Re-conceptualizing foreignness the English translation of Chinese calligraphic culture

  • Ge SONG

Student thesis: PhD Thesis (Lingnan)


Foreignness is one primary concern of Translation Studies. Chinese calligraphy, with its unique aesthetic pursuits and cultural underpinnings, presents an unusual case of foreign otherness in relation to the English language. Thus, theories derived from the translation of Chinese calligraphic culture into English can contribute to our existing knowledge of the nature of translation. Despite sporadic endeavors, translation issues related to Chinese calligraphy remain largely under-researched. This thesis constructs a theoretical framework that offers new perspectives on translating foreignness by exploring how the culture of Chinese calligraphy, concretized in the discourses of classical treatises, has been translated into English since the early 20th century. The study of English discourses on Chinese calligraphy, which include linguistic translation, cultural translation, cultural domestication, and statements of facts, reveals a special translational mode that features an interactive and flexible re-contextualization of Chinese calligraphic culture. This study finds that while the traditional practice of translation does not guarantee cross-cultural comprehensibility, the English texts have accommodated the culture of Chinese calligraphy by reconstructing its basics and resorting to visual means of representation. This thesis divides textual manifestations of Chinese calligraphic culture into three parts –– terms, descriptions and metaphors. For terms, I hold that the study of their translations from etymological perspectives implies the possibility of an endless debate on what constitutes a good translation. My study demonstrates that the repeated use of some widely accepted translations is harmless to cultural genuineness and cross-cultural understanding. For descriptive expressions, translation effects diverge from bringing out literal meanings to revealing cultural meanings. Besides, cultural dilution of varying degrees is found in translation. Calligraphic metaphors, which exemplify traditional Chinese worldviews and correlative thinking patterns, are largely unfamiliar to English-speaking readers. My study reveals a re-contextualizing endeavor that revitalizes these metaphors in the Anglo-American context. On the basis of the case study of the English texts on Chinese calligraphy, this thesis proposes a new theoretical framework for re-conceptualizing foreignness. The three components of this framework are bicultural competency, intercultural competency, and cross-cultural attitudes, all gravitating towards the goal of understanding foreignness. In addition, I introduce three levels of foreign knowledge that cover one’s perception of foreignness at different stages of understanding and with different depths. I also propose to expand the meaning of intercultural integration that is a key manifestation of intercultural competency. One salient part of this framework is that I place anthropological and traditional Chinese zhihui approaches under the structure of cross- cultural attitudes. Such a theoretical advancement empowers the explanative mechanism of the framework. Finally, I argue that the representation of foreignness as it is can be accomplished by strategic re-contextualization, and thus meanings lost in one place can be regained somewhere else.
Date of Award2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Translation
SupervisorYifeng SUN (Supervisor) & Tak Hung Leo CHAN (Supervisor)

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