VỪa nhắm mắt vừa mở CỬa sổ

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Chuyển đổi dữ liệu09.06.2018
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Ngô Thị Huyền, B.A.

Faculty of English

Mobile phone: 01689934020

Email: huyenngo131@gmail.com


Translation study has been believed to be a field of research but so far lack of professional studies. Using translation methods and procedures facilitates translation, however, translation of literary works requires much efforts and questions to be solved. A number of Vietnamese well-known books have been translated into English. This articles summarize translation methods and procedures used in the book by Nguyễn Ngọc Thuần “Vừa nhắm mắt vừa mở cửa sổ”.

Key words: translation methods, equivalence, translation procedures.


Translation plays an increasingly important role of people life, when the process of integration is taking place almost everywhere in the world. However, translation theories is a field for further research, and even current theories in this field also vary. This essay aims at exploring translation methods and procedures for translating, which were proposed by famous names in translation, such as Peter Newmark, Jakobson, Catford, Kade and Koller. The essays picks up the first chapter of “Vừa nhắm mắt vừa mở cửa sổ” by Nguyễn Ngọc Thuần and its translation by Bradley Winterton as a source of information and examples. The book was a famous work in Vietnamese children literature. It was first published in 2002 and received unanimous appraisal, quickly made its author a best-seller for its deep humane meaning. Due to time constraints and limitation of this essay, only the first chapter and its translation was put under investigation. Both the source text and the translated version were published in Vietnam by Young Publishing House.


The researcher intends to make this article a secondary research. Theories will be summarized and examples will be taken from the abovementioned book.

Research background

In his famous essay, On Linguistic Aspects of Translation, Jakobson (1959) distinguished three types of translation as follows:

  1. Intralingual translation, referring to the interpretation of verbal signs by means of other signs in the same language.

  2. Interlingual translation: an interpretation of verbal signs by means of some other language.

  3. Intersemiotic translation: an interpretation of verbal signs of a non-verbal system.

This classification manages to describe the translation from panorama view, thus abstruse. Translation in this definition does not merely concern linguistic units like words, sentences, texts but refers to non-linguistic measures like non-verbal language system. In simpler words, the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary - 7th edition, defines that “translation is a process of changing something from written or spoken form into another language”. This definition shares something in common with the second type of translation mentioned in Jakobson’s essay. Besides, translation as defined in Le & Nguyen (2008), is “the expression in another language (or target language) of what has been expressed in another (source language), preserving semantic and stylistic equivalence”. By this, translation in common sense is the talking or writing about one thing using a different language. The definition also clearly states two most significant criteria for translation: unaffected information and style of the SL text.

But translation is not only a process, but also a product in which the translator must convey as exactly as possible the message from the source text to the target text, remaining the scrutiny of language. In other words, translation, as a product, requires the achievement of both linguistic and artistic effects, or three criteria of faithfulness, good form, and accuracy.

To further clarify “translation”, another question may be put forward: “What is translation for?” Venuti (1995, p.18) stressed the aim of translation is:

to bring back a cultural other as the same, the recognizable, even the familiar; and this aim always risks a wholesale domestication of the foreign text, often in highly self-conscious projects, where translation serves an appropriation of foreign culture for domestic agendas, cultural, economic, and political.

In this analysis, the writer highlighted the function of translation: turning an exotic culture into something familiar with the readers, implying that translation, in the end, seeking to blur the language barriers between cultures. In the context of intensive and extensive integration, this function day by day proves to be true and affirms its significance.

1.3. Translation methods:

Basing on dynamic equivalence theory of Nid, Newmark proposed 8 translation methods which can be illustrated in the diagram as follows:

SL emphasis TL emphasis

Word-for-word translation Adaptation

Literal translation Free translation

Faithful translation Idiomatic translation

Semantic translation Communicative translation

(Newmark, 1988: 45)

Newmark briefly explained these methods as:

- Word-for-word translation: the translation is directly produced from the source text, at word level. The word order is preserved, no context is considered when using this method. For example: facebook – mặt sách; Hôm qua tôi đi chợ - Yesterday I go market; He is a small boy.--> Anh ấy là một nhỏ cậu bé.

- Literal translation: The SL grammatical constructions are converted to their nearest TL equivalents but the lexical words are translated singly, out of context. For example: He looked up at the Milky Way. Anh ấy nhìn lên vào con đường màu sữa.

- Faithful translation: attempts to reproduce the precise contextual meaning of the original within the constraints of the TL grammatical structures. Some cultural words are translates directly by copying from the source text to the target text. For example: He was a fast as a kangaroo. -> Anh ấy nhanh như một con kangaroo. The word “kangaroo” is a cultural word and it was picked directly with any translation.

- Semantic translation: takes more account of the aesthetic value of the SL text than does faithful translation, compromising on ‘meaning’ where appropriate so that assonance, word-lay or repetition jars in the finished version. For example: coral reefs fringing the Okinawan islands just like a necklace can be seen only in warm and very clear water. Những rặng san hô bao quanh các đảo vùng Okinawa giống như một chiếc vòng cổ nổi bật trên nền nước biển trong xanh.

- Adaptation: In adaptation, the themes, characters, plots are preserved, and the SL culture is converted to the TL culture and the text is rewritten. This translation method is often used in poem, stories or plays translations.

- Free translation: is when the translator gets out of the limitations of the SL I terms of forms and expressions to produce a new translation. This method is often ised for songs translation.

- Idiomatic translation: reproduces the ‘message’ of the original but tends to distort nuances of meaning by preferring colloquialisms and idioms where these do not exist in the original. This method is highly effective for the translation of idiom. For example: He was as quiet as a mouse - Anh ta im như thóc.

- Communicative translation: attempts to render the exact contextual meaning of the original so that the readership finds it easier to understand. Communicative translation is often used for translating a difficult document, for example the original version of Sherlock Holmes for a child of 12. Many words and phrases should be changed or expressed in simpler expressions to avoid confusion for the target readers.

(Newmark, 1988: 45-7)

Among these 8 methods of translation, communicative and semantic translations are the two major methods, and they are more frequently used for 2 main aims of translation, namely accuracy and economy.

Apart from these methods, when concluding the chapter on translation methods in A Textbook of Translation, Newmark goes on to clarify five more translation methods:

  1. Service translation: is translation from one’s language of habitual use into another language.

  2. Plain prose translation: this is translation of poems and poetic drama. Usually stanzas become paragraphs, prose punctuation is introduced, original metaphors and SL culture retained, no sound-effects are reproduced.

  3. Information translation: This conveys all the information in a non-literary text, sometimes rearranged in a more logical form, sometimes partially summarized, and not in the form of a paraphrase.

  4. Cognitive translation: This reproduces the information in a SL text converting the SL grammar to its normal TL transpositions, normally reducing any figurative to literal language.

  5. Academic translation: This reduces an original SL text to an ‘elegant’ idiomatic educated TL version which follows a literary register. It irons out the expressiveness of a writer with modish colloquialisms.

(Newmark, 1988: 52-3)

1.3. Translation procedures and strategies

Peter Newmark in his well-known work A Textbook of Translation (1988, pp. 81-93) pointed out various translation procedures which are applied to “sentences and smaller units of languages”. Most typical are those illustrated by the following figure:

Figure 1: Translation procedures

hile applying transference for a translation unit, the SL word is directly taken into TL without any alteration or translation, and the outcome is a “loan word”. This procedure fits best with cultural, new technical terms, or proper names to create certain stylistic effects, modernity for example, thus expresses respect for SL country’s culture. Naturalization, meanwhile, adapts the SL word first to the normal pronunciation, i.e. no real “translation” is concerned. The word “kangaroo” is naturalized into “kăng-ga-ru” in Vietnamese for example. In general, these are simple techniques without considerate complexity.

Cultural equivalence is a notable procedure with which, a word in the SL is replaced by another word in the TL with the same stylistic function (but possibly different meanings), for example “Don Juan” in English can be translated by “Sở Khanh” in Vietnamese, or the case with different preferred measurements in different countries (pound in Britain and kilogram in Vietnam for example). English people say “Each bird loves to hear himself signing” but Vietnamese people talk to each other “Mèo khen mèo dài đuôi”. That “bird” in English becomes “mèo” (a cat) in Vietnamese results from the substitution of an idiom with another with corresponding communicative value but different meaning. The use of cultural equivalent in translation practice creates similar impression on readers because it refers to familiar concepts with target readership. But it is inapplicable to many cases due to cultural gaps between two languages. One popular concept or idiom in one culture may be totally unfamiliar to people from another.

Also dealing with cultural words, functional equivalence (or dynamic equivalence) is the replacement of cultural word with a cultural-free one, in order to ensure readability of the translation. Such words as “the White House” or “the Pentagon” can be substituted by “Dinh cơ Tổng thống Mỹ” or “Bộ Quốc Phòng Mỹ” respectively. The two former words are embedded with special cultural nuances - the way people name two state agencies - which the translations fail to maintain. However, the translated version appears to be more readable with specific function of each building. This procedure is assessed as “the most accurate way of […] deculturalising a cultural word” (Newmark 1988, p.83).

Besides, Newmark introduced descriptive equivalence as a procedure which allows translator to explain or paraphrase the words in the target language by adding function of the SL word for example. Using descriptive equivalence, the word “bút lông” can be translated as “brush pen, used to create calligraphic works or ideograms”. This procedure shares something in common with free translation.

However, Newmark puts his emphasis on couplets/ triplets/ quadruplet, etc. – the combination two, three or more of above-mentioned procedures, in the sense that this procedure is especially common for cultural words. The task may consist of transference plus functional or cultural equivalence.

Regarding cultural words, using notes, additions or glosses during translation practice is an important technique. The notes should be added within the text (using different brackets or parenthesis) at the end of the text or in a glossary as reference. Newmark showed no hesitation when listing this as one translation procedure as he did with paraphrasing. Instead, he noticed what should be avoided when using this technique.

Translation procedures, however, are exceedingly diverse than those listed above, not to mention the fact that each translator proposes his own strategies. The explained procedures are considered to be more frequently-used than others. The questions of how these techniques are used in translation and which is the optimal way, as well as which advice translators should follow are answered in the following chapters.

For further examples, chapter 1 of “Vừa nhắm mắt vừa mở cửa sổ” was selected to find out examples of translation methods and procedures.

2.1. Cho nên bố tôi nói, một đứa trẻ ra đời là một sự may mắn.

-> Dad said it was a stroke of good luck when a baby was born.

The translation preserves the idea, but the order of words changed to fit the TL text.

Method used: communicative translation

2.2. Chẳng hạn, làm sao tôi có thể quen thằng Tí và chọn nó làm bạn thân nếu tôi không ra đời?

-> How could I get to know Tí and make him my best friend if I hadn’t even come into the world?

The word “Chẳng hạn” is omitted in the translation. The question was changed into a “How question”. This is semantic translation when some word was omitted so that the translation can sound more natural.

2.3. Mẹ tôi nói: "Anh ơi! Hình như em sắp sinh em bé".

Mom said to him, “Darling! The baby’s coming!”

The translation has no word which means “hình như”. The sentence “hình như em sắp sinh em bé” was changed into “The baby’s coming!”, no word “hình như” was present. The two sentences have the same communicative purposes but different wording. The methods applied here is communicative translation.

2.4. Ngặt một nỗi, con bò không có ở đó. Bố đã nhờ cậu dắt nó đi ăn cỏ

Unfortunately, the cow wasn’t around to pull it because Dad had told my Uncle to take it away to graze.

The translation here is very interesting. The word “Ngặt một nỗi” was translated as “unfortunately”. The words have the same communicative purpose, but the word “unfortunately” doesn’t seem to preserve the connotation of the word “ngặt”. Therefore, this translation is communicative translation, when the translation had to convey the purpose of the word rather than the meaning of the word itself.

2.5. Ðặt tên cậu ấm là gì nào?

How shall we call the blessed boy?

In this example, the cultural word “cậu ấm” was translated as “the blessed boy”. The “blessed boy” should be understood as “the unlucky one” who would bring luck to the family. Meandwhile, “cậu ấm” is a Vietnamese word used to talk about sons of rich families. Maybe in English there is no word with a similar meaning. So the word should be changed into a similar equivalence. This is communicative translation.

Summary: Semantic and communicative translations are two major methods used in this translation. Communicative translation is preferred for 2 reasons. First, the target readers are children, whose language competence is limited. Second, this translation aims at people of a foreign country with a foreign language. Therefore, the translation should be simple and understandable, rather than be semantic and incomprehensible.


Choosing a suitable translation method is the very first step before translating any SL work.. By summarizing the major theories and some examples in my real translations and an official work by a famous author, it can be concluded that semantic and communicative translation are the two major translation methods used in literature translation. However, due to the limitation of time and the researcher’s ability, this field still needs further consideration and research


  1. Baker, M 1992, In other words: A course book on translation, Routledge: London.

  1. Jakobson, R 1959/2000, ‘On linguistics aspects of translation’, in Venuti, L (ed.), The translation Studies Reader, Routledge, London and New York, pp.113-18.

  1. Lâm Quang Đông, 2011, Nghĩa liên hội và thái độ trong sử dụng ngôn ngữ, Tài liệu hội thảo Tập huấn Giảng viên về phương pháp giảng dạy các môn biên dịch, Đại học ngoại ngữ - Đại học Quốc gia Hà Nôi, tháng 12/2011.

  1. Le, HT & Nguyen, NB 2008, Lecture 1 – Introduction to Translation and Interpretation Studies, PowerPoint Slides, University of Languages and International Studies, VNUH, Hanoi.

  1. Newmark, P 1988, A textbook of translation, Prentice Hale International, London and New York.

  1. Newmark, P 2006, Approaches to translation Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

  1. Trịnh Nhật, 2008, Đi tìm cái tương đương trong phiên dịch. Lê Hùng Tiến & Nguyễn Ninh Bắc, Translation theory coursebook, Đại học ngoại ngữ - Đại học Quốc gia Hà Nôi, trang 31-44.

  1. Venuti, L 1995, The Translator’s Invisibility – A History of Translation. Routledge, London and New York.

  1. Venuti, L 2001, The Translation Studies Reader, Routledge, London.


Ngô Thị Huyền, C.N.

Khoa Tiếng Anh

Điện thoại: 01689934030

Email: huyenngo131@gmail.com


Dịch thuật hiện đang là lĩnh vực thiếu các nghiên cứu chuyên sâu, đặc biệt đối với dịch văn học. Việc sử dụng các phương pháp và thủ thuật địch được diễn ra dễ dàng hơn, song quá trình biên dịch Việt Anh các tác phẩm văn học Việt Nam hiện vẫn còn rất nhiều khúc mắc và vấn đề cần giải đáp. Tuy nhiên trong số đó, không ít tác phẩm nổi tiếng của văn học trong nước đã được dịch ra tiếng nước ngoài. Báo cáo này tóm tắt các phương pháp và thủ thuật dịch và trích dẫn một số ví dụ từ tác phẩm văn học nổi tiếng được dịch ra tiếng Anh của tác giả Nguyễn Ngọc Thuần “Vừa nhắm mắt vừa mở cửa sổ”.

Key words: phương pháp dịch, thủ thuật dịch, tương đương dịch thuật

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