From Faithfulness to Information Quality: On 信 in Translation Studies

Chu-ren Huang, Xiaowen Wang

Research output: Chapter in book / Conference proceedingChapter in an edited book (as author)Academic researchpeer-review


Yan Fu’s three challenges in translation 譯事三難 were put forward based on his experience in translating Thomas Huxley’s Evolution and Ethics 天演論. However, it has been suggested that Xin 信 (faithful), Da 達 (expressive), and Ya 雅 (elegant) actually were ‘translated’ from Tytler’s ([1790] 1907) Three Principles of Translation: that good translation should fully represent the (1) ideas and (2) style of the original and should (3) possess the ease of original composition. Being Xin, Da, and Ya has been upheld as the dictum defining three hierarchical levels for good translation in the Chinese context. Following this dictum, Ya (elegant) is the elusive ultimate goal, while Xin has been assumed to be a baseline of translation that is easily attainable. Chao (1969a, b), however, argued that the full functional representation of Xin 信 should instead be the most critical test of good translation, influenced by Eugene Nida’s functional equivalence, and perhaps aware of Tytler’s three principles. Elaborating on Y. R. Chao’s position by incorporating the new concept of information quality, this paper shows that the claims of easy attainment of Xin 信 is misled and misleading. We point out that it is impossible to find direct mapping between word meanings of two languages and the meanings of translation equivalents are overlapping depending on context. Therefore, verbatim translation is by no means Xin; rather, Xin must be judged by the quality of the transferred information. In particular, we illustrate how interpreting Xin 信 as requiring translation with high information quality will truly define good translation with the translation of two near synonym pairs. Xin as information quality can only be achieved by careful consideration of meanings in context in both languages. We conclude that Xin requires a careful study into comparable corpora to find the optimal choice of a particular word in a specific context, especially when several near synonyms are in competition for the same core meaning in both source and target languages. The concept of and emphasis on information quality should be critical foundation of the value of translation in the highly connected context of information economy.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationKey Issues in Translation Studies in China
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020

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