The Hunger Games and the sad state of high-profile translation projects
I saw The Hunger Games yesterday. Naturally, after getting back in front of my computer, I went straight to Google. Yes, you read that right—I never read the book. There was a ton of information out there, but one thing that caught my eyes was the Chinese translation of the movie’s title, “The Hunger Games”: It has been translated as 飢餓遊戲. And apparently this is official. Now, are any “games”, in this sense, 遊戲? No. It seems that whoever translated it (or, maybe more likely, approved it) had absolutely no idea what the word “games” means here. (If you still don’t get it: Would you call “The Olympic Games” 遊戲? The context is the same.) But should I be surprised? if we also had The Order of the Phoenix translated as 鳯凰密令? (The word “order” in this context, of course, does not mean 令—that is to say 命令.) Both are book sensations. Both, blockbuster hits. But in both cases something as fundamental as the work’s very title has been mistranslated and in both cases the mistake is so painfully obvious that even someone who hasn’t even read the book in question can see the error. Ever since I started to even try to get my foot through the door, for the most part, all I have experienced is discouragement: That you should not even think of translation as a possible path because of this, or because of that. But what kind of quality are we getting from the professionals in high-profile translation projects? We get damningly obvious mistranslations like 鳯凰密令 or 飢餓遊戲. In shiny large letters across the silver screen. And on big, flashy posters. I’m not even asking for good here. Is even acceptable quality—and only for a small number of very high-profile items at that—too much to ask for?