Why is the original phrase "凛冬将至" translated as just "winter is coming"?

Why does “凛冬将至” in Chinese look so grand, yet its original text is so simple? In addition, there’s the case of League of Legends' champion Malphite’s ultimate, “幽冥监牢” in Chinese, but in English, it’s merely “the box.” Similarly, in the American TV series “The Boys,” the English original is just “the boys.” Why is it that in Chinese, these expressions seem so sophisticated, while their English counterparts are so plain? Why don’t the creators use more advanced and impressive English expressions?

Don’t misuse advanced vocabulary unnecessarily, such as using “solitude” for loneliness or “grief” for sadness. Some students pile on these words in their essays. In my eyes, their way of writing English feels similar to this:

“Today I am alone at home, my parents went out, feeling very lonely and sad.

“Today, I reside alone at home, with my parents away, I stand in isolation, as if mourning my forebears.

Three reasons:

  1. Translation is a skill mastered by few, and translators have the need to show off and assert their presence.
  2. In modern times, the West and even Japan and Korea often represent advancement and beauty, leading to a cultural need for embellishment and decoration.
  3. Most translations serve a commercial purpose, and the nature of commerce naturally necessitates attracting attention and adding informational content.

Thus, most translations actually upgrade the original text. When you encounter translations that seem luxurious and smooth, you need to mentally downgrade them. Strangers who are too nice to you are usually scammers.

As for English, when idioms are actually used, they tend to be translated literally—to show a “faithfulness to the original text.” But this back-and-forth inadvertently downgrades the rhetoric of the other culture because it might be a bit difficult for us to understand. So, when you see a translation that seems plain or unsophisticated, you might need to mentally upgrade it, as it might represent a proverb or idiom. The plainly dressed old man might actually be a retired official.

In conclusion, this is akin to the saying, “Subtract a point from foreign films and add a point to domestic films on Douban to get closer to the real score.” It’s the same principle.

With languages, it’s necessary to first demystify them and then appreciate their nuances. AI translation is becoming more sophisticated, and basic translation can now be dehumanized. Using machine translation helps in demystification.

In the future, the translation industry will become more professional. Studying relevant majors in undergraduate and postgraduate courses and then transitioning to translation with a double degree is best. This kind of exaggerated style of translation will probably become less common.

The phrase you provided is in Chinese. Here is the translation in English:

Why is the original text of “天选之子” simply “the chosen one”?

Translation is inherently subjective. What you consider appropriate works, and if someone translates it as “凛冬将至,” you can also translate it as “Winter has arrived.” In any case, there’s nothing wrong.

Now, ChatGPT can generate multiple versions for us.

  1. Literal Style: “Winter has come” - This is the most direct and faithful translation, maintaining the simplicity and directness of the original sentence.
  2. Literary Style: “The winter day approaches” - This translation adds a literary touch, making it sound more elegant and rhythmic.
  3. Classical Style: “At the beginning of the cold winter” - It uses a more classical language, making the translation sound like it comes from ancient texts or poetry.
  4. Dramatic Style: “Winter approaches relentlessly” - Adds a sense of urgency and drama, suitable for emphasizing tension or intense situations.
  5. Philosophical Style: “The cold frost is about to descend” - Provides a profound philosophical sense, as if implying that winter is not just a season but a deeper change.
  6. Modern Colloquial Style: “Winter is coming soon” - Closer to everyday spoken language, sounding more modern and casual.
  7. Ominous Style: “The signs of winter are already evident” - Adds a sense of foreboding or omen, suitable for emphasizing the arrival of winter heralding important events.
  8. Romantic Style: “The season of snowflakes is gradually approaching” - Uses romantic and beautiful imagery to describe winter, giving a sense of warmth and dreaminess.
  9. Mysterious Style: “The curtain of winter is slowly rising” - This translation gives winter a mysterious and solemn atmosphere, as if unveiling the prologue of a mystery story.
  10. Cautionary Style: “The unpredictable winter is approaching” - This translation carries a warning, as if reminding people to be cautious about the impending winter.

Even in classical formats:

Translate “Winter is coming” in ten different classical styles, reflecting the diverse expressive features of classical Chinese. These translations not only showcase the depth of Chinese classical culture but also exemplify the artistry of language. Here are ten different classical styles of translation, along with explanations for each style:

  1. Simplified Classical Style: “Winter approaches” - This is the most concise expression, imitating the common omission and directness found in classical Chinese.
  2. Classical Chinese Style: “The winter day is approaching, and the chilling wind rises” - Using the sentence structure and rhetoric of classical Chinese, it adds classical charm.
  3. Poetic Meter Style: “The cold wind gradually rises, and the winter feeling grows” - Imitating the rhythm and rhyme of ancient poetry, adding a poetic touch.
  4. Philosophical Classical Style: “In the cold of winter, we understand the withering of pine and cypress” - Imitating the preaching style of ancient philosophers, using the metaphor of winter’s arrival to convey deeper meaning.
  5. Allusion Style: “The crane senses the end of the year’s chill, and the geese feel the approaching cold” - Drawing upon allusions from ancient poems to express the arrival of winter.
  6. Fu-style Classical Style: “Winter, the end of heaven, the gathering of Qi, the closure of all things” - Using the Fu style (a classical genre of detailed description) to depict the characteristics of winter.
  7. Chu Ci Style: “Cold waters unite in an endless sky, north wind blows, and snowflakes fall” - Imitating the style of “Chu Ci” to describe winter with romantic and melancholic language.
  8. Parallel Prose Style: “Cold light gathers, frosty air deepens; the approach of winter, a constant order of the world” - Using parallel prose (a classical style of parallel sentence structure) to express the law and atmosphere of winter.
  9. Guqin Music Title Style: “Inquire about the coolness of the heavens, knowing the arrival of winter” - Imitating the ambiance and style of ancient guqin music titles, adding a Zen-like quality.
  10. Letter Format Style: “In a letter to you, I convey the changing seasons. Winter has arrived, I hope you’ll wear more warm clothing and take care of your health” - Imitating the format of ancient letters, incorporating the arrival of winter as part of the message, expressing concern for seasonal changes.

people may also ask you why the translation of “waiter is coming” is simply “凛冬将至”…

This reminds me of a phrase that my mentor and simultaneous interpreter, Teacher Jackie, often used during my participation in the professional translation boot camp. He said that language is the carrier of culture, language is cold, and what has warmth is culture. The fundamental logic of cultural transmission and integration is kindness!

When you see someone sad, you also recall your own sadness, so you have a strong sense of compassion for others. This culture of sorrow and compassion is simultaneously conveyed. If at this moment, you can still communicate with words, then after a few sentences of exchange, the two of you may embrace and cry together…

So, my friend, don’t belittle the original text as just “Winter is coming.” What we lack is not words, nor a shortage of books read, but rather, it’s culture!

One word: Lick.

Comparatively extensive translation began in the early 20th century when the Chinese, especially intellectuals, were at their most self-deprecating period, always feeling weak and wanting to lick Westerners involuntarily. The Stark family is a bunch of rough people guarding the border, not very cultured. However, even for this plain and straightforward sentence, the translator couldn’t help but want to use classical Chinese for translation.

Chinese and English are at completely different levels of development, and Chinese development surpasses all other languages. Development markers for languages:

  1. The degree of abstraction of objective objects.

In ancient Chinese, there were many names for horses, such as big horses, small horses, red horses, black horses, good horses, and bad horses, each with its own name. But people found that they were actually the same through long-term observation and practice, so they gradually unified them into an abstract term: horse, with various descriptions added when necessary. In contrast, English still uses different names for roosters, hens, chicks, pork, mutton, beef, etc., indicating that it has not yet reached the stage of abstract refinement for objective things.

  1. The richness of human expression.

In contrast to objective things, subjective human expression becomes more diverse and rich as society develops. For example, the word “death” may have had only one meaning at first. However, when some people’s deaths are too painful to bear, terms like “passed away” or “passed on” emerged. When people of different status die, terms like “departed” or “expired” emerged. When we hate certain people, terms like “perished” or “met their demise” emerged. But when Queen Elizabeth II dies, the official announcement from the royal family and major media outlets uses the same wording as if it were a casual observation: “kicked the bucket.” It exudes a sense of impatience and eagerness.

  1. The presence of Classical Chinese.

It’s Classical Chinese, not ancient Chinese. One of the important characteristics of Classical Chinese is its conciseness, mainly because of the difficulty of ancient writing methods. Before the widespread use of telephones, emergency communication was done through telegrams, which were charged per word. So, even if you were talkative in daily life, you had to be concise when sending telegrams. For example, “General Liu Bang stationed his troops in the Bashang region,” is 16 characters. In a telegram, it became “General Liu Bang’s army Bashang.” If a language doesn’t have a Classical Chinese form, it means that the formation of this language, at least in widespread use, must have occurred after the writing method (paper, pen, ink) was fairly developed. Things written by Su Bu Ya flowed effortlessly, as if written on sheepskin, which is purely nonsense.

Bring me my bow of burning gold

Bring me my arrows of desire

Bring me my spear O clouds unfold

Bring me my Chariot of fire

In your eyes, this may seem like mere poetry, lacking even a single “sophisticated vocabulary.

If translated as “Winter is coming,” would you consider it to be a primary school first-grade extracurricular reading?

Because English doesn’t have the habit of using classical language to show off. Even if someone insists on showing off, it’s certainly not in Old English but rather in Latin or French.

If you really want a translation: “venit hiems frigida”

However, even though Latin roots are widely used in English, for native speakers with average education, reading pure Latin may be as challenging as us reading ancient Chinese poetry. (Genshin Impact previously used a simple Latin phrase, “Ad Astra Abyssosque,” and it caused quite a debate about its meaning…)

A rough translation for the feeling:

“Frost and snow, inexorable, as the four seasons draw to a close."

Let’s call it the Winter Solstice.

That might be because you overlooked the context and missed a lot of details.

When you talk about translating the skills of a champion in League of Legends from Chinese into English in a way that fits the context, how long should the name of this skill be? It’s hard to see it all at once and remember it. On the other hand, “box” is vivid, humorous, and straightforward, simple yet not plain.

In the World of Warcraft promotional video, there’s a line that goes, “You are not prepared,” translated into Chinese as “你们这是自寻死路” (You are seeking your own death). Translation should be based on the language environment of the locals and strive to convey the artistic conception as much as possible, but language is ultimately not adept at expressing artistic conception.

English, especially American English, may not be considered an “elegant” language, but it is indeed a very straightforward language.

In a comedy show, there was a British person mocking American English. For example, “side-walk” for a pedestrian path, “ped-crossing” for a pedestrian crossing, and so on. It’s too straightforward, as if it’s a language designed for the illiterate.

During high school, I attended an international school, and there were ESL (English as a Second Language) classes taught by foreign teachers. Later, I took tests like TOEFL, SAT, and GRE. I found that in language courses elsewhere, after mastering vocabulary and grammar basics, they emphasize logic and content delivery more.

Chinese language teaching in China, on the other hand, often emphasizes aesthetics too much, with many people pursuing flashy or innovative expressions and an abundance of literary embellishments. Logic and content flow are often overlooked.

It’s a bit like us constantly boasting that our ancestors were wealthy, saying how great our traditional Chinese painting is. However, artistic conception actually comes from the lack of systematic perspective principles.

Anyway, personally, I think many things I learned in Chinese language classes during my childhood were of no use to my personal growth. Some aesthetic elements, given the cognitive level at that time, were not appreciated. Locked in classrooms for many years, I missed many opportunities for diverse development.

One more thing, Chinese people love metaphors too much. They like to derive (often unrelated) life lessons from everyday phenomena. When students engage in some activities, teachers often ask them to write essays. Chinese thinking contains a lot of “sophistry” like this:

Q: Why does Confucius in the Analects seem like a war god, defeating students in one round of debate, winning their praise, compared to the intricate logical debates of ancient Greece? A: I guess it’s because of excessive use of metaphors, analogies, and implications, making formal logic difficult to appear. During the axial age in China, the works written by masters were very fond of using analogies and implications. However, the reasoning methods of analogies and implications actually do not require formal logic.

Why does Confucius in the Analects seem like a war god, defeating students in one round of debate, winning their praise?

When studying for the GRE, my teacher at the time criticized the leaps in my thinking. Many Chinese students actually have this problem. For example, in the classic TOEFL question, “Is printed book better than e-books?”

Many Chinese students might say, “E-books are better because they are more environmentally friendly.” Here, the logic jumps, but many Chinese people may not realize it and think it’s fine. In fact, they mentally filled in the logical gap behind this sentence. However, in writing, especially in professional (not literary) writing, there should be a complete logical chain: E-books do not require paper, and paper production requires deforestation, so e-books can help prevent deforestation. From this perspective, they are more environmentally friendly.

And in fact, the “environmental friendliness” of e-books may not necessarily hold up. Many paper production processes now use renewable forest resources, and paper (even wooden furniture, etc.) production is actually a “carbon sequestration” activity with certain benefits. Otherwise, when the growth cycle of trees ends and wood rots, the carbon that has been fixed will re-enter the atmosphere. Furthermore, the production of e-books requires lithium batteries, which can be environmentally polluting.

Finally, it’s not to say that English cannot be playful and artistic. What struck me most was when I was playing “Plants vs. Zombies” as a child, I paid attention to the English names of the plants.

“Pea” means a pea, “repeat” means to repeat, and “repeater” can mean a repeater. The prefix “re-” itself means “repeat,” “-pea-” is “pea,” and “-tor” can mean “a person who does XX.” When you look at this name, it becomes very interesting.

“Walnut” means a walnut, “wall” means a wall, and “nut” means a nut. So, “Wall-nut” is a nut wall, pronounced the same as a walnut.

As for “寒冰射手” and “冰瓜” in Chinese, “snow pea” and “winter melon” are actually “荷兰豆” and “冬瓜” respectively.

Response: Why is the original phrase “凛冬将至” translated as just “winter is coming?"

Please refer to:

1. Corruption knows no bounds

2. Corruption in writing style

3. Corruption and integrity always coexist

(The economic foundation determines the superstructure, moral education knowledge, but most importantly, it solves the problem in English class.)

I see it as mocking you, but it’s actually due to the issue of the target audience.

What you might think of as foreign players: using all sorts of “sophisticated” vocabulary that you can’t quite understand at first listen.

The actual foreign players: their vocabulary is not much different from that of middle school students here, with some differences in the content they learn. They rarely use advanced vocabulary and sentence structures in their daily lives. They only use specialized vocabulary and sentence structures in their work and formal communications. Apart from work-related specialized vocabulary, they hardly use any other specialized vocabulary.

If you have watched movies from Marvel and DC and rigorously collected the vocabulary used in them, you would find that their vocabulary doesn’t exceed two to three thousand words.

In contrast, for shows like “Game of Thrones” that require a large vocabulary, the audience is only a fraction of that of Marvel and DC.

So, once you elevate the expression, it’s hard to reach a wide audience.

This is completely different from the Chinese context because, even with sophisticated vocabulary, as long as it doesn’t involve abstract basic concepts, it can be easily understood in the Chinese context.

So, you can see that Chinese translations are often high-sounding, but the original text may be quite ordinary, or even lack distinctiveness.

There is no such thing as “advanced vocabulary” or “advanced structures” in the first place. This concept is entirely something that many English teachers in China instill in students to cope with domestic English exams such as the middle school and college entrance exams. Because in these exams, using some complex structures and fancy vocabulary will appear to be particularly advanced and can lead to high scores. In reality, it is challenging to use them for practical English communication.

Take IELTS as an example (I’ve only taken the IELTS, so I’ll just talk about IELTS here). This test is designed to assess students' English communication abilities. In the writing section’s scoring criteria, there is never any mention of “advanced vocabulary” or “advanced structures.” Instead, it emphasizes the naturalness of expression, whether the expression conforms to English language habits, and whether reasoned arguments are presented. Many students, influenced by traditional English education, still haphazardly pile up unnecessary things when taking the IELTS, and the final results are quite evident.

The translator intentionally elevates the style.

In most cases, I effortlessly rescue the vocabulary-challenged barbarian nations with the profound culture nurtured by China over thousands of years.

But there are dangers.

For example, the first installment of “Resident Evil” was translated as “Evil Spirit Castle,” but the sequels weren’t in a castle.

For example, “Halo” was translated as “The Last Battle,” what about the sequels? “The Second to Last Battle”?

In any case, when you see words like “ultimate” or “final,” you should be cautious. Who the heck knows if it’s really the last…

In English translation, I consider this sentence’s translation to be the most impressive, and there are many variations.

I love three things in this world.

Sun, moon, and you.

Sun for morning,

moon for night,

and you forever.

What I love most is:

In this world, I love three things.

The radiant sun in the morning,

the gentle moon at night,

and you who transcend the changing tides.

Translating foreign language texts into Chinese using highfalutin vocabulary has been the mainstream approach in the Chinese translation field for the past few decades. This practice originated in the late Qing Dynasty and the early Republican era, continued in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and eventually made its way back to mainland China.

There are many reasons for this trend, but ultimately, it boils down to cultural admiration. Our cultural elites hold foreign cultures in high regard. It’s as simple as that.

Movie and TV show titles are translated differently.

In Chinese translation, the focus is usually on achieving elegance while conveying the meaning. For example, Xu Zhimo translated “Florence” into “翡冷翠,” which literally means “Jade-like and Cold,” but metaphorically represents “the City of Flowers.”

However, in the domestic film industry, there’s a tendency to sensationalize, exaggerate, and make titles more vivid. This approach is believed to stimulate consumer interest.

Take, for instance, “Inception.” In English, it conveys the idea of “beginning.” But if you delve deeper into its etymology, it combines “inner” and “grasp” or “capture,” which aligns perfectly with the movie’s theme: capturing an idea within one’s mind and altering reality. This inner grasp marks the inception, or the creative beginning. The English word “inception” is used profoundly in this context and reflects a deep insight into the human psyche, as this film was directed by Christopher Nolan.

Nevertheless, “盗梦空间” (Dao Meng Kong Jian), the Chinese title for “Inception,” is also apt. In Hong Kong, the translation might become even more exaggerated, as seen in the title “潜行凶间” (Criminals in a Dream World).

This penchant for exaggeration could be linked to our collective consciousness.

I don’t think this is about translation trying to be pretentious; it’s about the inability of a literal English translation to convey the class or seriousness present in the original drama.

In ancient China, the imperial examination system determined one’s social status, and your proficiency in written Chinese was directly linked to your societal position. The divide between upper and lower classes was evident in the choice between classical Chinese (文言文) and vernacular Chinese (白话文). While it’s been some time since the New Culture Movement, this rigid perception hasn’t entirely disappeared. In formal settings, we still use a language style with strong traces of classical Chinese, saying things like “诸位在这里欢聚一堂” (All of you are gathered here) or “承蒙您的厚爱” (Thanks for your kindness).

Conversely, English doesn’t have as many variations and intricacies when it comes to “advanced sentence structures.” As long as you use formal language, you are showing respect. “Winter is coming” can be used by both a noble and a commoner, with little difference in literal meaning; it relies on the reader’s interpretation.

The phrase “winter is coming” is from “Game of Thrones” and originally spoken by a character in a serious context within a Western fantasy backdrop. When translating it into Chinese, it’s essential to adapt to the cultural context. That’s why it was changed from the straightforward “冬天要到了” (Winter is coming) to the more refined “凛冬将至” (Winter is approaching). In China’s cultural context, someone of a higher social class wouldn’t use plain language as an opening statement in a formal setting. Even elementary school students understand that they should start a sports day cheer with “秋高气爽” (Autumn is crisp) instead of “秋天来了” (Autumn has arrived). This practice isn’t so much about trying to be pretentious as it is an unspoken cultural norm—using refined language to express respect.

If it were translated as “冬天来了” (Winter is coming), it would actually feel comical and out of place. Eastern languages are often layered, so sometimes plain language can feel like linguistic nudity.

If we were to simplify the translation, “冬日/寒冬将至” (Winter is coming) would be more understated, but it would lose the bold, cool, and dominant essence of “Game of Thrones.” “冬日将至” (Winter days are approaching) would sound like a small bakery advertising Christmas promotions, and “寒冬” (Bitter winter) would seem too despondent. “凛冬” (Harsh winter) has a kind of stern and chilling quality, making it quite suitable.