J.Luvsandorj: No one’s blaming incorrect and inaccurate foreign translations of the Secret History of the Mongols

Trans. by B.DULGUUN

The following is an interview with professor J.Luvsandorj, who works at the South and Central Asia Studies Institute of Philosophy Faculty at Charles University in Prague, the Czech Republic.

You wrote a book after studying translation errors in the Secret History of the Mongols (SHM). According to your book, Chinggis Khaan was portrayed as a cruel person because people mistranslated busniulakh (ruin) as butsalgakh (boil). Were there other serious mistranslations? 

I studied Mongolia’s unique pride and heritage for 20 years to accurately interpret it. The truth about Mongolia’s history and Chinggis Khaan was very wrongly taught to people because experts tried translating the book based on the Chinese edition.

The error of the researchers was the fact they stuck to one meaning of a word. I emphasized ceasing to translate from Chinese editions and translate from the Mongolian edition. 

The original book, written in Mongolian traditional writing, hasn’t been found to this day. Which edition is actually the original one? 

The SHM was first written in Mongolian writing in 1228 at the Kherlen River Coast. After Khublai Khaan’s reign, Mongolians took the book that was stored in a special metal chest at the khaan’s palace to the newly established Kherlen Bars city.

Ming soldiers killed Mongolian emperors and took all Mongolian scripts and wrote to Beijing. A Russian monk first found the copy of the SHM in Chinese characters in 1866 from Beijing. The concise Chinese edition was translated into Russian and then, to different languages from the Russian edition.

Simple Chinese translations are written next to each word and a summarized translation is written after each chapter. The simple translations were very inaccurate and seemed as if the meaning was guessed. In the traditional vertical Mongolian writing, letters kha and khe, as well as d and t, are written the same way. Some words can be read in four different ways.

The Chinese edition was very cleverly written so that meanings couldn’t be distinguished. Still, one word expressing many meaning shows the capacity of a language. You’ll be doomed if you can’t find the most accurate meaning among 10 different interpretations.

For example, the word “irgen” was translated as the public and ordinary citizen. There was a passage saying that Chinggis Khaan met with a Tangud “irgen” and killed his whole kinship for not keeping his words. An emperor or khaan wouldn’t meet an ordinary citizen. Here, “irgen” meant khaan. The word “basgan”, meaning girl in Buriyat language, is written in Mongolian writing as “bachagan” and pronounced a “s”. There are many similar examples.

The name Ikhtseren was translated in many ways. Tseren is a Tibetan word meaning longevity. It’s wrong to have a Tibetan name in the SHM. In fact, “Tseren” was written as “Charan” in Buriyat letters and “ch” should be read like “s”. The name was actually Ikhsaran.

 Is it possible to know the meaning of the people in the SHM? 

Out of some 100 names in the book, most can be easily interpreted, but we couldn’t understand them due to incorrect pronunciation. Mothers had given sweet names to majority of the people in the book. There was the name, Dodoi Cherbi. The name was actually Toodoi, but misread because “d” and “t” can’t be distinguished in the traditional Mongolian writing. There were names like Khoty, Godu or God. Khod Khod is used to describe how someone laughs. The boy was named Khod because he giggles loudly or bursts into laughter. 

What does Boorchi mean? 

It means “boortsog” (type of bakery). It’s written as “bogorchog” in Mongolian writing. Some dialects read it as “boorcho”. The name Subeedei originated from a word that meant mind orifices. Oulen means big. The Tsevel Dictionary explains that children with big bodies were called “oolei”.

It’s wrong that Burte is associated to wolves. It’s a way of expressing adoration for his small build when he was little.  

How can we correct these global errors? Has your book been translated into other languages? 

I published my book explaining over 2,300 words so that foreign academics can re-translate. I haven’t heard that it’s been translated to other languages yet because it was published only a year ago. Translators began working to translate it into Czech first. They will try to publish in English afterwards and I guess from these editions, other languages will also release copies.

No one’s criticizing foreign translations for being wrong or inaccurate. There are passages such as Chinggis Khaan capturing a “guu” (female horse) and gifting it to his friend, Jamukha, as well as Chinggis Khaan capturing “esgel khaliun”, a wild horse.

Esgel was explained as a female horse that hasn’t had offspring in three years in Chinese. Actually, esgelen expresses strength and means fervent or rowdy. Mongolians, especially soldiers, wouldn’t ride a female horse. Europeans explained it irrationally. They have only one word for horses, but Mongolians give different names depending on a horse’s gender and age. 

Since when did you start teaching at Charles University? Did Czech people have an urgent need to learn the Mongolian language? 

Government policies impacted greatly to schools of socialist countries. Mongolian Studies was developed through a special decision from communist parties of some socialist countries. There was a time when Mongolian Studies was developed brilliantly in Germany.

Charles University was given the task to train Mongolian language experts via government policy because Mongolia and Czechoslovakia were sister countries and were members of organizations for socialist countries, including the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance.

The school’s best language expert PhD in Sanskrit, Vacek Jaroslav was sent to Mongolia. He became able to speak and write in Mongolian in only eight months as he’s a talented language learner, fluent in English and German. He opened a Mongolian Language class at the Charles University in 1976.

The National University of Mongolia (NUM) collaborated with foreign experts and created many textbooks and dictionaries. I also collaborated with J.Vacek and went back and forth between Mongolia and the Czech Republic to write a textbook. Charles University believed that opening a Mongolian Language class was important and made effort since the beginning to have me teach at the school. I started teaching after receiving permission from the Central Committee of the Mongolian People’s Republic [sometime between 1924 and 1992]. I was supposed to work for four years, but the university didn’t want me to leave. 

Didn’t you teach at the NUM before?

I taught at universities since 1968. During this period, I taught Mongolian language at the Leningrad State University (currently known as Saint Petersburg State University) in Russia for three years. After returning to the NUM, I taught foreign students and worked for many years as the Head of Department for teaching Mongolian language to foreigners.

Students whom our teachers taught from 1970 to 1989 have become great western experts in Mongolian studies.

 Can you share why your students began learning the Mongolian language?

Czech people don’t seek monetary profit, but instead, to study the natives and their literature. Nomadic lifestyle of Central Asia can be studied based on the Mongolian language.

Let me share an interesting example.

Many Czech universities started teaching languages, including German, Russian and French. Yet, one school sent the NUM a letter stating that students wanted to learn Mongolian as their third language and asked us to send a teacher. Soon after, the school sent another letter saying that parents disapproved.

 Until now, how many foreign students graduated from your class?

Until to this day, many students have graduated from our bachelor, master and doctor’s programs. At the moment, some 30 students are studying in our five Mongolian Studies classes. Over 10 students enroll to a class and in the end, half, sometimes only two or three students, graduate.

There isn’t a certain direction for their employment after graduation. They have to find their own jobs. Students learn another language besides Mongolian language so some decide to find work based on that language.

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Czech Republic to Mongolia Ivana Grollova graduated from our Mongolian Studies class. 

By the way, what sparked your interest in the Mongolian language?

I, a child of a herder family, felt the power of words from a young age. In third grade, I was told to read aloud a passage with a title, “Father Choibalsan is Guiding Us”. I directly interpreted it as “Choibalsan has put on a nose-ring on us and leading us to places” because the word has multiple meanings. I was told off by my teacher for making fun of the passage by saying that Father Choibalsan has put on a nose-ring on us during break time.

Multiple meanings of words intrigued me and impacted greatly on me choosing to become a Mongolian language teacher. Like so, I fell in love with the Mongolian language and learned to find and correct mistakes in Mongolian traditional writing.

During senior year in high school, I read the edition of the SHM by Damdinsuren. The poor Mongolian traditional writing seemed strange to me and never left my mind. I read it several times and presented a speech on the SHM after entering university. I became more interested and started reading it in Mongolian Cyrillic writing. However, I was deeply captured in studies for the SHM in 2000.

Source: Unuudur


Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=15972

Posted by on Aug 27 2015. Filed under Prime Interview. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

1 Comment for “J.Luvsandorj: No one’s blaming incorrect and inaccurate foreign translations of the Secret History of the Mongols”

  1. Thanks UB Post for quick translation and posting. Very interesting indeed.

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