Le Petit Prince

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Table of all translations of the fox's secret here.

The Fox's Secret:
Voici mon secret. Il est très simple
Translating into Chinese (3)

(Chinese translations) ▼ Here is my secret. It is very simple ▶ One sees clearly only with the heart ▶ What is essential is invisible to the eyes

little princeC. DISCOURSE AND MOOD

This section looks briefly at ways in which translators go beyond the bare grammatical bones of translation.

1) How the fox starts telling his secret

Nineteen translations have the fox use a short interjection to indicate that the is about to tell the secret, similar to Katherine Woods' use of 'now'. Not all who use such expressions appear to be doing so under Woods' influence. Several translations from the French include short exclamations meaning 'Look!'.

Several translators from the English get the meaning of 'now' wrong and treat it as meaning 'at this moment'. This mistaken understanding of the English actually has a large impact on the type of expression chosen, causing many translators to favour expressions of the type 'Now I will tell you my secret'.

How the fox prefaces his secret...

'now' (at the present moment)'

duì le
'oh yes' (when remembering something)

'look' (colloquial)

Nuò: Five translators have him introduce his secret with nuò, a rather peculiar folksy term that draws attention to something the speaker is trying to point out. I've glossed it as 'Look!'

The fact that five different translators use this term is rather suspicious. nuò is a dialect term that is not particularly common in ordinary Chinese, which strongly suggests that some translators have been influenced by earlier translations. Having the fox exclaim nuò almost seems to have become a tradition! Four of the five using it appear to be translating from the French original.

对了 duì le: Two Chinese translators (translating it appears from the English) use 对了 duì le, an expression used when suddenly remembering something. Here it indicates that the fox suddenly remembers that he has to tell the Little Prince his secret when he says goodbye.

听着 tīng-zhe: One Chinese translator (translating apparently from the French) uses 听着 tīng-zhe, meaning 'Listen'. This indicates that the fox is about to say something important.

qiáo: One translator uses qiáo, a colloquial term meaning 'look'. This is a light way of drawing attention.

现在xiànzài: Fully eleven of the Chinese translators use the word 现在 xiànzài ('now') to start this sentence. All are found in translations from Woods' English version. 'Now' in English doesn't always narrowly indicate present time. It is widely used to indicate a progression to a new stage or a new idea.

Unlike English 'now', Chinese 现在 xiànzài purely means 'at the present time'. That is, it is not used to introduce the next step or indicate a progression of ideas. Moreover, 现在 xiànzài sounds awkward in combination with 这就是 zhè jiù shì ('this is'). The meaning would be akin to: 'At the present time this is my secret'.

It is probably due to this that 现在 xiànzài is used exclusively in combination with the 'I'll tell you my secret' pattern or with the 'Come and look at my secret' pattern. In other words, 'here is' is often translated as 'I'll tell you' precisely because of the choice to use 现在 xiànzài. Only two translators from the French use the 'I'll tell you the secret' pattern, neither with 现在 xiànzài. This is a clear demonstration of the impact that quite small changes in the original can have on resulting translations.

2) Making the fox's speech more natural/colloquial

Although many translators follow the French original almost literally, word for word (e.g., 这(就)是我的秘密,(它)很简单。Zhè (jiù) shì wǒ de mìmì, (tā) hěn jiǎndān), there are plenty of translators who felt impelled to add something in the interest of naturalness:

In all these cases, the very spare language of the original -- especially the original French -- is modified in ways that bring the translation closer to the rhythms of natural speech, or give the fox's speech more 'character'.

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