The Creative Transformation of Languages: From Translation to Hybridity In an Age of Globalization
Byrd McDaniel 马丹龙
In the course of translating globalization to quanqiuhua (全球化) or elephant to daxiang (大象) or anger to shengqi (生气), words are not simply rendered to a new language. The cultural and historical tradition that shapes these words and manifests their meanings bears testament to the complexity and multifaceted uses of these terms. Thus, to translate is not only to attempt to transliterate signifiers, but it is also an attempt to transliterate culture.
For example, if we were to look at the concept of xiao (孝) within The Analects, then we would find statements such as this: “生事之以禮；死葬之以禮，祭之以禮.” This statement comes from a passage in which Mengyi asks about filial piety and the characters represent Confucius’ response: When parents are living, serve them appropriately. When parents die, bury them appropriately. When parents are dead, offer them the proper respects.
This excerpt exemplifies the most simple and straightforward rendering of xiao, which can be very basically summed up by the passage to mean proper treatment—in all stages of life –toward one’s parents. This results in numerous Western scholars translating the term as filial piety.
But there’s really more to it. A closer examination shows that filial piety does not quite fit the part of this Chinese concept. What do we do when Mozi says that disorder is the lack of filial piety between a minister or son and a father or emperor (臣子之不孝君父，所謂亂也)? What do we do when the Dao De Jing says that respect and devotion can only arise after harmonious relationships are no longer (六親不和，有孝慈)? What do we do when the Xiaojing tells us to be a good husband, faithful friend, and a loyal citizen to exhibit xiao? We quickly realize that the term filial piety falls short of describing the pervasive concept of xiao, which seems to lie deep within the fabric of human interaction and social participation for the Chinese. Xiao seems to be a way of acting and a way of thinking about oneself and others in a larger context, a complicated phenomenon that cannot be reduced to simple ideas familial duty or responsibility.
The complexity and difficulty of such translation is not limited to general concepts such as xiao. Physical and concrete things also do not offer an easy translation in many cases. Take the word forest (森林). The characters that compose this term reveal something about its meaning. Sen (森) means either wooded or gloomy, and lin (林)means forestry or wood. Forest, in English, may be (1) an area with numerous trees, (2) an area with numerous and dense objects, (3) a verb for covering something with vegetation, or a proper name. Although a Chinese-speaking person and an English-speaking person use the words forest or senlin, both invariably include a variety of verbal and connotative sensibilities when speaking these terms. With an awareness of the difficulty of translation, it seems that a cultural education becomes imperative for all individuals who seek to translate or speak another language.
As a result of quanqiuhua (globalization), numerous individuals lie at the linguistic crux of cultural exchange. Interestingly, numerous individuals living around the world do not only speak two languages, but they also use a combination of two languages in everyday speech.
For example, in Austin, Texas at the restaurant where I work, I frequently hear Mexican-Americans saying sentences such as, yo no se where she is. Combining the Spanish phrase, yo no se (I don’t know), with the English phrase, where she is, individuals utilize the grammatical structures of multiple languages to express an idea. Most of these speakers lack a complete vocabulary in either English or Spanish, but they find a comfortable medium that pieces together both languages, which is sometimes called Spanglish. Similarly, at my job at a textbook store, I frequently hear Chinese-Americans speaking to one another and saying things such as: Wo meiyou nage receipt, danshi wo you nage e-mail confirmation. Again combining English words, such as receipt and e-mail confirmation, these individuals combine two languages to form the sentence: I don’t have that receipt, but I have the e-mail confirmation.
In light of the intersection of multiple languages and the way in which individuals, who are equipped with multiple languages, may form their own verbal repertoire for expression, it becomes evident that language has become increasingly complex. When individuals combine languages and piece together meanings, they combine a vast historical tradition in a forever-evolving web of meaning and signification. Oddly, the individual who can speak part of multiple languages may be better suited for communication in the modern society than an individual who has a substantial grasp of only one language. What is the use of knowing words such as depone or quixotic if no one else knows their meaning? Thus, an evolution of language seems to be occurring, in which the idea of translation—exchanging one signifier for another in order to describe an object—may eventually be replaced with the idea of synthesis—combining the most useful signifier from a variety of languages to piece together a multi-linguistic meaning. In the words of Alfred North Whitehead, “Human life is driven forward by its dim apprehension of notions too general for its existing language.”
If this is the case, then let us celebrate the creation of new languages, as it may avail more truths about the human condition. And, in this spirit, let us 创建 másjazyky من أجل kuelewa einander.