Thursday, January 16, 2014

What does 代爲 (대위) mean?

This is basically a reposting of a comment I made on a post at 一歸源 (Kuiwon), an excellent blog that deals with classical Chinese writings from the perspective of a Korean-American hobbyist who actually knows quite a bit about classical Chinese.

Anyway, a question was raised about Chinese word order being more similar to English word order than to Korean, which is true, but there is some Chinese word order that is more similar to Korean than to English. Relative clauses is one example.

與我同行之人 (여아동행지인) is a relative clause that means "the people who went with me." In Korean and Chinese the head noun (人 - "people") appears at the end of the clause, but in English it appears at the first of the clause. 與我同行 means "with (與) me (我) together (同) go (行)," and 之 essentially just works as a marker, separating the descriptive part of the clause from the head noun.

In addition to relative clauses, sometimes it is easier to translate Chinese using your Korean mind rather than your English mind. For example, recently I came across the combination 代爲 (대위) while translating some Chinese from the 1800s. The sentence was as follows:

()()()()()()()()()()()()(), ()()()().
Last year (客歲) the American (美國) consul (領事官) asked someone (託人) to act on his behalf (代爲) to buy (買) land (地) to build (蓋起) an official residence (公館).”
At first I had a little trouble making sense of the character 爲 using my English mind, feeling that 爲 was unnecessary, but then I searched through Korea’s “Annals of the Joseon Dynasty” and noticed that 代爲 appeared quite often. Then I started using my Korean mind and suddenly it made perfect sense.

I may be wrong, but now I interpret 代爲 as being the Chinese version of the Korean word 대신하여, 代 representing 대신 and 爲 representing 하여. In English, 代 means "on behalf of" and 爲 means "to do," "to make," or "to act." Anyone who has lived in Korea for any length of time has almost certainly heard 대신하여 or 대신해서 used in conversation. It is usually followed by a verb telling exactly what is being done on behalf of the person in question.

After more than 1500 years of reading and writing Chinese, Koreans have probably adopted many styles and expressions from the Chinese. How do you say, for example, 대신하여 in pure Korean? 사람을 바꿔서? Even though 代爲 is not a combination found in Naver’s Chinese character dictionary, the meaning seems pretty obvious if you use your Korean mind.

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