Viet Nam News
Translator Nguyễn Tùng received the Phan Châu Trinh Awards 2018. Launched 10 years ago by Phan Châu Trinh Culture Foundation, it honours individuals and groups for their contributions to culture, translation, research and studies.
Translator Tùng won the prize for his work in anthropology including the book Essai sur le don. Forme et raison de l’échange dans les sociétés archaïques (An essay on the gift: the form and reason of exchange in archaic societies) by Marcell Mauss and Claude Levi Strauss’s Le Totémisme aujourd’ hui (Mythes et Religions).
Born in Bảo An Village, Điện Quang Commune, Điện Bàn District in central province of Quảng Nam, Tùng had a scholarship for studying history in France in 1963. After graduating from Sorbonne University he taught at Paris Diderot University, also known as Paris 7. He has worked at the French National Centre for Scientific Research since 1972.
Translator Tùng spoke about his work and the importantance of translation the world’s master books into Vietnamese.
When did you begin to translate books?
Firstly, I would like to thank Phan Châu Trinh Awards organisation board to give me the translation prize. I engaged in translation very early. When I was studying the 12th grade at Trần Quý Cáp High School in Hội An ancient town I translated a short story in French version by Ernest Hemingway into Vietnamese. It was the first time I made a translation and it was published in my school’s newsletter.
In 1967 when I was studying at Sorbonne University I was asked by my close friends to translate a 600-page book on law and politics by Maurice Duverger. I was eager to translate with a French-Vietnamese dictionary. I completed the book in several weeks.
I also translated Bertolt Brecht’s epic comedy entitled Mr Puntila and his Man Matti.
I worked at the French National Centre for Scientific Research from 1972 to research Vietnamese comedy tales. My wife and I have translated into French, Vietnamese wit and humour about Trạng Lợn, Trạng Quỳnh and Xiển Ngộ who are cunning characters from traditional folk tales.
Sometimes, I also translate and factually rewrite my researches into Vietnamese to publish in overseas magazines and newspapers in Việt Nam. After retirement I began to translate Marcell Mauss’s An Essay On The Gift: The Form And Reason Of Exchange In Archaic Societies. It took my two years to complete the book.
The book by Claude Levi Strauss also took a lot of time. Luckily, the two books are published by Tri Thức Publisher and introduced to Vietnamese readers.
Why did you choose these master books about anthropology and ethnology?
I have been thinking that if hundreds of master book about anthropology, philosophy and sociology had not been translated Vietnamese universities can not meet high standard levels.
I think that based on my personal experience. Actually, when I studied at Sorbonne University I was a lucky enough to be a student of many French professors such as Raymond Aron; Georges Condominas and Georges Balandier. But I accquired most knowledge of sociology, anthropology and philosophy from studying by myself.
It is difficult for Vietnamese students to read master books about sociology, anthropology and philosophy in original versions. As a result, they will not follow students in developed countries even though they are the same level at other fields with foreign students.
That is why I translate these books for Vietnamese student to refer.
What is necessary to be a translator, in your opinion ?
I think that a good translator needs four elements at least. First is writing in Vietnamese frequently and second is foreign language influences. Third is to have knowledge on the translation book theme. It can not be that a phisolophy book translator knows nothing about philosophy. Finally it needs a profound culture knowledge.
Translators of anthropology, sociology and philosophy books need to know Hán Việt (Chinese Hans script) words to use exactly and even make new words.
What do you think about translation in Việt Nam ?
Although Việt Nam has directly gotten access to two world leading cultures and sciences such as France and the US, translation in Việt Nam is backward against other countries such as Japan and China.
I think the Vietnamese government needs to have a national policy for translation. Việt Nam needs many professional translators who can earn money from their work. It can not depend on only amateur translators or ones that are too old, like me. Research centres and science institutes need to have leaders to make strategy for their specialty.
When I made a research in six months in the north of Việt Nam, I had to go to libraries reading documents by French and Vietnamese authors. But I rarely saw Vietnamese researchers only foreign researchers.
What is your next work?
I will continue to translate books of anthropology and sociology. Additionally, I’m completing my Vietnamese writings and translations from my French writings on Vietnamese culture such as village, food and travel chronicles. I want to introduce books that I have made researches in these fields. — VNS