Chinese Nursery Ryhme: 小白兔 little white bunny

My daughter recently taught me this nursery rhyme. I really like it so I’m going to do a translation:


Xiǎo bái tù, bái yòu bái,
liǎng zhī ěrduǒ shù qǐlái,
ài chī luóbo hé qīngcài,
bèng bèngtiào tiào zhēn kě’ài!

Unlike many of my previous poems I can’t really find translations to compare to, so this is mine:

Little white bunny, white upon white,
Two little ears, standing upright,
Loves eating carrots and some fruit,
Bounce-bounce jump-jump oh so cute!

Translation notes / thought processes:

Rhyming scheme: The original has an AAAA rhyming scheme. The rhyme is part of what makes it sound so good in the original language. Unfortunately it is a very big challenge to grab this AAAA scheme and translate it directly into English. Finally I settled for AA BB, and I had to make some sacrifices to even get this scheme present in the translation — 青菜 means “green vegetables”, but I modified this to “fruit” (which is not true to the original) but the return for this sacrifice of accuracy was the ability to make it rhyme with “cute” in the last line. I contemplated variations of “cute” instead of switching “veg” or “vegetables” in English but there were none that came to mind that seemed good enough or even remotely rhymed with “veg” or “vegetables” — as the final word of the original is 可爱 which translates very neatly to “cute”.

Line 1 (小白兔,白又白): I chose “bunny” instead of “rabbit” because in English the word “bunny” has a more cute ring to it. The point of this rhyme is exalting the cuteness of the little white rabbit. Though “rabbit” would be an accurate translation.

The characters 白又白 are very beautifully and naturally translated into “white upon white”. These three characters are used as a superlative, indicating exceeding whiteness — hence “white upon white”.

Line 2 (两只耳朵竖起来): 两只耳朵 means “two ears”. Because Mandarin has quantifiers, there’s an additional syllable introduced into the poem and “ears” in Chinese is two syllables (耳朵), so I added in “little” to make the sentence longer. “little” is OK because it still preserves the image of a little bunny that is cute. I considered translating 竖起来 to “bolt upright” but the phraseology sounded too strong or harsh for the nature of this nursery rhyme. Luckily “upright” rhymed nicely with “white”.

Line 3 (爱吃萝卜和青菜): Most of this line is accurate and directly translated (爱吃萝卜和) as mentioned in Rhyming scheme I switched “veg” for “fruit” for rhyming purposes. I added “some” to make the sentence length feel closer to the original (original 7 characters = 7 syllables, without “some” the translation would only have 5 words and 7 syllables  , (“loves eating carrots and fruit”) which felt just slightly too short).

Line 4 (蹦蹦跳跳真可爱): 蹦蹦跳跳 is very simple (bounce bounce jump jump) I added hyphens for smoother flow of words. 真可爱 was interesting because it is three syllables in Chinese, 可爱 is two syllables but “cute” is only one. Originally I wanted to make it just “so cute”, but that’s too short (it would be “Bounce-bounce jump-jump so cute!” — too short) “oh” fits in well as a great emotional expression of adulation towards the super cute rabbit. “oh so cute” is also three syllables so it fits 真可爱.

All in all, I hope I’ve captured much of the original, especially the childlike innocence and adulation of the nursery rhyme.

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