Avatar: the Last Airbender, Book 1 - Water, Episode 9 “The Waterbending Scroll”
I have been dying to translate this one ever since I decided to work on this blog project, and especially since I started seriously pursuing Taijiquan and TCMA recently. I’ll get right down to the translation before I talk too much about it:
The text (in Traditional Chinese):
Left Column: 截水神功練習第一式 jiéshuǐshéngōngliànxídìyīshì
- 截水神功 jiéshuǐshéngōng is how “waterbending” is translated in the Avatar universe. It’s a pretty dense phrase, but employs the traditional 4-character format the Chinese are so fond of (4 syllables does have a nice flow when spoken). 截 jié means “to cut off” (as in a length of something - for example, a length of rope), or “to stop” or “intercept.” 水 shuǐ means “water.” 神功 shéngōng is a tricky phrase. As I’ve covered in my translation of the Avatar title screen, 神 shén means “spirit” or “divine” (which is synonymous at least in terms of traditional Chinese culture), and 功 gōng means “achievement” or “merit” - in English I think the best comparable term would be “feat,” as in to imply that a “feat” that someone “pulled off” was impressive or worthy of praise. The two characters together usually mean “miracle” or “remarkable feat.”
- 練習第一式 liànxídìyīshì - 練習 liànxí means “to exercise,” “to drill,” or “to practice.” As with a large number of Chinese verbs, these verb forms are interchangeable with nouns, so this could also mean “exercise,” “drill,” or “practice.” 第一 dìyī just means “the first” or “number one,” and 式 shì is a word frequently used when talking about martial arts and means “type,” “form,” “pattern,” or “style.”
截水神功練習第一式 jiéshuǐshéngōngliànxídìyīshì =
“Waterbending Practice Form One”
Bottom Right Column: 水單鞭 shuǐdānbiān
- 水 shuǐ means “water,” 單 dān here means “single,” “only,” or “sole,” and 鞭 biān means “to whip” or “to lash” - a dictionary will also list “to flog” and “conductor’s baton,” and even “animal penis” when talking about the anatomical part as served on the dining table (the latter two makes me giggle in a nerdy, linguistic way).
水單鞭 shuǐdānbiān =
“The Single Water Whip”
A couple of reasons why I won’t shut up about it/why this is so flippin’ cool:
- This form is adopted directly from the simplified Yang Style Taijiquan 24 Step Pattern. Here are some videos on it: here (“water whip” move beginning at 2:38) and here (whip beginning at 2:17). I’ve been practicing this specific form for a little under a year now and I can tell you it really does feel like Waterbending. (side note: Chen style Taijiquan actually feels more like waterbending to me - more fluid; but I love both!)
- The Chinese phrase used for the term “water whip” is 水單鞭 shuǐdānbiān. The phrase used for the move in Taiji they borrowed it from is called 單鞭 dānbiān. They just added the word for “water” in front of it. The “single whip” actually is a move in most common styles of Taiji (Chen and Yang both have it, that much I know). I think you can imagine me geeking out over this when I finally sat down to translate this after having taken a Taiji class in Chinese for about two months now, and hearing this every Sunday! This means the cultural consultant had to have known at least the basics of Taiji to be familiar enough with the term to apply it for this use in the show.
level of detail, folks. I’m in nerd heaven.
Avatar: the Last Airbender, Book 1 - Water, Episodes 7 & 8 “The Winter Solstice Pt. 1” and “The Winter Solstice Pt. 2”
This one is fairy simple. As you might expect, the Chinese written around the circle in Avatar Roku’s temple are the Chinese words for their respective solstices and equinoxes.
In chronological order:
- 春分 Chūnfēn (second photo) Spring Equinox 21st March-4th April
- 夏至 Xiàzhì (first photo) Summer Solstice 21st June-6th July
- 秋分 Qiūfēn (fourth photo) Fall Equinox 23rd September-7th October
- 冬至 Dōngzhì (third photo)Winter Solstice 22nd December-5th January (we can assume Team Avatar was at the temple sometime during this time frame)
I’ll talk more about the Chinese Calendar when we discuss all the goodies in the Library of Wan Shi Tong in Book 2 - Earth :)
Avatar: the Last Airbender, Book 1, Episode 1 “The Boy in the Iceberg”
Today’s my birthday, so as a little treat to myself I’ll begin my work on the original Avatar series.
Since I’ve already done the translations of the Chinese phrases accompanying the map and all of the elements here, here, here, and here, I’ll start with the series’ logo.
降世神通 jiàngshìshéntōng (when written in the standard script)
- 降世 jiàngshì literally means “to descend upon the world” and generally refers to an immortal or spirit that is born into the world. It can also be used to mean “to be born”
- 神通 shéntōng means “a remarkable ability” or “a magical power.” I take slight issue with “magical power” because “magic” has a different connotation here for us than for the Chinese. In short, since 神 shén means “spirit” or “divinity” (this is the term used for the word ‘God’) and 通 tōng means “to pass through” or “to communicate” (in the sense of communicating through something), this could mean “a magical power” in the sense of a power someone has because of the spirits (or in this instance, the Spirit World). This allows me to accept the translation currently available on the Avatar wiki: “the divine medium.” “Medium” empowers a concept more easily understandable for Western audiences.
This is quite an interesting translation for me. It would have been very easy to use the Chinese loanword for the ‘avatar’ concept: 阿梵达 āfàndá
. Instead however, Dr. Dr. Siu-Leung Lee translates it into a format easier to understand for both himself and a Chinese audience. The brilliance of this astounds me.
降世神通 jiàngshìshéntōng = “the descension of the divine medium”
or maybe more appropriately “the coming of the divine medium,” (since descension implies a spatial difference between the physical world and the spiritual world that may not be present in the Avatar mythos, but is occasionally present in Asian and European mythoi) with “the divine medium” being “the avatar.” I do also appreciate the translation I linked to above: “the divine medium who has descended upon the world”
Legend of Korra, “Skeletons in the Closet” & “Endgame” - Book 1 Finale
I got a little screenshot happy with this one, mostly because it was such a high-intensity scene. The only Chinese text in the entire season finale was one rather ominous sentence that appeared on Air Temple Island, the Rally, and presumably all over Republic City:
- 阿蒙的āméngde. As I’ve previously translated, 阿蒙 is the Chinese transliteration of Amon’s name. 的 is a possessive particle, so this means “Amon’s” or “(insert object) of Amon.”
- 時代 shídài means “age,” “era,” “generation,” or perhaps less commonly “epoch.”
- 開始了 kāishǐle is a pretty simple verb phrase. 開始kāishǐ means “to start” or “to begin.” As I’ve discussed in previous posts, 了 le is a particle attached at the end of a verb to signify a past-tense. This isn’t always directly the past tense we are familiar with in English (the Chinese view time, at least verbally, differently), but it works that way here.
阿蒙的時代開始了 āméngdeshídàikāishǐle = “The Era of Amon has begun” or “Amon’s Era has begun”
I find it particularly interesting how much of a figurehead Amon turned out to be; it was never “The Era of Equality has begun” or “Equality is the Answer” but “The Era of Amon has begun” and “Amon is the answer.”
Legend of Korra, “Turning the Tides”
Super stoked to take another crack at a newspaper. The only legible headline is right above a photo of Tarlokk, so let’s see what it has to say:
- 聯合 (trad.) liánhé is normally a verb meaning “to combine” or “to join.” Here however I suspect it functions more in its noun/adjectival form as “alliance” or “united.” (it can be used to mean “an alliance” or as a verb “to unite” as well)
- 日報 (trad.) rìbào simply means “daily newspaper.” 日 rì means “sun,” or “day.” 報 bào usually means “to inform” or “to announce.”
So unfortunately there’s no juicy gossip here about Tarlokk. In fact, this newspaper uses almost the exact same format/text images (the illegible characters) as the newspaper Korra reads in “A Leaf on the Wind.” The only difference is the name of the newspaper, which can be translated as:
聯合日報 liánhérìbào = “The United Daily” or “Alliance Daily”
This probably refers to the United Nations, the political body Republic City serves as the capital for, it’s military force being the United Forces - who we’ll see in just two days with the Season 1 Finale!
(reblogged from my personal blog - thewildsyntax - if any of you are interested in following that)
Someone (I can’t remember your username, and Tumblr is terrible for keeping track of these things once you respond to a question) asked me for any good recommendations of Korra-esque Erhu music, and to my immense satisfaction I stumbled on this today and had to post it.
Compare the linked YouTube video to the Firebending training music from “Welcome to Republic City.”
Legend of Korra, “When Extremes Meet”
Every time I saw Tarlokk’s hair braids, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something familiar about them. Then I did my homework. Not sure if this is deliberate or purely coincidental (my money’s on the latter), but Tarlokk’s hair appears to resemble the trigram ☵ 坎 kǎn if you assume the third ‘bead’ in the middle braid is the same size as the other two.
The symbol comes from the Yijing (sometimes spelled “I Ching”), one of the most important books in Chinese philosophy and culture. I wish I could go into a huge amount of detail, but believe me when I say I’m far from an expert; but you can read all about it here! It does mention the trigram has a “dangerous” attribute - but like I said, I can’t speak much to the meaning as I’m definitely not an expert.
Legend of Korra, “When Extremes Meet”
The characters above the hood of the police car read rather unsurprisingly as follows: