Modality Irrealis

In linguistics, the “irrealis mood” refers to grammatical rules around describing events that are not known to the speaker to have occurred. The subjunctive, the conditional, the imperative—these are all moods to refer to the unreal.

Modality Irrealis is S. Qiouyi Lu’s column about the craft of writing and translation, mostly as applied to speculative fiction, which imagines the unreal.

Translating meter and rhyme: “Yo” by Jorge Luis Borges

Back in March, Premee Mohamed shared a favorite sonnet by Jorge Luis Borges, but lamented that their rhythm and rhyme schemes usually aren’t preserved in English translations. So, of course, I had to make an attempt myself at a translation that’s strict on meter and rhyme. Whereas the Spanish is anapestic, I used iambic meter …

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“The most humble of bones still flows with the Yangtze”: Chen Nianxi’s speech celebrating THE VERSE OF US

閱讀中文版。阅读中文版。 English translation of speech given at NYU in 2017 follows. Friends: My name is Chen Nianxi. I was born in a small town on the southern side of the Qinling mountains in northwest China. That area continues to be the most impoverished part of China today. My one-and-a-half-year-old son had just begun to babble …

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Two takes on Cao Cao’s 《觀滄海》

I’m currently contracted to translate a graphic novel adaptation of Liu Cixin’s short story “The Village Schoolteacher” (《乡村教师》). The story opens with a teacher having the class read Cao Cao’s “Guan Cang Hai” aloud: 东临碣石,以观沧海。水何澹澹,山岛竦峙。树木丛生,百草丰茂。秋风萧瑟,洪波涌起。日月之行,若出其中。星汉灿烂,若出其里。幸甚至哉,歌以咏志。 (Note: The last line is a common set phrase to conclude a Chinese lyrical poem and is not included in …

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Translation as editing and adaptation: An example from “End of the Microcosmos” by Liu Cixin

I recently finished translating one of Liu Cixin’s short stories, 《微观尽头》, or “End of the Microcosmos.” It’s a very short story, only 2,400 words, about what kind of surprising conclusions we might be able to draw from Large Hadron Collider experiments. Among those witnessing the story’s central experiment are the chief engineer at the research …

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Naming characters: Methods for creating bilingual character names

Most of my characters are Chinese-American like me. They usually have a Western name, a Chinese name, and a Chinese surname. I’ve always loved naming characters, and this structure gives me opportunities to explore both branches of my heritage. (I use modified or other methods for non-Chinese characters and characters in secondary worlds.) Historical name …

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