the pinnacle of political power. She played a central role in the creation of a modern and secular Turkey and campaigned tirelessly for women’s right to vote.

Throughout her marriage, Latife stood beside her husband and acted as his interpreter, promoter and diplomatic aide. However, after only two years of marriage, Atatürk divorced Latife and she soon disappeared from public life. 

Manchu Ulabun: A Hot Research Topic in China

Apparently known as ulabun in Manchu and Shuō bù (说部) in Chinese, this is a storytelling tradition—involving song and recital—among the Manchu of northeast China. These tales naturally center around folk heroes, indigenous religious beliefs and history of the Manchu, but some Chinese experts argue that it has long been influenced by the Han tradition of storytelling, or Shuōshū (说书). For a brief description of the tradition in English, see Biographic Singing and Talking at the web site of the Institute of Ethnic Literature. [Read more…]

King Gesar Update: Academics Congregate, but Septuagenarian Bard Struggles to Pass on the Tradition

One-third of the extant written versions of the Tibetan epic King Gesar (格萨尔王) make a reference to Maqu County in Gansu (玛曲), leading Chinese experts to believe it may be the historical birthplace of the epic. But according to a report on Chinanews.com (说唱传承人), only one bard residing there is capable of performing the saga.

Ga’erkao (尕尔考) knows that this art, passed down to him from his great-grandfather, will not be taken up by any of his living relatives. So he is busy training a handful of teenagers in Zhaxi Village (扎西村) who are keen to learn, but at 70, his energy is limited.

But if most seasoned performers of the epic are in their twilight years—rendering it an endangered art form—China sees a new opportunity for burnishing its image as steward of this Tibetan cultural heritage, and thus it is busy promoting its study among academics. Some 70 international experts were recently invited to a conference in Inner Mongolia to share their research on various orally transmitted epics, and primarily King Gesar.  Details of the topics covered can be seen here in Chinese.

A few factoids:

  • Delegates: From locations as diverse as Japan, Russia, Mongolia and Turkey
  • Popularization: New Chinese versions of the tale are appearing in the graphic form—similar to comics in the West—known as 连环画.
  • African echoes: A professor (阿德莫拉·达斯尔瓦) from Nigeria’s University of Ibadan drew parallels between the performance of King Gesar and West African epics.

Chinese Fiction in Translation: Novels/Novellas with “Ethnic” Theme

Over the last few months a number of reporters have e-mailed to ask about the state of Chinese literature in translation, particularly in light of Mo Yan’s winning the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature. But most cite just a handful of authors and works in their questions— and Shanghai Baby, translated by yours truly over a decade ago!—is often one of them.

My advice to them is simple: do your homework, please! For starters, check out Paper-Republic.  All sorts of goodies over there, including a list of translated Chinese fiction (and poetry) published in 2012, Chinese fiction published in 2013, and a Translator Directory too.

Here at Altaic Storytelling, we focus on writing by & about non-Han peoples, particularly those which speak an Altaic language, but not exclusively. And it is interesting to note that translated fiction with an “ethnic” twist has been building up steam for a while, pre-dating the Mo Yan craze, in fact.

To my mind, the impetus for the increased profile of Chinese literature in the outside world began when China was named “Guest of Honor” at the 2009 Frankfurt Int’l Book Fair. Chinese authors and publishers socialized with their European counterparts—many for the first time—and important contacts and contracts resulted, with the books born of this schmoozing finally hitting the market 2-3 years later.

In China is Focusing on the Fringes published in March this year, literary translator Nicky Harman presciently pointed out that “independent–minded Chinese writers are becoming seriously interested in the geographical fringes of ‘China proper’, drawing on its people, their traditions and conflicts at work.” And as you can see below, foreign publishers are interested. When you consider that over the last few years just 15 or so Chinese novels have appeared in English each year—ethnic or no—this table looks a bit more impressive.

Indeed. So, to show this more graphically—and perhaps even to save myself a bit of hassle in recreating the wheel for the next journalist who wants to pick my brains—I’ve put together this table. If you know something I should add to it, including current projects that will be published in 2014, please let me know! [Read more…]