Shi Xingyu in Yerevan

Shi Xingyu: ‘I Am a Little Bit Armenian!’

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YEREVAN — I first met Shi Xingyu in 2019 at the Yeghishe Charents House-Museum in Yerevan, where she presented her paper, “Charents in Chinese,” at the “Charents and His Time” conference. In fluent Armenian Xingyu presented the Chinese translations from Charents’s poetry to date.

Shi Xingyu studied at Beijing Foreign Studies University from 2013 to 2017, where she received a bachelor’s degree in international economics and trade as well as a bachelor’s in English language and literature. From 2017 to 2020 she studied at the Philology Faculty of Armenian Language and Literature at Yerevan State University, graduating with honor. Before that she took courses at the University of Westminster in UK and Salesian Pontifical University in Italy. Shi Xingyu provides translations from English and Armenian into Chinese.

Dear Xingyu, I assume you already have come to terms with the thought that people hearing your fluent Armenian ask how this interest begin. I am no exception.

Yes, I have answered this question many times. Our university in Beijing is famous for language studies, where more than 90 languages are taught. In my second year at college, we had a chance to learn a new foreign language, and Armenian is on the list. There are mainly three reasons for me to choose Armenian: Firstly, it was the first year that the university opened the Armenian language course, and I wanted to be among the first group who learn it. Secondly, I am always interested in Indo-European languages. Armenia, as a unique branch in the Indo-European language family with its unique alphabet, attracted me immediately. Thirdly, after reading the history of the country, I was so fascinated by its legendary past.

My long-time acquaintances show people coming to Armenia experience different kinds of cultural shocks. How was yours?

I had experienced big cultural shocks in London as it was my first time abroad, but to be honest, I did not face many cultural shocks here in Armenia. Armenia, as a Eurasian country, mixes European and Asian culture together. I have found some common value shared by both Chinese and Armenian people, such as the close family bonds, which also makes me feel close to the Armenians. But I did have difficulties when I started to learn in the Armenian philology faculty, as all the courses were taught in pure Armenian and my Armenian was too poor. I had suffered a lot during that time to get used to the study routine and catch up with my classmates.

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In 2008, a Chinese student in Yerevan, Xanxun Xian, in an interview said that “The Armenians are hospitable, the Armenian language complicated, the drivers cursing, the students lazy.” What are your impressions?

I do not totally agree with my compatriot, especially for the latter part. It seems like a stereotype to me. At least, as I know, some of my local classmates are very hardworking. There are lazy students and hardworking ones everywhere. Therefore, I personally do not agree with him in this sense. However, we do hold some opinions in common.

From my point of view, Armenia is a lovely little country with wonderful history and culture. And in general, Armenian people are lovely, hospitable and brave. Also, as a student who has graduated from the philology faculty, I would like to say that the Armenian language is truly complicated and worth studying. What impresses me is that most Armenians are bilingual or multilingual, which means they are intelligent and smart people.

What did Armenia give you?

It opened the door to a new world for me and changed my life totally. My stay in Armenia gave me a lot of insights. The pace of my life slowed down and I had more time to enjoy it. I was inspired to start writing little poems and even stories. Also, I have made many good friends here, which is also a big treasure for me.

Our two peoples have known each other for centuries, since the time of the Silk Road. Now there is the Confucius center in Yerevan and Chinese language is being taught in couple of Armenian universities. What about teaching Armenian in China?

An Armenian faculty was established at Beijing Foreign Studies University in 2019. There are 14 students now studying in the faculty with the help of two Chinese and one Armenian teacher. Besides, recently a friend who is interested in linguistics is also learning Armenian by himself and organizes a small group of people who are interested in the language. They are now starting to upload some learning materials onto Chinese websites.

Shi Xingyu

It will be interesting to know your opinion as a philologist what the main challenges are for Chinese students studying Armenian?

Chinese and Armenian belong to different language families, which makes the two languages vary in many ways, such as the writing system, phonology, and also the grammar. The first challenge Chinese may face is the alphabet. At the very beginning of my Armenian courses at college, there were more than 20 students. After learning the alphabet, there were fewer than 10 students left. Once I taught my mother Armenian, she managed to write all the letters, but finally gave up when she realized that she could not read the printed ones, as they are different. Besides, Chinese may have problems with the pronunciation of certain letters, as some pronunciations do not exist in Chinese language. Another challenge for Chinese learners is the complicated grammar and the flexible structure of Armenian, for instance, there is no conjugation or declension in Chinese language.

You have translated Charents into Chinese – do you have any other translation plans?

I had great interest in the Armenian epic The Daredevils of Sassoun. In fact, there are already two translations into Chinese, but only a few people know. Both of them were translated from Russian. The old one is great, but in a language which was not widely used in today’s modern Chinese, while the other one is translated in more modern words but is not that good in quality. Also, while translating an epic, many hidden meanings need to be delivered to the readers, so I would like to translate a new version of the epic in Chinese with my knowledge in Armenian philology. However, it seems a super challenge for me, so I am not in a hurry. One Chinese scholar once said: “If you haven’t read enough books and hurry to write one, you are doing harm to the younger generation.” I think it can also be applied in translating, so I have to do my research in Armenian philology to prepare myself for this great task.

Besides, there are no Armenian language textbooks for Chinese learners. I am thinking of writing one. Also, I found what I have learned in the Armenian philology faculty is very interesting, but only available in the Armenian language. Therefore, I am also thinking of translating some academic books of Armenian philology or Armenian literature works into Chinese.

In one of your Facebook status posts, you wrote that you are “a little bit Armenian.” It is very touching to know.

There are few foreigners who speak Armenian, especially Chinese, so when I speak Armenian with local people, they are always very surprised. I remembered once a shop salesman said to me “makoor hay es” (“you are a pure Armenian”) after I talked with him in Armenian. I told this to an Armenian friend, he laughed and said that I was even more Armenian than him, because I learned the language in the Armenian philology faculty and I always used some literal words in spoken language. Also, due to my poor knowledge in Russian, I always use Armenian words as many Armenian just say Russian words instead. There is no deny that living in the country, learning the language and studying the literature have influenced me in many ways and make me more “Armenian” to some extent – “mi kich hay” (“a little bit Armenian”) in my words.

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