Here’s another song I’d like to translate and localize:
朋友 by 周華健 (Peng You by Emil Chau). It was a pretty popular song from two decades ago and I remember that our Chinese American Cultural Association had all the kids sing it for graduation one year.
Again, the hope for this exercise is that I come up with something that is:
- Singable within the original melody.
- Grammatically and idiomatically passable in English.
- As faithful as possible to the original imagery, varying only to satisfy the previous two conditions.
So here is my localization and thought process:
- 這些年 一個人 風也過 雨也走
All these years, on my own, winds have passed, rains have gone.
Not much to say here. This translation is easy to match with what others have come up with.
- 有過淚 有過錯 還記得堅持什麼
There were tears. There were wrongs. But I remember why we held on.
The second half is where this starts getting looser. I like how “hold on” half-rhymes with “wrong” and “why I hold on” is an evocative English idiom, though not exact to the Chinese.
- 真愛過 才會懂 會寂寞 會回首
When you’ve loved, then you’ll know, you’ll look back, you’ll feel alone.
I found that “alone” rhymed better with “know” and decided to swap the order of the looking back and the loneliness.
- 終有夢 終有你 在心中
But there are dreams, there’s still you, in my heart.
I wanted to capture the meaning of 終 implying the passing of time, and settled on using “still finding” to reflect that this is something that has been on the singer’s mind.
- 朋友 一生一起走 那些日子 不再有
Friends are always by your side, in all those days that have gone by,
I preferred the idiom of “days gone by” and it also half-rhymes with “side” from the first half.
- 一句話 一輩子 一生情 一杯酒
one good word, one lifetime, with one heart and a cup of wine.
This was the toughest line. It repeats the idea of one lifetime and lifelong friends, but there just aren’t as many different English words for “life” so I decided to change the latter lyric for redundancy.
- 朋友 不曾孤單過 一聲朋友 你會懂
Friends will never be alone, with a true friend, you will know:
The idiom I pulled in here was the phrase “true friend.”
- 還有傷 還有痛 還要走 還有我
There’s still sorrow, and pain to bear. Though we’ll part, I’ll still be there.
Literally, there are “wounds and pain” but “sorrow and pain” is the more common English idiom. This was also the toughest line to keep the rhyme (I settled on “bear” and “there”); whereas the Chinese lyric ends the beat on “there’s still me” that accusative noun feels weird in English, so I went with the gentler “I’ll still be there.”
Some overall thoughts:
- Admittedly this song is not that complex to begin with, but I find that most other translations I read are more literal translations and don’t feel like things I would actually say in English. This was my biggest focus here.
- Also, because the song itself wasn’t as complex, I tried to also match the rhyme scheme where the first half of each line would rhyme with the second half; this made arranging the English rather challenging for some of the lines while trying to preserve the original meanings.
- One of the toughest things about this song was figuring out the implied speakers and audiences. There are few pronouns and unlike English where verbs have first or second-person conjugations, in Chinese the verbs are always the same. It takes some context to make your best judgment about how to translate that context. (for example, making the decision that the end of the second line is spoken by an “I” directed to a “we”)