Reviving a long-disused tongue.

I recently finished reading the first collection in
射雕英雄传 Legends of the Condor Heroes, a wuxia/martial arts serialized epic by Hong Kong author 金庸 Jin Yong.

This book is titled A Hero Born and is an English translation by Anna Holmwood; it captures the first nine parts in a 40-part serial. (According to Wikipedia, 射雕英雄传 has a character count of over 900,000.) I stumbled on A Hero Born while randomly browsing shelves in the local library. I’ve lived in Hong Kong but I’d never heard of 金庸, so my interest was piqued. Apparently he’s a household name there, who first published his stories as serials in the newspapers. I’ve since spoken to my handful of HK friends and acquaintances. All of them knew his name.

Through a combination of Wikipedia and Baidu, and my now more-intuitive-than-concrete grasp of Mandarin, I found 金庸’s complete serials/novels online in simplified Chinese, including 射雕英雄传 here. As good a time as any to practise reading and comprehending my mother tongue again.

I decided to read it out loud. It took half an hour, CN-to-EN dictionary in hand, to translate and read the first paragraph of Chapter 1. Though half that time was re-reciting it to help my recall of the characters.

Well… I already knew my Mandarin vocabulary has atrophied over the years, but the extent of deterioration is incredible, if unsurprising. Still, it felt like a slap in the face by an insidious kind of impostor syndrome.

Translation and recall is tough work, but this is worth persevering through over time. I’m thinking of transcribing the text by hand — after all, physically writing things does help with comprehension and recall. And perhaps, eat some serious humble pie and ask my Chinese friends to be language buddies.

And to think that my local library was the catalyst for all this. Aren’t libraries wonderful?

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