Date: 28th June, 2016
Mr. Vincent Piket,
Head of Office,
European Union Office to Hong Kong and Macao
Gratitude for EU Recognition of Hong Kong Culture
As a Hong Kong scholar, I am writing to express my sincere gratitude to your Office for posting statuses on your Facebook wall in both Cantonese and English, especially the condolences you sent on 24 June to the family and friends of the two firemen who recently lost their lives. It shows that after the rise of the Localist Movement in Hong Kong, you have been able to recognize that Hong Kong is not only an international financial centre, but also a cultural entity different from China.
Hong Kong culture has quite a few strata, oral Hong Kong Cantonese being lively and vivid, the written Hong Kong Chinese language elegant and graceful. For three thousand years, written Chinese and oral Chinese have always been different from each other. Common and decent written Chinese often combines in an organic or synthetic way classical Chinese, spoken Chinese and vernacular written Chinese. For instance, The Golden Lotus synthesizes classical Chinese, Shandong language, and vernacular written Chinese; Dream of the Red Chamber synthesizes classical Chinese, Peking dialect, and vernacular written Chinese.
When Hong Kong was a British colony, Chinese official documents were always written in simple, fluent classical Chinese; spoken languages used on official occasions, like court trials, Legislative Council meetings, and press conferences, were definitely Cantonese and/or English. (Apparently, the purpose was to distinguish and segregate Hong Kong from China, where Putonghua was used as the spoken language, and vernacular Chinese as the written language.) For solemn occasions such as sending diplomatic condolences, pure classical Chinese was always used and is highly recommended. May I venture to suggest a translation of your condolences in simple classical Chinese as follows?
Even when a statement of condolence has really to be delivered in Cantonese, it is inadvisable to literally translate it from English. For Chinese is Chinese and English is English. The two representing two different linguistic systems, two different cultures, their ways of expression are certainly to be different. For instance, in Orthodox Chinese culture, it is unnecessary to explicitly say you are sending condolences when you are doing so. According to the renowned translation theorist, André Lefevere (1992), “translation is rewriting” rather than photocopying. With respect, your current approach of rigidly following the original sentence structure and simply replacing functional words of vernacular written Chinese with their Cantonese counterparts seems to have a lot of room for improvement.
Below please find my own vivid Cantonese translation of your statement of condolence:
To conclude, Hong Kong is the direct heir of orthodox or traditional Chinese culture (which, alas, has almost completely perished in Mainland China), and combined it with Western tradition to form Hong Kong’s own unique culture, just as the member states of the European Union all have their own features while most of them owe their origin to ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, and just as Barcelona, as a autonomous city-state, insists on speaking Catalan as different from Spanish.
Thank you very much for your attention.
With peace and joy,
Chapman Chen (Ph.D. in Sinology, M.A. in Translation),