Resolved Glossary for Ancient Terms

Discussion in 'Translator's Corner' started by YaDo, Jul 31, 2022.

  1. YaDo

    YaDo Member

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    Hi everyone, I'm looking for a glossary of ancient Chinese terms (esp. titles), so I can better understand pinyin like Dianxia / Your Highness. I know translation is subjective and meaning may be lost, but it'd be nice to have a list for reference.
     
  2. Fuyuneko

    Fuyuneko winter cat

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  3. YaDo

    YaDo Member

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    Thank you for your reply! Dreams of Jianghu's glossary is really great. But it's not exactly what I'm looking for.
    For example the term daren is explained but no translation is given.
    大人 daren: general term of respect used to refer to those of status.
    I'd like to know what term a translator would use to replace daren. (Sir or Mr. or Official?)
     
  4. NoNamejustGhost

    NoNamejustGhost You don't know me

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  5. ToastedRossi

    ToastedRossi Well-Known Member

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    This is a honorific that is applied only to government officials, and it's usually paired with the official's name, so Wang daren, Jiang daren, and so forth. There isn't a direct English equivalent, so a translator will have to figure out what works best for them. This is true of many Chinese honorifics and I imagine it's one of the reasons why so many books leave them untranslated even though doing it like that is a terrible idea. There are literally hundreds of Chinese honorifics and you'll often see as many as a hundred different ones used in a single book. I don't think there is any comprehensive glossary for this stuff though.
     
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  6. ragingphoenix

    ragingphoenix Well-Known Member

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    In historical settings 大人 tends to be more like, "Lord (surname)" or "my lord". It refers to someone who has a government post, which mostly coincides with nobility, but nobility often has other specific titles which also coincide with "my lord". Depending on era and fairness of civil examinations, there can be people in the commoner caste who attain this title. You can generally consider people with the title of 大人 to fall under 'gentry'.

    Saying "Official (surname)" can also work but sounds a bit off when you're translating it to English IMO. This is definitely a translator decision.

    Sir and Mister do not work for 大人 because of their connotations in English.

    Sir used in English as a prefix specifically refers to someone who has been conferred knighthood, which doesn't have an equivalent in Chinese. So a "Sir X" would be more likely to refer to someone who is working for a lord or who is a minor noble, rather than a high lord themselves.

    Mister is often used as a translation for 先生, but it depends a bit on the time period. "Mister" can be used to refer to any man regardless of social rank, or used to refer to teachers/tutors, so it's not a very appropriate translation for 大人 which specifically has to do with holding a government post.

    Chinese royalty has a huge complex system for referring to people in the royal family based on generation, gender, distance of relation to the current ruler, whether or not they've accomplished enough to be granted a specific rank, and the titles can change based on the setting and size of country.

    But in English you just have: emperor, empress, empress dowager, king, queen, prince, princess; where the royal family is concerned. (In some cases Archduke or Duke etc. may also apply, but that gets into western nobility which is a whole other can of worms.) There's not even a proper translation for 太上皇, which is the title an emperor gets if he retires instead of dies.

    Normally in English you would not refer to someone who is a cousin of the royal family as prince or princess, but in Chinese some first cousins will usually have a title that specifically designates them as a member of the royal family similar to a prince or princess but is not a direct descendant of the current ruler. But this is also dependent on a few other factors, for example: whether or not the child is born of the proper wife, whether or not the child is the designated heir, whether or not the child is married (this may be the difference between being an untitled miss and a titled princess, for women), whether or not the child has any accomplishments (primarily where men are concerned but can also apply to women in rare cases). Oh, and of course, whether or not the current system is wealthy enough to support these noble titles is a factor as well.

    Similarly, someone who is a prince or princess who is the sibling of the current ruler will usually have their title upgraded when the current ruler ascends the throne. So 公主 is princess, the daughter of the current ruler; 长公主 is grand princess, the sister of the current ruler; 大长公主 is a rank above grand princess with no English equivalent which would refer to the sister of the previous emperor. But these titles are not always guaranteed, particularly where male titles are concerned.

    皇子, 王子, 亲王, 王, 郡王 can all mean 'prince' or in some cases 'king', but all have different connotations. The first two (皇子, 王子) are the sons of the ruling emperor or king, who have not been granted a specific title. 亲王, 王, and 郡王 refer to titled princes and can be roughly considered to be a major prince/king, standard prince/king, and minor prince/king respectively, but whether or not these titles come with territory is a bit setting dependent. And then there are vassal kings who may not be directly related to the current royal family, which is usually cause for political unrest. You may sometimes see these referred to as 异姓王, kings of a different surname.

    Sometimes 世子 is also considered royalty, but 世子 can also refer to someone who is guaranteed to inherit a lesser title currently belonging to their father. So you will sometimes see 世子 refer to the titled heir to a dukedom or marquisate, as well as the titled heir to a titled king (王).
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2022
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  7. YaDo

    YaDo Member

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    Wow, thank you for the detailed answers!