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[Chinese-translators] On Translating Chinese Language - Punctuation

From: Chao-Hong Liu
Subject: [Chinese-translators] On Translating Chinese Language - Punctuation
Date: Sat, 5 Jul 2003 01:08:03 +0800 (CST)

Dear Colleagues,

The attachment is an essay prepared mainly for Chinese
translators on how to use Chinese punctuation marks,
would you please check and comment.  I will be very
appreciate if you forward this mail to someone who is
interested in this topic, especially those who is not
native Chinese speakers ....

And please tell me if there is anything
un-comprehensive, I will be willing to complement the
whole idea.

Thanks in advance,


ps.I have setup local variable for big5 character set.
 If you are using Emacs, they should be shown

每天都 Yahoo!奇摩
該換工作了嗎? - 幫你算出最合適的求職方向
On Translating Chinese Language - Punctuation - GNU Project

by Chao-Hong Liu <address@hidden>

¡mGNU ­pµe¤¤¤å½Ķ¡n - ¡q¼ÐÂI²Å¸¹¡r

¼B ¬L§»


Chinese the language -- at least before Written-in-Vocal-Language Movement 
(¥Õ¸Ü¤å¹B°Ê) since early years in twentieth centuary -- did not use punctuation 
marks.  Together with the basic manner that Chinese words do not have 
grammatical indicators -- such as prefixes, infixes, or postfixes to indicate 
that if a word is plural or adjective -- make this human language some kind of 
art, but also introduce some problems as we will see below.

Let us first look at the renowed story: A person went visiting hir friend, and 
stayed for few days because of raining.  The host finally became unwelcoming 
hir friend but still tried not to talk about this face-to-face, then hse wrote 
down the words in Chinese, without punctuation marks.


It's clear that the host had places for hir own punctuation "stops" in mind, 
and these words would be

¤U«B¤Ñ ¯d«È¤Ñ ¤Ñ¯d §Ú¤£¯d.

Then the sentence would be

¤U«B¤Ñ rainy day
¯d«È¤Ñ time to keep guests
¤Ñ¯d   the weather/god keeps
§Ú¤£¯d I do not keep,

which means "Rainy days are time to keep guests at home.  Although the 
weather/god is willing to keep [you at my place], but I don't."

Of course, the guest knew exactly what hir friend -- maybe not really a friend 
-- wrote, semantically, but since the host do not put punctuation marks between 
the words -- Chinese don't have any then, the guest put hir punctuation "stops" 
and make the words be seperated as

¤U«B ¤Ñ¯d«È ¤Ñ¤Ñ¯d§Ú¤£ ¯d

Then the sentence would be changed semantically as

¤U«B       it rains
¤Ñ¯d«È     the weather/god would like to keep guests
¤Ñ¤Ñ¯d§Ú¤£ keep me everyday or not?
¯d         keep,

which means "It rains, and it looks like the weather/god would like to keep 
guests.  [Guest asks:] Would you like to keep me everyday?  [Host answers:] 
Yes, I would."

This story tells us that if you don't want to keep guests at home, learn to use 
punctuation marks first ....  Therefore we translators must first learn to use 
punctuation marks carefully -- especially Chinese translators whose culture did 
not have them traditionally.


The rules written below are those I will be using if I am going to translate a 
new essay.  Although they might change from time to time, but they could 
already be regarded as stable, since I don't change them for a little while.  
These rules are concluded and shaped through my reading experiences and I have 
to say that because of the culture that lacks of using punctuation marks, the 
rules used by different people, newspapers, periodicals differ in a very 
dynamic fashion.

English has a similar situation in my observation, but not that dynamic, and 
the differences are usually minor to each other.  In addition, since English 
words have grammatical indicators of their own, rules of usage of punctuation 
marks are simpler than Chinese.  It should be noted that this manner makes 
English -- and maybe other Indo-European Languages -- to develop a much complex 
grammar that Chinese traditionally has no way to express, except introducing 
the use of punctuation marks or breaking an original sentence into several 
ones.  I should be telling you that Chinese did try to introduce a "structure" 
to solve some problems for hundreds of years, but it took a print-layout 
approach, not a development-of-grammatical-indicator one, such as Japanese did.

Concluding the reasons above, I'm starting to believe that the complexity of 
each language is almost the same.  Either simple words with complex grammars, 
or simple grammars with complex words, each language takes its very portion in 
human brains.  No more, no less, just in just.  We shall begin to look at the 
rules ....


Here are the punctuation marks we should be using, since they are selected so 
that GNU/Emacs would treat them grammatically while editing Chinese encoded 
files and they are all available in both big5 and gb2312, major character sets 
in traditional and simplified Chinese, respectively.  Noted that we have 
seventy-six marks in traditional Chinese since arranging words vertically is 
needed in many cases.  This problem can easily be solved by typesetting 
software these days and no longer required in my point of view.

Fourty Chinese punctuation marks comprise the suggested set, and they could be 
categoried into two subset according to my comprehension: the first group 
includes fourteen marks which are used to structure a sentense;


and the second group includes twenty-six marks which are used to form advanced 
textual structures.  It should be noted that Chinese translators may need to 
use them to "simulate" some English grammar such as "clause."  The use of 
punctuation marks enables Chinese users would have a chance to take advantage 
advanced textual structures, but when it will be too complex to understand, you 
should tear the original English sentense apart into several Chinese sentenses, 
and the line lies in your daily vocal language ....



General usage of common rules is out of my recording since they should be 
comprehensive in most cases.  I'm only annoying about those what may not be 
regarded as "general rules."

[] deleting mark "¡K"

OK, I know you are taught in school that you should use "six" points to 
indicate that some part of a sentense or a phrase is deleted to concise the 
reasoning, but I cannot really tell what is the difference between three points 
and six points.  And according to my observation, some publications, especially 
newspapers, use three points as a deleting mark very often.  Since a character 
of three points is enough to denote its grammatical function, the use of two is 
better rejected.  Therefore you should use "¡K" instead of "¡K¡K."

[] dash "--"

If you carefully look at the marks above, you will find that there is no dash 
mark exist.  The first reason is that we are easily to use two hyphens to 
denote one dash and most typesetting software would do this for you, since 
there is no dash-key exist in most keyborads.  The second reason is we do not 
have a dash in gb2312 character set of simplified Chinese, although there is 
one in big5, and this makes iconv(erting) big5 texts into gb2312 not 
convenient.  Since our works should be prepared for both, additional 
considerations such as this is nothing but increase out work load, therefore I 
firmly suggest we use "--" for dash.

It should be noted that in editing htmls, you may use "&#8212;" to indicate a 
dash, "&#8212;" is recommended in this case since its suitable for all 
character sets, and it can be translated into big5 dash correctly if you copy 
it from htmls to a text file.

You should depress the urge to use dash too often -- well, I am writing down 
these words to myself, since it cannot use in very formal writings ....

[] parentheses "¡]" and "¡^"

The usage is just the same as English is, but since we are doing translations, 
they are also used to indicate some translating's original English term.  Such 


[] brackets "¡e" and "¡f"

I propose to use brackets to complement a translated sentense.  For example, 
while translating this sentense "But only if you're watching" literally you 
will get


Although Chinese reader would know what you are translating in most cases, they 
would "feel" that this is not a "sufficient" sentence.  To complement the 
translating, you will need to add some words on it, and the words should be 
putted inside brackets such as


I know most translators would just add the words, and without wrapping them 
inside brackets, but the reason why I suggest to put them inside is that the 
translaings would be much easier for a possible future software to analyze our 
works on how to translate English to Chinese, while not sacrificing the 
criterion that makes them good translations.

[] heavy brackets "¡i" and "¡j"

Heavy brackets are used to insert authors' and translators' notes inside, such 

pyDDR ¬O¹CÀ¸ DDR ¡i¸õ»R¾÷¡jªº Python ¥é»s«~.

They can also put footnote numbers inside only, such as


[] double naming marks "¡m" and "¡n"

Naming quotes are use to indicate a book, an essay or a formal documentation's 
name, such as

¡m§Úªº address@hidden

The use of double naming marks is just about two decades ago, dating back from 
now, but it can already be regarded as a punctuating convention.  It's a little 
strange that I'm not taught about this, we have another "book-name mark" then, 
and I learned from my reading ....

[] single naming marks "¡q" and "¡r"

If double naming marks mean to indicate books, then it is easy to think that 
single naming marks are used to donote chapters, or other documentations that 
can be thought of as subjected portion of one.  For example

¡m§Úªº CJK¡nªº¡q²Ä¤E³¹¡r¼ÐÃD¬°¡G¦p¦ó³y¦r¡H.

[] Chinese single quotes "¡u" and "¡v"

If you need to quote Chinese terms, be using these.  They can also used to 
indicate some part of a sentense is a "unit" such as clause, since sometimes 
the translated sentenses are just too long to be easily understand by Chinese 
readers, therefore we use these to guide them with more grammatical structures 

[] Chinese double quotes "¡y" and "¡z"

If you are nested quoting, be using these alternatively with Chinese single 

[] English double quotes "¡§" and "¡¨"

If you need to quote English or other Info-European terms, be using these.

[] English single quotes "¡¥" and "¡¦"

If you are nested quoting, be using these alternatively with English double 
quotes.  It should be noted that you should use English double quotes first, 
while in Chinese, you should use Chinese single quotes first.


I seperate the usage of dash into two in Chinese, and in this setting, "--" and 
single naming marks "¡q" and "¡r" are used.

[] "--"

Dash is used to indicate "equality."  For example

µ¥«Ýªº®É¶¡¤¤°µ³o -- address@hidden -- ¨Ó¬°¨­Åé°µÂI¨Æ,

which "address@hidden" is an equality of "³o".

[] "¡q" and "¡r"

Single naming marks are used to insert another sentense into current one.  The 
inserted sentense functions as a complement/explaination/description in 
semantics to its host one.  For example

ÁÂÁ崄 Brendan Becker address@hidden X11 ³\¥iÃÒªº³\¥iÃÒ¤U±N pyDDR 

I propose to use this setting to translate English "clause."  However, 
sometimes it would be a little blur to distinguish them from each other, for 

address@hidden -- ¦pªG¥L­ÌÁÙ¨S¦³³o¼Ë°µªº¸Ü -- ½T©w¥L­Ì¡K and

are both adequate to the above settings.  I believe that it is not a special 
case, but don't worry, if we learn more through our translating, we will 
finally have a better insight on this issue ....


Since the rules are not fixed because language will change from time to time, I 
would like to invite anyone who would suggest more nice usages on Chinese 
punctuation marks.  Of course, if you have any question or if you are learning 
Chinese, I will be very willing to answer your requests.

This is the first issue on translating Chinese language, and I wish if you have 
any suggestions on this topic, please be informing me.


Copyright (C) 2003 Chao-Hong Liu

Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this transcript 
as long as the copyright and this permission notice appear.

;;; Local Variables:
;;; coding: chinese-big5
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