Wandering through vietnamese culture

Other types of equivalence

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2.2.2 Other types of equivalence

In the second part of the chapter, the writer of this thesis would set the aim to look into less common types of equivalence found in the book. Those are: one-to-part-of-one and many-to-one equivalence. One-to-part-of one equivalence

Stepping into the land of one to part of one equivalence, which happens when a English expression could only covers part of a concept designated by a single Vietnamese expression. Those are the cases of “Tam cuc” when translated as “card games” or “cá kho” as “fish cooked with sauce” or “rồng rắn lên mây” as “dragon snake game”.

Source Language

Target Language

Back translation

Tam cúc

Card games

Chơi bài

Cá kho

Fish cooked with sauce

Cá nấu với nước mắm

Rồng rắn lên mây

Dragon snake game

Trò chơi rồng rắn

Clearly, the back translated version has partly helped us to see the cultural gaps between the SL and TL. Mentioning “card games”, westerners could refer immediately to bridge, poker and whist as in:

Bridge, pocker and whish are card-games” (Brit, tú lơ khơ và uýt là các trò chơi bài) (English- Vietnamese Dictionary, p228: 1999).

The use of “card games” in:

A festival always includes worshipping rituals followed by a procession of palanquins and a wide variety of games and entertainments such as performances by the local folk music ban, water puppetry, card games, oriental chess in which the pieces are young men and women...”(P224)

may misunderstand the western readers that Vietnamese peasants also play bridge, poker and whist in traditional Vietnamese festival. In my opinion, I would like to suggest that the word “tam cúc” or any other similarly traditional kind should be translated as “Vietnamese traditional card game” (chơi bài truyền thống của người Việt Nam). This could help make a clear distinction between the westerner’s card games and ours.

Obviously, a source-language word “does not have to be morphologically complex to be semantically complex” (Bolinger and Sears, 1968). Sometimes, there is a target language word which has the same proportional meaning as the source language word but it may have a different expressive meaning. Take “rồng” in Vietnamese and “dragon” in English as examples.

The Vietnamese dragon is created by different small parts of many different animals: “mình rắn, vẩy cá chép, mắt quỷ, sừng nai, tai thú, trán lạc đà, chân cá sấu, móng chim ưng” (Dương Kỳ Đức, 2001) (snake body, calf scale, devil eyes, deer stark, mammal ears, camel forehead, crocodile legs and hawk claws). Vietnamese people considered themselves children of Father Dragon and Mother Fairy. The appearance of the dragon is often accompanied with images of clouds which can bring about water - the most important factor for agriculture (nhất nước, nhì phân, tam cần, tứ giống – water is the most important factor, then comes fertilizer, industriousness and breeds). “Obviously, it is reasonable for people living in agriculture” (Dương Kỳ Đức, 2001). That may be the reason why they rank dragon the first place in many lists. Dragon is put a first place in list of four worshipped animals: “dragon, lion, tortoise, and phoenix”. Dragon symbolizes the king images in the eyes of common people. King’s throne is named dragon’s throne (long ngai); king’s palace is dragon’s place, likewise, king’s bed is known as dragon’s bed (long sàng). Dragon image is also associated with that of a noble, superior man which is in contrast with the common, inferior ones: “Trứng rồng lại nở ra rồng, liu điu lại nở ra dòng liu điu” (a dragon will be hatched from a dragon’s egg while a snake can only give birth to a snake-noble- men are of noble origin and superior to that of common one); “Rồng đến nhà tôm” (A dragon visits a shrimp’s house- a superior man visit an inferior one’s home). In a Vietnamese’s mind, dragon always has a positive image. It symbolizes the best things namely: power, nobility. On the contrary, the image of dragon appears in English proverbs and idioms is negative one. Vietnamese dragon itself is a flying image without any wings while its English one breathes out fire. In an Englishman’s mind, dragon is “a mythological monster, usually with wings and able to breath out fire” (Little Oxford Dictionary, 2000, p145). Another meaning of the words is “a fierce person” as in an example “we are really frightened of the math teacher, she was real dragon”. The idioms “to chase the dragon” means “to take a drugs”.

However, Huu Ngoc, as a Vietnamese writer, rather prefer to use the image of dragon in the writing: He called Đồng Văn and Mèo Vạc “the head of the dragon”; Cà Mau “the tail of the Vietnamese dragon”; Thăng Long the “soaring dragon” and translated “rồng rắn lên mây” as “dragon snake game”.

Taking what the common image of the word “dragon” refers to in English readers mind in to consideration, it is doubtful that those translations could convey the exact meaning that the writer would wish to transfer. On the contrary, holly and positive Vietnamese dragon could be imagined as a horrible negative Western dragon. To clear this possible misunderstanding, some note at the end of the page in term of what and how Vietnamese people consider and appreciate their dragon is strongly recommended. Many-to-one equivalence

The next group of equivalence is many-to-one equivalence this kind of equivalence, in contrast with one-to-many equivalence, could occur, when there is more than one expression in the source language but there is a single expression in target language which is equivalence to them.

As distant as Vietnamese and English culture, it is more common that English tends to have general words but lack specific ones. For example,

Lĩnh: Hàng dệt bằng tơ nõn, mặt mịn bóng (Đại Từ Điển Tiếng Việt; p 1024)

(Lĩnh: fabric made of fine silk with a glossy surface- my translation)

Đũi: Hàng dệt bằng tơ gốc (Đại Từ Điển Tiếng Việt; p625)

(Đũi: Fabric made of raw silk - my translation)

Vóc: Thứ hàng tơ, nền bóng (Đại Từ Điển Tiếng Việt; p1281)

(Fabric made of silk, with glossy surface- my translation)

Any Vietnamese woman could make a very clear distinction between those kinds of fabric. Mainly, the difference between them depends on the type of silk each type is made of. Lĩnh is created from fine silk, while đũi is from raw silk and vóc is made of glossy silk in common. However, when translated into English, the translator has no other choice but to make them some kind of general silk like “sateen” whose meaning is:

Sateen: fabric of silk or various man-made fibres, with a glossy surface on one side produced by a twill weave with the weft-threads almost hidden.(www.bamboo.net)

Another case worth discussion is:

Đền: Công trình kiến trúc tôn giáo xây dựng ở những nơi liên quan đến truyền thuyết hoặc sự tích, cuộc sống của thần hoặc người có công đức lớn với dân tộc được tôn thờ. (Đại Từ Điển Tiếng Việt, 623) (A religious building in legendary places of human beings or gods/goddesses who have great merit to common people and is worshipped –my translation)

Miếu: Đền thờ nhỏ, để thờ thần thánh (như miếu thờ thổ địa) (Đại Từ Điển Tiếng Việt,;p 435) (A small temple worshipped particular gods, e.g: god of land- my translation)

Phủ: Đền thờ nhỏ, để thờ các Mẫu có trong truyền thuyết của người Việt) (wikipedia.com)(A small temple devoted to the worship of Mother Goddesses in Vietnamese legends)

Scrutinizing those definitions, one can easily see the dissimilarity between those three types of worshipping places of Vietnamese people belongs to who the place is devoted to. Đền is for national heroes or heroines while Miếu is for special god and Phủ is devoted to the Mother Goddesses of Vietnamese legends. Coming to the task of translating those words, in English, there is only one word, that is

Temple: a building devoted to the worship, or regarded as the dwelling-place, of a god or gods or other objects of religious reverence, especially in religions other than Christianity, (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, p1580)

This word creates the distinction by clarifying the difference between Christianity and other religions. The general clarification can not meet the demands of distinguishable worshipping places of Vietnamese people. However, to some extent, “temple” is the best possible choice of word in this case.

The same case can easily be seen with:

Lúa: as in summer rice (p326)

Cơm: as in “cơm ba bát, áo ba manh” (three bowfuls of rice at mealtimes, a change of three shirts to cover one’s back) (p 329)

And xôi as in “ăn mày mà đòi xôi gấc” (beggars asking for momodicar rice)(p339)

Vietnamese eaters could be very upset if there were no differences things such as “lúa” (rice plant), “xôi” (steamed sticky rice)or “cơm” (cooked plain rice) but only one thing “rice”. They could not be happier to see that:

Bún: Sợi bột tẻ đã luộc chín dùng làm thức ăn (www.bamboo.com)

(Bún: boiled the plain rice noodle, used as food- my translation)

Miến: thứ đồ ăn gồm những sợi dài và nhỏ làm bằng bột đậu xanh (www.bamboo.com)

(Miến: thin, long thread of grean bean, used as food- my translation)

are sometimes unavoidably translated as vermicelli as in:

Nem is served hot, together with rice vermicelli, lettuce, mint, and a sweet sour sauce made of nước mắm (fish brine) flavoured with vinegar, a bit of sugar, and red pepper.” (p346)

Back translation: Nem thường được ăn nóng, với bún, rau xà lách, rau bạc hà và nước mắm chua ngọt có dấm, một chút đường và ớt.

In another text of “vermicelli with paddy crabs” (p351), he wrote “Yet, my French poet friend, the late Francoise Corrize, was quite fond of paddy crabs, eaten with vermicelli( Tuy nhiên, người bạn thi sĩ Pháp quá cố của tôi, Francoise Corrize, rất thích cua đồng ăn với bún/ miến…- my translation.) (p352) or in “Of tastes and smells” (p353) he once again mentioned “mắm tôm… sets off the taste of boiled pig offal, vermicelli soup severed hot (bún thang)…” (mắm tôm… làm dậy lên hương vị của món lòng lợn hoặc bún thang …- my translation). In “The Vietnamese eel” (p320) he determined: “Typical peasant dishes are: eel cooked over a slow fire with pieces of banana rhizome which is usually fairly salty, vermicelli with eel (miến lươn)…”

More commonly, English tends to make less distinction in meanings of some words than Vietnamese people. Those meanings belong to group of religious places or, once again, food or some trees or material. In English culture, the most common religious places is church, not “đình, đền, miếu, phủ” as its multi - religious counterpart. In term of food, Vietnamese environment is home to both rice and a lot other similar species which can be processed to make vercemili or noodles but it is not the case for English environment. All in all, languages tend to have a superordinate but lack hyponyms since each language makes only those distinctions in meaning which seem relevant to its particular environment.

In English, there is only “bamboo” not “tre, nứa, giang, mai, trúc” like in Vietnamese. So we have:

Tre già măng mọc” ( When the bamboo is ageing, the young shoots grow)


Khi đi trúc chửa mọc măng

Khi về trúc đã cao bằng ngọn tre”


When I left, the shoot had not shown up

On my return, it has become a full grown bamboo (p263)

To deal with this problem, the translator and the writer has no other choice but to use that loan word with some addition. For example:

Topping the list is the orchid, flower of the superior man and female beauty…. The hoa quỳnh (a type of hortensia) of a candid white, blossoms only at night for poets… the Phù dung (a type of hibiscus) symbolize a fast waning beauty.” (p293)

Back translation: Đứng đầu danh sách này là hoa phong lan- loài hoa của người quân tử và vẻ đẹp nữ tính…. Hoa quỳnh (một loại hortensia) có màu trắng tinh khiết, chỉ nở về đêm cho các thi sĩ…. Hoa Phù Dung (một loại hibiscusi) là biểu tượng của vẻ đẹp chóng tàn phai.

The other way round is that he translated the literal meaning of the words then added some detailed description:

chuối tiêu: The group of chuối tiêu (in the North) and chuối giạ (in the South) give few calories but smell sweet and are easily digested (chuối tiêu literally means digestible bananas). (p271)

Back translation: Nhóm chuối tiêu (ở miền Bắc) và chuối giạ (ở Miền Nam) có ít calo nhưng có mùi thơm và dễ tiêu (nghĩa đen của từ chuối tiêu có nghĩa là chuối dễ tiêu)

chuối tây: The group of chuối tây (literally Western bananas) in the North and chuối sứ in the South. The fruits are plump, short and starchy. (p271)

Back translation: Nhóm chuối tây (nghĩa đen là chuối phương Tây) ở miền Bắc và chuối sứ ở miền Nam. Quả của loại chuối này thường mập, ngắn và giàu tinh bột.

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