132: Relinquish

A word about “Let It Go.”

I played the (Chinese – not Taiwanese) Mandarin translation for the family last Thanksgiving, and everyone there with a decent command of Mandarin had a good laugh. The chorus, “Let it go,” is translated “隨它吧,” which just sounds wrong to our Taiwanese ears. 隨它吧 is loosely translated “as it likes,” “whatever,” etc etc. The first character is close to “whatever,” the second is a general non-human pronoun (e.g. “it”), and the last character is … literally verbal filling. It has no meaning; it ranks lower than an interjection in the English language. I guess you could say it adds a proper ending to the phrase, which would sound very strange indeed without the last character. But it has no proper translation that I can readily think of. It just ends a lot of declaratory sentences.

The three-word phrase is common enough in China, so my Chinese friend tells me, and can definitely be construed to approximate “Let it go” in English. But he and I agreed that “吧” is awkward as an analogue to “go.” “Let it go” comprises three words easily digestible by your five-year-old, but it does not strike one as a fragment, a linguistic misfire, or lack of ingenuity in songwriting (indeed, the song’s charting speaks for itself). To simulate the awkwardness that I and my family hear in “隨它吧,” imagine if the chorus “Let it go” were replaced by “Whatever.”

Whateverrrrrrr

Whateverrrrrrr

and I’ll rise like the break of dawnnnn

doesn’t really have the same ring, does it? It sounds almost moronic. Stressing the trailing “errrrrrr” makes it sound pretty silly. The runner-up for awkward sound is probably “Okay thennnnn,” though that somewhat offsets the clumsiness into using “Okay” in the lyrics.

I can at least vouch for the chorus of the Taiwanese Mandarin translation. The chosen lyric was “放開手” for most of the song, and later “讓它走” when Elsa gets her big wardrobe change (the last reprise of the chorus). Both of these may loosely translate to “Let it go” in English, but the images they generate in Chinese are startlingly descriptive. The translation’s flexibility is both clever and pleasing. “放開手” is just the verb phrase “放開,” meaning “to release” or “to relinquish,” and the noun “手,” meaning “hand.” The “hand” bit merely qualifies the verb phrase, clarifying that someone (the object of the directive) has a handhold on something. (Naturally, we all know that the speaker addresses herself in the song.) “讓它走” is also easily translated; roughly, “let it leave.” This highlights the translation’s excellence: whereas “放開手” is a directive that says nothing of the object being released, much like what Indy Sr. would have said to Indy Jr. of the Holy Grail, “讓它走” very obviously imbues action into the thing being let go. It’s easy to imagine making the link from turning up your palms in the first few rounds of the chorus to finally seeing something off in the last reprise. (Twice or so, you set them free; “放開手.” The last time, they turn to go; “讓它走.”) They are all more or less “let it go” in English, but the particular phrases in Taiwanese Mandarin are very colorful.

J39M

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