Review on Transliteration as a Medium for the Diffusion of Chinese Culture | Статья в журнале «Молодой ученый»

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Рубрика: Филология, лингвистика

Опубликовано в Молодой учёный №12 (59) декабрь 2013 г.

Дата публикации: 26.11.2013

Статья просмотрена: 48 раз

Библиографическое описание:

Chen, Qiang. Review on Transliteration as a Medium for the Diffusion of Chinese Culture / Qiang Chen. — Текст : непосредственный // Молодой ученый. — 2013. — № 12 (59). — С. 834-838. — URL: (дата обращения: 26.02.2021).

1 Introduction

With the unveiling of the mascots of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, “Fuwa”, containing Chinese characteristics, reveals completely the diversity of Chinese traditional culture. However, the heated debate about naming question meets no end from then on. Besides, due to the misgiving about the negative effects brought by “dragon”, the most likely candidate─“龙”(Loong) failed to be chosen. For that, the issue about transliteration of Chinese and how to introduce Chinese culture to the outside world was brought up again.

In the 20th century, Chinese translators majored in English-Chinese translation; but Chinese-English translation was seldom done. So the translating experience as well as translating theories could not be integrated. How to translate Chinese culturally-loaded words into English by Chinese native speakers will be an important issue of Chinese translation.

However, a lot of problems will be raised during the process: In what situation is transliteration called upon? For what reasons is it made possible? Should all cultural words be transliterated? How to standardize it with proper methods and principles?

The operation of transliteration is particularly a tough task. If it is properly handled, transliteration will be more possible, and the diffusion of Chinese culture along with the global cultures will be improved.

2 The Necessity and Feasibility of Transliteration

2.1 The Necessity of Transliteration

2.1.1 The Urgent Requirement of the Development of Our Age

Everything in the world is under the criteria of developing. We should look at language, culture, translation with an eye on the course of development. With the increasing exchange and communication between different countries, economic globalization and even cultural globalization become possible and inevitable. If China seeks to play a more important part in the international stage and make more contributions to the mankind, she ought to increase the exchange with other countries.

With the development of society and people’s ability to understand alien culture, we need more vocabulary to correctly express new things and concepts, and also need more proper translations to introduce traditional items. For example, when we found “dragon” is improper for “龙”, a new transliteration “Loong” was put forward.

2.1.2 Cultural Margins and Lexical Gaps Caused by Cultural Discrepancy

“Frequently, where there is cultural focus, there is a translation problem due to the cultural ‘gap’ or ‘distance’ between the source and target language.” [5, p.94]The sharp disparity of politics, economy, religion and belief, value, cultural tradition and customs etc. between Chinese nations and native English-speaking western nations when reflected in language, will arise gaps of lexical expression.

(1) Lexical gaps:The result of analyzing the semantic fields between Chinese and English shows that ‘lexical gaps’ will happen in different lexical levels. Difference of living experience, difference of life value and difference of language and culture will usually be the three reasons for “lexical gaps” [9, p.51].

The lexical gap means cultural information carried by SL words cannot find their equivalence or counterparts in the TL (target language).

(2) Confliction of cultural connotation. The so-called confliction of cultural connotation actually has two aspects: different with each other and contrary to each other. Cultural connotation refers to the meaning attached to the words’ conceptual meaning, including: associative meaning, intensive meaning, emotional meaning and social meaning etc.

For the disparities of social system, natural environment, religion belief, folk customs, thinking and expression habits within every country and each nation, the lexical meaning must bear cultural brands and cultural connotations.

2.1.3 Under-translation and Over-translation Misunderstanding and Wrongly Translating

“Since corresponding SL and TL words do not usually have precisely the same semantic rang (though many do in cognate languages), you may over- or under-translating most of the time, usually the latter.” [5, p.34] So-called over-translation means that the semantic and cultural connotation in SL is smaller than that in TL. As for under-translation, it is a phenomenon that the semantic and cultural connotation in SL is bigger than that in TL. In Chinese-English translation, under-translation is a common case.

If connotations of words, varying from culture to culture, are ignored, serious misunderstanding and wrongly translation may occur in cross-cultural communication and translation. China has some geographical, historical and other cultural features that do not exist in western culture. Thus many Chinese words either as for the conceptual meaning or the associative meaning cannot find translation equivalents in English. Some translations sometimes even mislead the receivers.

2.2 The Feasibility of Transliteration

2.2.1 Particular Pragmatic Functions and Advantages of Transliteration

(1) Particular Pragmatic Functions: “Pragmatics is concerned with the way language is used to communicate rather than with the way language is structured.” [13, p.20] The following is a pragmatic analysis of the transliteration of the Chinese culturally-bounded words by the native speakers:

(a) Preserving the semantic characteristics of Chinese culture.

(b) Show freshness to Chinese culture.

(c) Attract readers’ attention.

(2) Advantages: Though always avoided by most translators, transliteration has its own advantages over other translating methods.

(a) Concise word-formation and unique expression.

(b) This special ideographic form, on one hand, would arise little attached meaning or transferred meaning; on the other hand, could properly preserve and transfer the concepts and cultural connotation of the original without leaving ambiguity to the TL readers.

(c) “English in its development has managed to widen her vocabulary by borrowing words from other languages. Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, Arabic and other languages have all played an active role in this process.” [13, p.101]As an effective channel of importing words, transliteration hold a lower elimination.

(d) Just as the transliteration of many foreign languages enriches Chinese vocabulary, transliteration in English of peculiar Chinese items will certainly enrich English vocabulary.

2.2.2 Theoretical Bases for Transliteration

(1) Borrowing is a concept of linguistics. In the lexical level, borrowing is one of the important parts of the creating process.

Newmark called it “transference” as a translation procedure for transferring a SL word to a TL through “the conversion of different alphabets” [5, P.81–82]. The transferred word was also named “loan word”. The advantages or functions of cultural words, especially when transferred (or borrowed, or transliterated), were listed out by Newmark such as: to sent “local color”, to attract the readers’ attention, to give a sense of “intimacy” between the SL and the readership for sometimes “the sound or the evoked image” of the original appears attractive.

(2) From the point of literal and liberal translation, transliteration certainly belongs to literal one, while in the view of dissimilation and assimilation (foreignization), transliteration is to the former one. Transliteration is an alienative translation on the pronunciation of SL, so that it will always carry a strong foreign flavor.

(3) The concept of “zero translation” put forward by Prof. Qiu Maoru, was introduced to overcome the “unbridgeable differences” between languages, and to safeguard “the general validity of translatability” [17, p.65].

And the “zero translation” is the very means to translate the words of SL without using the existing ones in the TL. It contains two meanings: (a) Do not translate the original words on purpose, (b) Do not use existing TL words to translate the original ones. The second category is to reflect transliteration and transference. Prof. Qiu pointed out that to a deep point, the transliterating or transferring words contain all of the meanings of the SL, and will be most precise translation.

(4) Transliteration is a kind of China English but not Chinglish. In daily communication and writing with English, directly copying of Chinese syntax and lexicon is a common phenomenon. The westerners call this deformed English as “Chinglish” which is out of the formal English standard. However, “China English” as a Standard English, expresses Chinese unique items, contains Chinese characteristics, and its conformational and usage range is far more rich than Chinglish [14, p.300].

3 The Operation of Transliteration

3.1 The Definition of Transliteration’s Range

In the colorful Chinese culture, how to express those peculiar Chinese definitions, particularly peculiar Chinese nouns that as the transliterating form exported into English is an important issue.

(1) Proper Names: proper name is a kind of noun including the names of persons, places, nations, institutions, organizations, conferences, presses, works, trademarks, companies, titles for government officials etc. e.g. Mao Tse-Dong (Mao Zedong, 毛泽东), Guangming Daily (《光明日报》).

(2) Unique Chinese Items: Some nouns, based on Chinese history, geography, politics, religion and other cultural features, no matter translated literarily or liberally, usually cannot display their points to the native English speakers who have little knowledge about Chinese culture. Thus many Chinese words referring to these culture-specific features convey conceptual meaning and (or) associative meaning that does not exist in English culture.

(a) Unique Chinese abstract ideas: Yue Feng mentioned in his thesis (A Tentative Cultural Research on Transliteration as a Medium for Chinese Traditional Culture) that “Chinese traditional culture come down in one continuous line”. The practical (applicant) range of transliteration is radiated from yin and yang (yin and yang represent two opposite but non-antagononistic and mutually transformable sides in human society nature.) as well as from wuxing (the five elements: metal, wood, water, fire and earth). They are including terms that “absence in nature” in the western culture, such as: traditional Chinese medical science, traditional Chinese medicine, massage, wushu (martial arts), qigong (气功), tiangang (天干) and dizhi (地支), solar terms of Chinese lunar calendar, early philosophy, folk music and xiqu (戏曲) etc.

However, ecology, literature, arts, religion, language, customs, politics should not be ignored when Chinese peculiar items were concerned.

(b) Peculiar national objects: Peculiar national objects may include the material cultural and social cultural things that Chinese people use in daily life. Here list some examples:

1)      Foods: wonton (馄饨) etc.

2)      Clothes and dressing: qipao (mandarin gown,旗袍) etc

3)      Houses: siheyuan (四合院)

4)      Daily necessities: pingfeng (Chinese folding screens,屏风)

(c) Newly sprout things: Newly sprout things are always called as neologisms that are newly coined lexical units or existing lexical units that acquire a new sense.

Nowadays, the main new coinages are brand or trade names, and these are usually transferred unless the product is marked in the TL culture under another name; or the proper name may be replaced by a functional or generic term, if the trade name has no cultural or identifying significance.

3.2 Different Categories of Transliteration

Different kinds of transliteration should be used with different purposes.

(1) Pure transliteration: This is a method of transliteration uttered or spelt out according to its original pronunciation. Neither the meaning of the original word nor the meaning of the target word is taken into consideration. This method gives priority to conciseness.

(2) Transliteration plus annotation: This method always adds notes to a transliterating word, either with sentence or word or phrase. Annotation actually is the literary translation of that word. The form of annotation may be a foot note or an endnote, or may be explanatory words in brackets or directly following. E.g. Mountain Lianhuashan (Lotus-Flower Mountain).

(3) Transliteration following with category word or modifier:We can also classify this method as a part of transliteration plus annotation, because in certain extent category word implies the semantic meaning of the original word. Category word, usually a generic word or an explanatory word, is used to denote which class or group that transliterated word belongs to. This kind of transliteration can not only retain the styles and features of the original words, but also render a certain semantic meaning of them.

(4) Semantic transliteration and semantic half-transliteration:Semantic transliteration, based on transliteration, takes the meanings of the TL words into account and their meanings reflect the original meanings to a certain degree. Semantic half-transliteration means the transliterated word keeps the similar sound to the meaning of the TL words. This method is very much to the former one. The former changes the sounds or syllables of the original a lot, while for this method the sounds are largely the same.The advantage of these two transliterations is to evoke TL receivers’ association with the meaning without a long explaining.

3.3 Some Principles for Standardizing Transliteration

Chinese is a member of the Sino-Tibetan family, while English belongs to the Indo-European family. Besides, different phonetic systems used by Chinese in different parts of China can lead to the contradiction of orthographical system.

How to deal with this situation, here list some principles to standardize transliteration.

(1) Unity principle

The Chinese phonetic (pinyin) system and the Wade phonetic system are two major orthographic systems to transliterate Chinese characters.

Here I try to list some principles for further standardizing transliteration: (a) Adopt Chinese phonetic system instead of Wade phonetic system. (b) Use the pronunciation of Putonghua instead of dialects. (c) according to Modern Chinese: ①the syllables of one word should be written together, different words should be written apart; ② the first letter of nouns and phrases should be capitalized; ③ the first letter or every letter of a title should be capitalized; ④ the tonic marks could be omitted.

(2) Effectiveness principle

The communicative value of the SL should be given priority in translation practice. How to make transliteration readable and acceptable, in other words, to guarantee the effectiveness of this transmission, here requires some principles: (a) follow the target language standards and cultural habits; (b) be faithful to the original, avoid using words with false associative meaning. (c) give consideration to aesthetic feeling and acceptable ability of the TL readers.

(3) Convention

We need to follow this principle of convention: old translation that had been approved and accepted should continue to be used, while the new translations according to current standards are unnecessary. This basically includes the national name of China, people-names, place-names in the regions of Hong Kong, Macaw, Taiwan where Chinese phonetic system is not carried out, and some internationally approved proper names.

(4) Natural selection

In general, new words including transliterating ones, should always cross a transition period from birth to the day been accepted by the mass. This phenomenon was summed up to “self-clean-up”(自洁作用) [15, p.104]. Language has a great vitality and an awareness of self-protection, therefore it could adjust itself automatically. The principle, naming “natural selection and survival of the fittest” in the biosphere circle, also suits for translation (including transliteration) in communication.

4 Interplay between Chinese Culture and Transliteration

4.1 The Impact of Transliteration upon Chinese Culture

The improvement of transliteration rightly answers the call of fulfilling the “cultural margins”. Transliteration has nationality. It directly translates and introduces all the treasures of ancient Chinese culture as well as the newly inventions of modern China. Transliterating words are the accommodation of cultural information with national specifics, the representation of our nation’s special psychological experience and thinking way, and the carrier of our colorful connotation.

As an exportation of Chinese humanism, history and politics to foreign countries, transliteration could enhance our national evidence and pride. To be distinguished from its normal use in transferring meanings and conveying messages, transliteration is not merely a transmitter of different cultures, but also of the truth-a force for progress.

Comparing with the west, Chinese culture is still at a lower position not because of the internal power of itself but of the social, historical situation it embedded in.

In a word, transliteration, on one hand enriches the expression of Chinese and English and opens the traditional and modern Chinese culture to the world; on the other hand improves the diffusion of both languages, enriches the connotation of both cultures, broads something in common, enhances their bilingual translatability and then promotes the unity of cultures.

4.2 The Impact of Chinese Culture upon Transliteration

Since culture changes more quickly than language, language will inevitably undertake new changes under the influence of cultural changing. As an indispensable medium for human communication, every language is a part of culture. China, with an old civilization, has more than five-thousand-year’s splendid culture which is universally acknowledged as the oldest continuous culture in the world.

The time-honored and colorful Chinese culture attracts more and more foreigners to get to know china, which makes transliteration even more possible. The influence of culture, to a great extent, depends on the degree of material civilization. However, Chinese culture goes back to the ancient time, and has a strong vitality, so that a great impact of it on the western culture is inevitable.

Transliteration is a reflection of the unity of the Chinese culture with the world cultures. Meanwhile, the unity of cultures would improve the language diffusion between the east and the west, and then make transliteration more acceptable.

5 Conclusion

It is generally believed that transliteration could be used only when other alternatives at the translator’s disposal have been exhausted due to the lack of lexical equivalence in the target language, and that it is an unexpected choice. However, through analyzing the situation, operation of the transliteration and its interaction with Chinese culture, we can see that transliteration, as an outcome of intercultural exchange, is not only the necessary tool to overcome the language barriers and bridge the cultural, lexical margins, but also an effective method to perfect the interlingua translation for its particular advantages and pragmatic functions. Either “borrowing” in linguistics or “zero translation”, many translating theories provide evidence for the feasibility of transliteration.

The given criteria in this paper try to make transliteration more accurate and scientific, but they are inevitably a one-sided approach in translating practice. The coming research should take great attention to the operation of transliteration for it is the essence of all problems.


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