Translation & (Mis)Understandings
Translation and (mis)understanding are constant underlying or explicit subjects within the project both, in a practical and in a theoretical way. I want to give a few examples how these are crucial both, in team communication and different aspects of our work process.
Among the research team members, the languages English, Chinese and German are spoken, languages that are understood in various degrees by the different team members.
It is within this framework that all levels of translation, understanding and misunderstanding take place.
Translation and language
To start with fieldwork on Lanyu, the problem of translation was a big issue, given that in different situations different translation skills (Tao and Mandarin) are required. Secondly, language on Lanyu itself and within the Tao community is a big topic, where often communication between generations is almost impossible, because the older generation mostly speaks Tao language while the younger generations mostly speak Mandarin.
That is only the general framework to which several different social and cultural aspects come along, which also shape the translations.
Johannes Kretz writes:
(…) even when translation was available in one form or another – it usually implied a significant loss of information. Not everything was translated from Tao language to Mandarin, not everything from Mandarin to German/English. A lot of reduction often happened. Sometimes the reduction occurred due to certain aspects of confidentiality or discretion. (Those who spoke explicitly asked not to translate certain things to those people regarded to be more “outside”.)
After the fieldwork many Tao songs were translated by team members which lead to big discussions among the team. The songs are translated from (old) Tao language to Mandarin to English or German. Each translation is at the same time an interpretation of the original words which are very poetic. Additional background information is needed to understand the context of the words. Here is an example of such a translation. The song is sung in the kalamat melody type and written in the old Tao language, which differs strongly from the spoken Tao.
#1 五孔洞沈船 kalamat raod 施雅春創唱
Boat sunk near five cave area
Mandarin translation: Chien-Ping Kuo
English translation and interpretation: Johannes Kretz
Prologue (not included in the original song):
In the early 1970ies an unknown iron ship stranded on Lanyu's coast near the area of the five caves. The soldiers based on Lanyu at that time tied the boat to the rocks from all sides. Important documents were required to be safeguarded and delivered to the police station. The ship broke from strong waves' impact. Its fuel leaked and covered the whole beach. It smelled badly and the pollution killed all kinds of fish there. The metal parts of the ship sunk into the sea polluting the coral reef. Finally the ship completely sunk.
Translation of the song text
avan nira ilasapen o
船 他們異族 者
A boat from them … they aren’t Tao people
oyata pinangad so kamaogan na i
它 拉長 製造
it’s construction design is long and extended
iyangongozit da jida latai
快速 無法 超越
it can’t surpass … it can’t go fast
jitalatai inganangana da sopozo namen na i ya
不能超越 跨越 各島 我們 這
it can’t pass the island … we are watching there.
pini raalin na maciriris
它被 損壞 而 漂流
it is breaking it is cracking it is drifting … no control
maciriris rana ta i na lemayan
漂流 已 被 打擊
the ocean’s state … it is drifting it is cracking
na no inazobob do cinalatawan
那 海象 在 航行中
they cannot steer they cannot get under control
na jirana longey
它 無法 再行駛
they could not drive the struggling boat
jirana longey o yamina siyasiwaz
無法 再行駛 已經 左右搖晃
it was shaking left and right … shaken in the ocean’s powers
do palanowan na i
In the sea
i cinamogo no maoran ja lokeh
使恐懼 乘坐 者 船員
the crew drives the boat …in the most scary way
ma oran ji loga o lominangara
乘 坐 者 船員 仰望
the crew drives the boat … they are looking up to the sky
so anit a lomi nawag tomlalap do langaraen
天 召 喚 隱身 在 天上
they call the sky … what is hidden in the sky
am lalap do langaraen
隱身 在 天上
hidden in the sky … what is hidden in the sky
opey kamataen nira imanira do
那 負責（船長） 他們 外國
the captain from abroad … anchor drops on rocky shore
cinalarangan na oma lasiyas
停泊 在 陡峭 岩壁
the waves rock the boat so steep it falls apart
omalalasiyas do ni layolayong na no paong
陡峭（？） 被 搖晃 浪
they devour the boat and break it into parts
a lomolomoey siya zimokamoken
吞 噬 它 解體
scattered into pieces … broken into metal parts
zimokamoken na o palamoamolonan nyo ta lowaji
裂解 那 世世代代 你們 長壽
this affects our lives from generation to generation
paladadawen no ased no malano
被飄移 在 逆流 湧浪
drifting counter current and big waves, too
Epilogue (not included in the song text)
It took more than three years, until gradually the water quality improved, but the ecosystem needed even longer to recover from this pollution. While the government cared a lot about the documents on the ship, they didn't care for the harm to wildlife nor for the pollution of the fishing grounds, which were a burden for Iraraley village for many years.
After some years the Tao people began diving there for collecting the sunken ship's fragments as a resource of metal. They produce farming tools from it.
The translations inspired creative processes. Johannes Kretz composed English rap versions of this song.
When reading these lyrics and translations the wide space that opens up between different languages and interpretations for understanding and misunderstanding (cognitive and non-cognitive) becomes visible. This can be seen both as an advantage or disadvantage. It allows readers, interpreters and composers to approach the song in many different ways and be flexible in their own creative processes. On the other hand, we know that our actual understanding of what was originally meant by the creator of this song is limited.