Indeterminacy, multivalence and disjointed translation

Jiang Xiaohua

One of the most prominent linguistic features of classical Chinese poetry is syntactic indeterminacy, which brings about multivalence, i.e. multiplicity of connotation, and poses a great problem as well as daunting challenge to Chinese-English translators, for English is basically a language with syntactic determinacy. This paper examines two aspects of indeterminacy involved in classical Chinese poetry, arguing that ‘disjointed translation’ is probably the most inspiring way to cope with Chinese syntactic indeterminacy.

Table of contents

We may begin our discussion of indeterminacy by referring to a question, or rather, a puzzle put forward by the famous modern Chinese poet Wen Yiduo (闻一多), also as a translator and translation commentator, while commenting on Shigeyoshi Obata’s (小烟熏良) English translation of Li Bai’s (李白) lines:

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