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Linguaholic

I have always wonder exactly how 三字经 should be translated.


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Would a direct translation work? Every phrase consists of three chinese characters, that actually carry a lot of messages in it. Now the beauty of it is every phrase is only consisted of three characters, that's part of the charm of 三字经. When translated into a foreign language, some may insist that the phrase should be translated into only three words in a sentence as well, which I think may be hard considering every languages has their own set of rules or how messages are conveyed.

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A direct translation won't work. I can't for the life of me imagine how '人之初  性本善  性相近  习相远' can be translated into 3-word phrases. Take a look at the 1991 translation of the above line by Herbert Giles:

Men at their birth

are naturally good.

Their natures are much the same;

their habits become widely different.

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The three characters refer to a long list of sayings which the Chinese, in the olden days at least, memorize. The list of sayings form the basis of the Chinese personality. It starts on a very positive note which says,

"Man is basically good."

I have not had the chance to memorize the whole list but the first two lines have been drummed into my head by my grandmother.

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That's because the first two lines are the most uttered part of the "三字经." A direct translation of the book is possible but the rule of three words each line will have to be broken. This would result in the book not considered as "三字经" anymore. It's a good book to instill moral values into children so I believe that one should be made.

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A direct translation won't work. I can't for the life of me imagine how '人之初  性本善  性相近  习相远' can be translated into 3-word phrases. Take a look at the 1991 translation of the above line by Herbert Giles:

Men at their birth

are naturally good.

Their natures are much the same;

their habits become widely different.

I guessed an accurate translation of 三字经 while still putting emphasis on only three words isn't that easy eh? Well, all is good as long as the moral values are properly translated and spread to all those who got the chance to read and learn about them.

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Ah, that would be a monumental task which will require a team of translators who are fluent in both English and Chinese. Plus have a sense of poetry. You see, the Three-Word Mantras (I am translating freely here) are designed for easy memorization and contains elements of poetic rhyme and rhythm.

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