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  • Writer's pictureChapman Chen

花旗飄飄:美國國歌新譯A New Chinese Translation of The Star-Spangled Banner. By Chapman Chen, HKNews

The Star-Spangled Banner 花旗飄飄

(Francis Scott Key填詞;曾焯文漢譯 Trans. Chapman Chen)

O say can you see by the dawn's early light, 晨曦曙光,

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming, 仍見晚霞餘輝,

Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight, 闊帶明星,歡呼自豪;連場血戰,

O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming? 飛舞碉堡城頭,雄姿英發, 傲然獨立。

And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, 長夜漫漫,炮彈如雷,熊熊戰火, 

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there; 見證羽旌無缺;

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave 花旗飄飄

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave? 勇武自由之鄉

Introduction to the Re-translation. By Chapman Chen

The Star-Spangled Banner was written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key and officially adopted as the national anthem of the United States of America in 1931. It summarizes the moral courage of the founding fathers of America picking up their arms to chase away the most powerful colonizer in the world at that time and build up a great independent country. It is often seen in recent Hong Kong protests of China Fascism. There are quite a few Chinese translations of the song, but they are either too wordy or inaccurate or grammatically incorrect or not elegant enough. I therefore set out to re-translate it.

A Concise and Refined Style

The new translation's style is concise and refined. It involves short sentences of four or six characters, a feature of the Book of Songs (11th to 7th centuries BC) and the Sung poetry (960-1279). The language used is a combination of classical Chinese and modern Chinese. Unnecessary functional words like "o'er" are often omitted, for according to the Chinese poet, Yu Dafu (1898-1945), the Chinese language is characterized by often being disconnected formally but connected semantically.

faa1 kei4花旗 [Flower-Flag]

The title is rendered as faa1 kei4 piu1 piu1花旗飄飄 [Flower-Flag Fluttering], instead of 星條旗 [Star-Stripe Flag], as in the other Chinese translations, for星條旗 [Star-Stripe Flag] is a strange combination in Chinese. faa1 kei4花旗[Flower-Flag] has actually been used by Hongkongers to describe the American flag for more than 100 years. The official Chinese name of the Citbank is still faa1 kei4 ngan4 hong4花旗銀行。飄飄 [Fluttering] also sounds lofty and jaunty.

Comparison of the New Translation with Former Translations

1. Grammatical Issues

E.g. In Lin Jishi 林技師's translation of the line "can you see by the dawn's early light" follows the original word order (你們能看到藉著早上晨曦的光芒), while according to Chinese syntax, "by the dawn's early light" should go before "see".

2. Wordiness

My translation consists of 76 words; Lin Jishi 275; Baidu 111; Wikipedia 124.

3. Elegance

E.g., " O say can you see by the dawn's early light, What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming," is translated in the Wikipedia version as "噢,說吧!你可看見,從晨曦的曙光中,讓我們對着陰暮僅餘一道光自豪地歡呼[O, speak! Can you see, from the dawn's twilight, Let us, facing the last remnant beam of light of the gloomy dusk, proudly cheer] ", which is inconsistent, clumsy, and almost unintelligible. Indeed, "O say" is unChinese when literally translated. "Let us" is totally uncalled for and incompatible with the rest. My translation reads, "晨曦曙光,仍見晚霞餘輝,闊帶明星,歡呼自豪;連場血戰, [The dawn's twilight still reveals the dusk's remnant gleam, the broad stripes and bright stars, and proud cheers through perilous fights]. 晚霞餘輝[the dusk's remnant gleam] is an elegant four-character phrase for the twilight's last gleaming.

4. Inaccuracies

E.g., in Baidu's version, the subordinate clause, "Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight, O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?", is mistaken as an independent question in itself.

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