The Explicitation Phenomenon in Yuanqu’s Translation into English | April 2016 | Translation Journal

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The Explicitation Phenomenon in Yuanqu’s Translation into English

AbstractFrom the perspective of Huang Libo’s “interlingual explicitation”2008:455and on the basis of Klaudy’s explicitation classifications, this paper takes Ma Zhiyuan’s Autumn Thoughts as an example to explore the explicitaion phenomenon in Yuanqu’s translation into English. It is found that among the three types of explciitation, namely obligatory explicitation, optional explicitation and pragmatic explicitation, obligatory explicitation makes up the overwhelming majority with 83.64 percentage, optional explicitation 11.82 percentage, and that pragmatic explicitation accounts for 4.54 percentage. It is also analyzed that reasons for these explicitation come from differences in Chinese language and English language, in Chinese and Western cultures, as well as in the specific text type. 

Key words:explicitation; interlingual explicitation; Klaudy’s explicitation classifications;   Autumn Thoughts; Yuanqu’s translation into English; reasons for explicitation


As Translation Studies(TS) ushers in the phase of corpus-based linguistic studies, researchers in this discipline are becoming keenly interested in the concept of Translation Universals(TU).As a result, TU becomes a new aspect of TS. According to Baker(1993:243),TU refers to “...universal features of translation, that is features which typically occur in translated texts rather than original utterances and which are not the result of interference from specific linguistic systems.” And Baker(1996:176-177; 180-185) made it clear that there are four features, namely explicitation, simplification,normalization and leveling-out, which might constitute TU hypothesis. Since then, explicitation hypothesis has become a key aspect of TU. “Explicitation, whose study has a relatively short history, is currently one of the most thoroughly studied phenomena in translation studies”(Perego, 2003).

2explicitation hypothesis

As far as the field of TS is concerned, explicitation is generally regarded as a phenomenon which frequently leads TT to state ST information in a more explicit form than the original. Actually, the notion of explicitation was first introduced in 1958, by French scholars Vinay and Darbelnet. Vinay and Darbelnet(1995:342) regarded the idea of explicitation as expressing a situational element which is unexpressed in the source language. And they held that explicitation does not necessarily stem from the structural or semantic causes, especially when what remains implicit in the SL is made explicit in the TL because it is apparent from either the context or the situation.

In the 1980s, Blum-Kulka became the first one who studied explicitation systematically and she developed a different approach to this subject in her famous “explicitation hypothesis”. According to her theory, the process of interpretation performed by the translator might lead to a more redundant TT, where redundancy is principally created by an increase in the quantity of text cohesive markers (Blum-Kulka, 1986:300). She further pointed out that explicitaion is a natural translation-inherent procedure and a by-product of the translation process.  

However, many scholars do not accept the explicitation hypothesis. For example, Seguinot(1988:106-113) and Pym(2005) thought that Blum-Kulka’s hypothesis is limited to the discourse level. But her notion of explictation has been found occurring at different levels and that the hypothesis just cares about explicitation connected to shifts of cohesion and coherence in translation, rather than the whole process that how implicit information in the ST becomes explicit in the ST.  

In a word, approaches to explicitation are heterogeneous. But nowadays, explicitation is either known as one of the universals of translation, considered a common feature of translated texts(Baker, 1996:176) or regarded as a frequent strategy used by both professional and non-professional translators(Blum-Kulka,1986:302).

Associated papers written in recent years show that domestic scholarsLiu, 2002; Wang, 2003;Chen, 2005; Ke,2005;Zhou, 2007have begun to explore explicitation by means of existing corpus or self-compiled corpus. It is found that domestic scholars’ idea about explicitation is similar to Vinay and Darbelnet’s, but different from Baker and Blum-Kulka. “All the examples they took just demonstrate that translated texts add and/or cut semantic contents and grammatical markers and that the degree of explicitation and implicitation changes with various factors. It is clear that their notion of explicitation is different from the Baker and Blum-Kulka’s.”(Hu&Zeng, 2009:72)

In 2008, Huang Libo noticed the above-mentioned differences in the understanding of explicitation between domestic scholars and international scholars. Therefore, he put forward interlingual explicitation and comparable explicitation. Interlingual explicitation refers to the translation process that adds or expresses language elements in TT, which are implicit in ST, with an end of transferring grammatical and non-grammatical information of ST more clearly in TT; comparable explicitation means explicitness in the translated texts is stronger than the TL non-translated text(Huang, 2008:455). The major differences between interlingual explicitation and comparable explicitation lie in the stylistic features and language forms. Huang’s division of explicitation not only affirmed efforts made by domestic scholars to explore this subject, but also expanded explicitation field. It is worth noting that by means of interlingual explicitation, researchers will find it easier to cope with different language types such as English and Chinese.

At present, researches on explicitation are corpus-based and mainly focus on the medium-length and long-length literary texts. Seldom does there exist a research on Yuanqu which features a short length and a concise style with dozens of Chines characters. Therefore, from Huang Libo’s interlingual explicitation perspective and on the basis of Klaudy’s explicitation classifications, this paper takes Autumn Thoughts as an example to explore explicitaion phenomenon in the translation of Yuanqu into English and to analyze the proportion of each explicitation classification, as well as factors which may affect explicitaion.

3: present studies of Autumn Thoughts

Autumn Thoughts is a masterwork of Ma Zhiyuan who was a representative writer of Yuanqu in the Yuan dynasty. Autumn Thoughts is praised as the father of all the works that demonstrate travelers’ loneliness and desolation in autumn. And it is regarded as “the best Xiaoling” in the author’s time by Wang Guowei who was a famous Chinese scholar with a keen eye for art. Wang’s comment on Autumn Thoughts goes as “it sounds like voices from Heaven and reaches the summit of quatrains”(Wang, 2007:36). Autumn Thoughts is free from grammar and all the images that it takes are nouns. Therefore, it leaves great room for readers to imagine. And different translators have different understandings of this Xiaoling. As a result, there appear several English versions of it. In order to know present studies of Autumn Thoughts’ English translations, the writer takes “Autumn Thoughts” and “English translation” as topics to search in CNKI. There are 36 papers in total, among which 16 papers contrast and appreciate its different English versions, accounting for 44.44 percentage of the total number, 10 papers analyze its English versions theoretically and the left 10 papers research the English versions from the aesthetic, linguistic and cultural perspectives.

“Explicitation theory helps to research how such factors as translators, and differences in linguistic formalization and cultures, affect semantic and syntactical explicitation and implicitaion during translation”(Ke, 2005:304). Therefore, explicitation theory can not be more appropriate to explore English versions of Autumn Thoughts, which is written up almost all by nouns. The theory not only offers a theoretic way to analyze English versions of Yuanqu, but also includes linguistic and cultural researches on it. From the perspective of Huang Libo’s interlingual explicitation and on the basis of Klaudy’s explicitation classifications, this paper tries to study 7 translators’ English versions of Autumn Thoughts. 7 translators include Weng Xxianliang, Zhao Zhentao, Xu Yuanchogn, Wayne Schlepp, Wai-lim Yip, Sherwin S.S.Fu, and Ding Zuxing and Burton Raffel. The goal of this research is to explore proportion of each explicitation classification and reasons for explicitation phenomenon and the possible proportion. And it is also hoped that readers may become familiar with explicitation theory and find a new angle to research English translations of Chinese classic poetry through this paper.

4explicitation analysis of Autumn Thoughts’s English translations 

4.1appreciation of the original text

A number of different scenes are listed in Autumn Thoughts, such as “枯藤”, “老树”, “昏鸦”, “小桥”, “流水”, “人家”, “古道”, “西风” and“瘦马”. And all these images share something in common. That is they all contain a feeling of misery and loneliness in Chinese language. These images all together make up a holistic picture of outskirts at an autumn dusk. And a traveler appears, riding a lean horse in this picture. The original text expresses the traveler’s thirst for hometown and his sadness to be far away from home. The syntax of Autumn Thoughts is very special. The first three clauses are made up by 9 nouns and noun phrases. The whole text possesses 2 sentences with 5 clauses and 28 Chinese characters. Every sentence is simple but profound.

4.2explicitation classifications and the explicitation analysis of Autumn Thoughts’ 7 English translations

A systematic typology of explicitation can be found in works of Hungarian scholar——Kinga Klaudy (2004:82-83), who managed to resume the main types of explicitation present in the literature on the subject. Klaudy proposed a model of explicitation on the basis of reasons triggering the phenomenon, and she also gave a description of its superficial manifestation. Klaudy listed four types of explicitation: obligatory, optional, pragmatic, and translation-inherent. Obligatory explicitation includes syntactic explicitation and the semantic explicitation. This type of explicitation is dictated by differences in morphological, syntactic and/or semantic structures between languages. Without obligatory explicitation, TT will not conform to grammatical norms of TL. On the other hand, optional explicitation depends on language use. It is determined by TT stylistic preferences which may lead a translator to “produce grammatically correct and natural, native-like sentences”(Perego, 2003:69) by employing more explicit means of expressions. Typical examples to illustrate optional explicitation include the insertion of connected components before a sentence and/or a subordinate clause, to enhance coherence and cohesion between each part, and the employment of relative clauses, rather than left-branch noun structure or intensifiers, to make a sentence more explicit. Both obligatory and optional explicitation typically involve the insertion of linguistic elements which is a consequence of the concretization, separation and/or addition of SL lexical or grammatical items. Pragmatic explicitation commonly corresponds to cultural explicitation, and occurs to supplement possible cultural gaps between source and target cultures. Pragmatic explicitation often involves translators’ adding of explanations on implicit cultural information or on concepts that do not exist in TL. The last classification of explicitationtranslation-inherent explicitation is language-independent and it depends on the nature of translation process itself. This type of explicitation has nothing to do with structural, formal or stylistic differences between SL and TL, nor with culture-specific textual elements. Because of the fact that this paper analyzes translated texts from Huang Libo’s interlingual explicitation perspective, it will not involve the last classification of explicitation.

Autumn Thoughts all together consists of 2 long sentences with 28 Chinese characters. The first sentence involves 3 clauses all of which are constituted by 9 noun phrases, in total of 18 Chinese characters. The noun phrases include “枯藤”, “老树”, “昏鸦”, “小桥”, “流水”, “人家”, “古道”, “西风” and“瘦马”, which shape a brief but typical picture of a Chinese ancient county at the autumn dusk. The 9 noun phrases are evenly divided into 3 groups and every group forms an entity. It seems apparently as if 3 groups have nothing to do with each other. However, by reading the next sentence “夕阳西下,断肠人在天涯”, one can tell that the 3 groups are used to reflect the traveler’s homesickness. The second sentence is made up of 2 clauses. The first clause “夕阳西下” also describes autumn scenes just like the 9 images in the first sentence and the second clause reveals the participant “断肠人” and his state “在天涯” of the whole scenery.

As far as obligatory explicitation is concerned, it is mainly associated with morphology and syntax. Chinese is parataxis without typical morphologic changes. But English is hypotaxis with abundant morphological changes, which means that English depends on all kinds of morphological ways to express meanings. For example, there is no need for noun phrases in Chinese, like “枯藤”, “老树” and “昏鸦” to show their number. Whether a noun or noun phrase is singular or plural is totally determined by the conception of Chinese readers. However, it is a necessity in English to show the singularity or plurality of nouns and noun phrases, because there is a morphological marker of number in English. To clearly illustrate this point, the noun phrase “老树” is taken as an example. Wai-lim Yip translated “老树” into “an old tree”, but Weng Xianliagn, Xu Yuanchong and Sherwin S.S.Fu would rather transfer it into “old trees”. In consideration of syntax, although both Chinese and English are typical of SVO syntactic structure, it is quite common in Chinese to ignore this structure. Different from Chinese, subject and  predicate together are focus of English sentences. It is because of the particularity of Yuanqu genre, that words in Yuanqu are more concise and that many verbs are deleted, which causes sentences composed only by nouns. And this point is fully shown in Autumn Thoughts. As a result, when translating Autumn Thoughts, one must try to find the main verbs to connect different nouns. And different translators might employ different means to realize the conveyance of meaning. Weng Xianliang transferred “枯藤老树昏鸦” into “crows hovering over old trees wreathed with rotten vine”, but Ding Zuxing and Burton Raffel translated the same Chinese sentence into “weathered vines hanging on old branches, Returning cows croaking at dusk”. It is obvious that there are insertions such as “hovering over”, “wreathed with”, “hanging on”, and “returning” in the translated texts.

As mentioned above, Klaudy holds that optional explicitation is used to create correct, natural, and native-like sentences. Typical forms of optional explicitation include the insertion of conjunctions, connectives and intensifiers. Conjunctions refer to words or phrases that connect different words, phrases and clauses. There do exist conjunctions in Chinese, but because of the concise feature of Yuanqu, not does a single conjunction appear in Autumn Thoughts. However, conjunctions like “and” and “but” is easy to be found in 7 translated texts. There is an “and” in Wayne Schlepp’s sentence of “And one with breaking heart at the sky's edge” and a “but” appears in Weng Xianliang’s sentence of “But the traveler has to go on down this ancient road”. The function of connectives lies in connecting sentences which are closely related in terms of meaning. There is no connectives in the original text, neither. But the combined translation of Ding Zuxing and Burton Raffel contains sentence like “The sun dips down in the west, And the lovesick traveller is still at the end of the world.” Not a single intensifier appears in the original text of Autumn Thoughts, but there are intensifiers like “still” and “far, far” in the translated texts.

According to Klaudy’s classifications of explicitation, pragmatic explicitation is caused by the gap between different cultures. In order to bridge this gap, translators often need to insert explanations in the translated texts. Because of the cognitive differences between Chinese and westerners, an image will not arouse the same feelings of a Chinese with a westerner. For example, the author, Ma Zhiyuan did not express clearly whether the traveler——断肠人” misses his parents or his beloved wife, but Ding Zuxing and Burton Raffel transferred “断肠人” into “the lovesick traveller”. Obviously, they thought the traveler must be missing his wife. No matter whether Ding Zuxing and Burton Raffel are right or wrong, they at least direct the attention of foreign readers and let them know that this text is written in honor of the author’s wife.  

It is worth noting that, the translating strategies that translators employ will also affect explicitation of the translated texts. For example, Wayne Schlepp conformed to the principle of formal equivalence. Therefore, his translation only includes a few morphological changes and the explicitation of his translation is very low. But this paper mainly concentrates on the common explicitation phenomenon in the English translations of Yuanqu. So, it analyzes translations of 7 translators to delete the effects of different translation strategies on explicitation.

According to the aforementioned analysis, 7 English translations of Autumn Thoughts are studied and the results are shown in the following table:

Obligatory explicitation

 Optional explicitation

 Pragmatic explicitation










It is clear that among the three types of explicitation, obligatory explicitation occupies the highest proportion of 83.64 percentage. Optional explicitation is next to obligatory explicitation, but it is greatly below obligatory explicitation with 11.82 percentage. And the proportion of pragmatic explicitation is the lowest, with only 4.45 percentage.

5reasons for explicitation

“Translation is a verbal communicative activity which transfers ST into TT. When an author conceives ST, he or she often neglects the shared linguistic and cultural information with readers, and employs such means as substitution and omission to avoid repeating information that has been revealed in the context.” (Hu&Zhu, 2008:78)However, because there exist differences in language and culture between SL and TL, those shared linguistic and cultural information in SL is usually alien to the TL readers. At this time, in order to facilitate TL readers’ understanding of ST, translators often shoulder the responsibility for making those information explicit. This paper analyzes reasons for explicitation from the following angles.

5.1 the differences between the SL and TL

To a large degree, explicitation results from linguistic differences in different languages. Lv Shuxiang (1997:7) pointed out that “the greatest feature of Chinese grammar lies in the absence of morphological changes”. But English is a synthetic language with abundant morphological changes, such as gender, number, case, tense and modal. Compared with English, the cohesion and coherence of Chinese vocabulary and grammar are not obvious. As a result, translating from Chinese into English often involves more morphological changes. That is why in the 7 translations of Autumn Thoughts, obligatory explicitation reaches the top among the three explicitation classifications.

5.2 cultural differences

The language of Chinese and the language of English evolve from different historic processes, social systems, geographic conditions and customs and practices. A specific language as a member of a particular culture must contain its cultural features. In term of writing, the ancient Chinese tend to express feelings implicitly. Readers can only expect to understand their works according to their own conception. However, there are a thousand hamlets in a thousand people's eyes. This point may be best illustrated by Ding Zuxing and Burton Raffe’s understanding of “断肠人” as “the lovesick traveller” in Autumn Thoughts. Although there do exist cultural differences, because many human practices are universal, cultures have much in common. Compared with the dramatic topological differences between Chinese and English, the differences between Chinese and western cultures are relatively moderate. Therefore, pragmatic explicitation occupies the least proportion just with 4.45 percentage.

5.3 differences in text types

In addition of language and culture, text type is another important factor which affects explicitness. Different texts types feature different contents and forms. Fictions, scientific text, political comments, news text, practical text and so on often reflect different degrees of explicitation. Yuanqu is a kind of poetry. Generally speaking, Chinese poetry pays more attention to semantic consistence but often neglects grammatical consistence. Consequently, conjunctions, connectives, intensifiers and other unnecessary grammatical means are often deleted. Instead, concise and brief words are often employed to leave more space for readers to imagine. So, it is a must for translators to make full use of various explicitation methods, when translating from Chinese into English. This can explain the fact that in 7 translations of Autumn Thoughts, optional explicitation occupies 11.82 percentage just in between obligatory and pragmatic explicitaion.

6: conclusions

Explicitation is universal in translations from Chinese into English. It is the result of differences in languages, cultures and texts. From the interlingual explicitation perspective and on the basis of the quantitative method, this paper calculates proportions of obligatory, optional and pragmatic explicitation in the 7 translations of Autumn Thoughts, and gives reasons for such explicitaion proportions. Because of the dramatic differences in the typology between Chinese and English, when translating Yuanqu from Chinese into English, obligatory explicitaion makes up the overwhelming majority among the 3 explicitation classifications. In addition, Yuanqu actually is a kind of poetry, which features concise language and deletes unnecessary conjunctions, connectives and intensifiers. As a result, it is necessary to insert deleted linguistic components when translating Yuanqu from Chinese into English. That is why optional explicitation occupies a relatively high percentage in explicitation in terms of translating Yuanqu into English. Finally, cultural differences often cause explanations of cultural words. Therefore, pragmatic explicitation functions. But in consideration of the university of human practices, the proportion of pragmatic explicitaion is the lowest among the 3 explicitation classifications. It has to be pointed out that Autumn Thoughts has its own particularity that the whole text is almost all made up by nouns. The fact that the writer of this paper takes it as an example to explore explicitation phenomenon in Yuanqu’s translation from Chinese into English, may be not typical enough to illustrate the explicitation phenomenon. That is the problem of this paper. The writer hopes that scholars can further studies on explicitation in the translation of Yuanqu into English.


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