Monday, November 27, 2017

Started: Giết Con Chim Nhại bởi Harper Lee (HUỲNH KIM OANH & PHẠM VIÊM PHƯƠNG dịch)

Recently, "To Kill a Mocking Bird" has been undergoing a big surge of popularity in Vietnam.  Everyone is reading it.
It's interesting how some of these old classic books take on separate lives in foreign countries.  When I was in Japan, "The Catcher in the Rye" suddenly became very popular in 2006 because Haruki Murakami  had published a new translation.

I've been asking around to try to find out why "To Kill a Mocking Bird" is so popular now.  My Vietnamese girlfriend told me "To Kill a Mocking Bird" became popular about 2 years ago (which was the same time I came to Vietnam), and she thinks it is because a new translation hit the shelves at that time.  (Update: We consulted the Vietnamese Wikipedia on this (W), It turns out there are two Vietnamese translations of "To Kill a Mocking Bird".  The first one was published in 1973, and the second one in 2008.  It is the 2008 one that is popular nowadays.  My girlfriend is sure that she only really became aware that this book was popular in the last 2 years, so perhaps it was a slow burn before people finally discovered it.  Either that or my girlfriend is out of the loop.)

Anyway, in my case, I've been noticing over the past 2 years that a lot of my Vietnamese colleagues and students have been reading this book.
Eventually, after seeing this book around so many times, I decided that I should try to use this textbook to study Vietnamese.  (For more on my struggles to study Vietnamese, see my previous post: Struggling to Study Vietnamese).

This may or may not be a good study technique, but here's my reasoning.
1) In general, I think language students should try to engage with authentic material as soon as possible.  Most people will never get to 100% fluency in a foreign language, so if you try to wait until you are fluent, you will never get there.  So it's best to try to break into authentic material as soon as possible, rather than delaying it.
Even if you are a beginner student (as I am) you can still get something out of authentic material by going over it very slowly and carefully.
Language students shouldn't engage with authentic material exclusively.  (Graded material and textbooks should still make up 90% of the curriculum).  But it's good to have some contact with authentic material right off the bat.
I was also influenced by Steve Kaufmann's video that the biggest mistake language learners make is that they spend too long with the beginner textbook for too long.  I was aware that I had been spending way too long with the basic beginnign material in Vietnamese, so I wanted to mix it up with some more authentic material.
2) I do feel slightly guilty for studying Vietnamese from a classic American work of literature.  (If I was really trying to get into Vietnamese culture, I'd probably want to find a classic Vietnamese book).  But my experience from reading in Japanese is that it's much easier to make sense out of a book if you're familiar with the subject material already.  All the references to American culture I can easily fit into my mental schemata, which will make decoding this book much easier.
Plus, people always take interest into how their culture is received in other countries.   It will be interesting to see how Vietnamese translators tackle American social issues.

At the moment, because my Vietnamese level is so low, I've been breaking down this book slowly, and using quizlet to help me review the words.
Below are the quizlet materials I've created, plus my explanations.  Each quiz is cumulative--it adds the old words, plus the new words.  This project is still ongoing at this point, so I'll be adding to it as I go.

Quizlet Folder HERE
1-4 To Kill A Mocking Bird--Giết Con Chim Nhại
Quiz 1: Giết--kill, Con--Classifier for animals
Quiz 2: Con Chim--bird
Quiz 3: Nhại--parody, Mocking  (My girlfriend recommended against studying "nhại" as a separate word.  "Con Chim Nhại is just the name of the bird," she said.  "Nhại doesn't have a separate meaning on its own."  But I looked this up in Google translate, and it said that Nhại meant parody.  "Parody" was so close to "mocking" that surely this couldn't just be a coincidence?  My girlfriend said that Nhại could actually mean parody in some situations, but that it was more of a slang word.  I decided that was close enough, and so I put it into my word list.)
Quiz 4: Con Chim Nhại--Mocking Bird
Quiz 5: Giết Con Chim Nhại--To Kill a Mocking Bird
Quiz 6: bởi--by  (The word "bởi" doesn't actually appear on my paperback copy of this book.  Nor, does it appear it's commonly used in Vietnamese.  I Googled this book in Vietnamese, and most of the references on line just mentioned the book name, and the author name, but didn't include the word "bởi".  But I checked with my girlfriend, and she told me that it wouldn't necessarily be strange to include "bởi".  So I decided to add it in for the sake of completeness.)
Quiz 7: Giết Con Chim Nhại bởi Harper Lee
8-12: sụ' cống hiến--Dedication.  The word "dedication" doesn't actually appear in the Vietnamese translation, although it appears in some of the English editions.  I asked my girlfriend, and she said that it wouldn't be strange to include it.  So I decided to include it for the sake of completeness.
Dedication in Vietnamese consists of 3 words: sụ' cống hiến
The girlfriend told me that sụ' is an affix that is used to change a word into a noun.
"So if sụ' cống hiến means dedication, then does cống hiến by itself mean dedicate?" I asked.  "Exactly," answer the girlfriend.  Google translate, however, disagrees, and says that cống hiến by itself still means "dedication" not "dedicate", so I double and triple checked this with my girlfriend.  She is sure that "cống hiến" means dedicate as a verb, and "sụ' cống hiến" means dedication as a noun.  So I'm going to trust her.
"cống" by itself means "drain", which doesn't make a lot of sense to me.  But the girlfriend told me that a lot of these old Vietnamese words used to be written in Chinese.  (Before the French came in and changed everything to the Roman alphabet, the Vietnamese used the Chinese writing system).  In countries that use the Chinese writing system, often two pictograms are combined to make a new word for reasons that are not immediately intuitive to modern people--sometimes it is because of ancient etymology, or phonetic reasons, or because of the meaning of the pictogram.  (I'm familiar with this from my days studying Japanese).
hiến by itself means give, and here the connection to "dedication" is of course obvious.
Quiz 8: sụ'--affix used to form a noun
Quiz 9: cống--drain
Quiz 10: hiến--give
Quiz 11: cống hiến--dedicate
Quiz 12: sụ' cống hiến--dedication
13-17: tặng Ông Lee và Alice--For Mr. Lee and Alice
Quiz 13: tặng--give to/ for (Google translate tells me "tặng" means "donate" or "give".  But the English phrase is "For Mr Lee and Alice" so shouldn't it mean "for" here?  I asked my girlfriend about this, and she just rolled her eyes and said, "This is why you can't translate word for word from Vietnamese to English.  We don't always phrase things the same way you do.")
Quiz 14: Ông--Mr.   (The girlfriend told me that there are several words that can be translated as "Mr" depending on the relationship.  "Ông" is on the very formal side, but it can mean "Mr" here.
Quiz 15: Ông Lee--Mr Lee
Quiz 16: và--and
Quiz 17: tặng Ông Lee và Alice--For Mr. Lee and Alice
18-25: vì Tình yêu và sự Trìu mến--In Consideration of Love and Affection
Quiz 18: vì--because/ in consideration of (Google translate gives "vì" as "because", but the original English is "in consideration of".  My girlfriend tells me that this is yet another problem with my taking a literal word-by-word approach to translation.)
19-21: Tình yêu--Love.  yêu by itself is "love" used as a verb, while "Tình yêu" is love as a noun.  Google translate also gives "Tình" by itself as "love", but my girlfriend advised me against studying this word on it's own.  "We don't usually say Tình on its own unless it's a kind of slang," she said.  "So it can be used on its own then?" I said.  "Um... I guess.  In informal situations."  This was good enough for me, so I decided to study it on its own.
Quiz 19: Tình--love (used to make a noun, and sometimes used by itself in informal situations)
Quiz 20: yêu--love (verb)
Quiz 21: Tình yêu--love (noun)
22-24: sự trìu mến--Affection.  mến is a verb meaning "love".  I asked my girlfriend what the difference between "mến" and "yêu" is, and she told me that "mến" is closer to "like".  "Trìu" apparently has no meaning on its own.  My girlfriend advised me against studying this word on its own, because it only has meaning when combined with "mến" .  I didn't fully trust her, so I doubled checked this on Google translate, and there was no definition for "Trìu".  "trìu mến" means "affectionate" as an adjective.  "sự" again here is used as an affix to change a word into a noun--just as it changed "dedicate" into "dedication" above, it also changes "affectionate" into "affection" here.
Quiz 22: mến--like/love (verb)
Quiz 23: trìu mến--affectionate (adjective)
Quiz 24: sự trìu mến--Affection
Quiz 25: vì Tình yêu và sự Trìu mến--in consideration of Love and Affection
Quiz 26: sự cống hiến: tặng Ông Lee và Alice, vì Tình yêu và sự Trìu mến--Dedication: For Mr Lee and Alice, in consideration of Love and Affection
27--? : Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.--Charles Lamb
27-29: Lawyer--luật sư
Quiz 27: luật--the law
Quiz 28: su'--affix added to a word to make it into a person. Or, if used by itself, it means "Monk".   (Google translate translates su' as "monk".  I guess this makes sense--what else is a lawyer if not a monk of the law?  My girlfriend also tells me that su' is used generally to transform any word into a person--the same way we use "er" in English at the end of words.)

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