3

《饥饿的女儿》虹影 著 ch. 2, sect. 4 has the following text:

在学校, 最蔫的男同学对我也没兴趣, is translated by Howard Goldblatt as: "even the most mischievous boys in class showed little or no interest in me".

How is this possible given the meaning of the adjective 蔫, e.g.: iciba: <形> (精神不振) listless; spiritless; droopy. In the present context it seems "mischievous" in fact would make better sense than "listless".

6
  • What exactly is the context? ‘Dull’ seems to make just as much sense here as ‘mischievous’ if the meaning is romantic interest and the narrator is describing how she was so plain and unpopular that even the really boring boys (who would never stand a chance with the beautiful, popular girls and therefore had to aim lower) never bothered to show any interest in her. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 22 '15 at 9:46
  • naturally this is what some readers might think too, for context (as if would make much difference) just google the text, this will lead straight to the place in the novel – user6065 Feb 22 '15 at 10:59
  • that makes sense too... maybe Goldblatt mistranslated! – Master Sparkles Feb 22 '15 at 13:17
  • 2
    @S.Rhee “context (as if would make much difference)” — Context always makes all the difference, in any language but especially in Chinese. Without knowing the full context, there is never any way of knowing for certain the precise and exact meaning of anything. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 24 '15 at 9:43
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Sometimes even with knowing the full context a given word choice is hard to understand. In that case the context makes no difference. – Colin McLarty Feb 25 '15 at 1:03
1

Apparently it can mean something like "mischievous" in old Beijing dialect, ex 蔫坏:又称“蔫儿坏”,老北京方言,也称“蔫土匪”。意思是不声不响的动坏心思、做坏事,在别人面前却是一副正人君子的模样。通常形容那些背地里使坏的人。

Also see here for an explanation of 蔫 in a Tianjin dialectical context: 这个[“蔫溜儿”的]“蔫”,就是玩儿阴的,暗中进行。

6
  • 《饥饿的女儿》 novel relates events in Chongqing, (formerly part of Sichuan), therefore it already has some Chongqing dialect – user6065 Feb 21 '15 at 22:15
  • it's not impossible that other places' dialects are being mixed into the novel... I can't find any examples of 蔫 meaning "mischievous" in specifically Sichuanese usage. Looks like the author 虹影 spent sometime in the north while going to school, maybe she picked it up there? – Master Sparkles Feb 21 '15 at 22:21
  • wouldn't most readers be puzzled by this phrase, since in standard language 蔫 means something quite incompatible with "mischievous" – user6065 Feb 22 '15 at 8:33
  • 1
    Can't speak to whether most readers will find the word puzzling, though again it's not at all unusual for odd dialect phrases to pop up, and I suspect not all of the phrases will be known to all readers from all parts of China. "Mischievous" may not be a great translation, but the Chinese gloss in the second link seems to fit well with what's going on in your sentence. However, the more I think about it the more Pdot Wang's interpretation makes better sense than Goldblatt's translation... he may have been misled into the dialect interpretation as well. – Master Sparkles Feb 22 '15 at 13:15
  • 1
    Yeah, it seems you're really asking two questions here: (a) can 蔫 ever mean something like "mischievous", the answer to which is yes, in dialect; and (b) is that the right meaning in this sentence. Not sure you're getting an answer to (b) short of asking The Man himself :) – Master Sparkles Feb 22 '15 at 16:24
1

蔫 read Niān, is a adjective, means 枯萎, withering, or withered. That a flower does not stand vividly due to less watering is said 蔫了。

It, by itself, has no negative meaning at all. It just indicates the status of a plant. Due to the fact that when a plant or a flower withers, it bends down its "head", the word is used to a person who does not active or talktive in peer group.

Then, in a long distance, there is a combination of two words 蔫坏, withered and bad, means a person who does not talk often but inside thinks negatively.

In this sentence, 在学校,最蔫的男同学对我也没兴趣, it does not have the negative meaning of 坏. My perception of the sentence is that "not even the least competitive boy has a little feeling on me".

4
  • above answer more or less repeats first comment – user6065 Feb 22 '15 at 13:36
  • do we know how Goldblatt does his translations? If he worked directly with the author (as do many translators) on this book then that will change how we try to figure this out – Master Sparkles Feb 22 '15 at 14:03
  • I would like to say that a novel or a movie is not an official language textbook.The author has one's space to be creative, and, if translated, it could be for the best of the reader in other country than to be completely royal to the original words. I will try to avoid questions from novel later on. – PdotWang Feb 22 '15 at 19:55
  • 2
    @MasterSparkles Goldblatt works extensively with authors. He has even gotten authors to re-write parts of a novel for the English language audience. – Colin McLarty Feb 25 '15 at 1:05

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.