Cultural attitudes change over time. What was once deemed acceptable in a past socio-cultural context may no longer be in a contemporary setting. One medium in which this is evident is translation. Dr Mingming Yuan of Shantou University examines the decision-making of English/Chinese translators and how they reflect the cultural attitudes of their societies. She focuses on three different translations of Peter Pan, as well as exploring culture preservation through translation in the city of Shantou, and translational creativity in online discourse.
It is through language that we obtain our cultural worldview; through language, we come to understand both the worldly phenomena around us and the abstract concepts that shape our lives. For these reasons, we may argue that language is always political and never more so than in the process of translation. When we read works in translation, we are reading texts that have had important decisions made regarding their socio-cultural meaning. What appears to be second nature to a source-language society may be new and alien to those fluent only in the target language. Therefore, the socio-cultural meaning of a source-language text is at the behest and mercy of the individual translator.
Translations can also change over time. What was once acceptable in a given society may no longer be so and therefore the meaning of a text from one translation to another will reflect wider changes in cultural attitudes during that time. Dr Mingming Yuan of Shantou University explores these ideas, focusing on the translation of texts between English and Chinese.
Cultural attitudes intranslated children’s literature
Dr Yuan analyses the sex-related content in three Chinese translations of JM Barrie’s 1911 novel Peter Pan: Liang Shiqiu’s (1929), Yang Jingyuan’s (1991) and Ren Rongrong’s (2011). Through this process, she makes it apparent that any changes made from the original source text reflect a change in social attitudes, governed by a translation’s intended readership. During the century since Barrie’s novel was first translated into Chinese by Liang, many social and cultural events have taken place that have prompted further changes in state ideology and social environment and, as a result, have altered the necessity of censorship.
“Manipulating the expected linguistic rules of English allows Chinese youth to express their disdain for a worldview which prioritises self-advancement.”
As Peter Pan is a text aimed at both children and adults, its sexual themes are often subtextual, but are evident upon close analytical reading. For example, when Wendy is invited by Peter to Neverland, he says:
“What fun it must be!”
“Yes,” said cunning Peter, “but we are rather lonely. You see we have no female companionship.”
Mingming argues that this notion of ‘female companionship’ reinforces the air of sexual repression that arises from the novel being read as a fantasy of eternal childhood. We as readers are unsure what Wendy’s role will be in Neverland and therefore the tone of sexual anxiety is emphasised. Liang in 1921 translates ‘we have no female companionship’ in an identical way to the original. In his translation, the intended readership is exposed to the same theme of repressed sexual fantasy as the original English readership.
However, in 1991, Yang’s translation attempts to clear up this vague role ascribed to women. She translates ‘we have no female companionship’ to ‘there are no girls to keep us company’. Then, in 2011, Ren’s translation further clarifies this. He instead writes, ‘we have no girlfriend.’ In these later translations, the sexual fantasy is diminished as Wendy’s role on the island is clarified.
The reason for this, Mingming argues, is that censorship laws had taken a more considered stance on sexuality in children’s literature in the time between Liang’s translation (which was not intended for children) and Yang’s and Ren’s. Following reviews of protocol in the 1980s and 1990s, platonic relationships between children were no longer considered harmful to their development as they had been earlier in the century. This is why we read the term ‘girlfriend’ in Ren’s translation, a playful term instead of Barrie’s somewhat ambiguous phrase.
This is but one example provided by Mingming. She also analyses differences in the translations of Tinkerbell’s physical features and Hook’s implied sexual anxiety. As expected, there is far more respect and decorum towards women in Ren’s translation than in Liang’s, as well as less room for sexual fantasy, in accordance with modern attitudes to sexual content.
Mingming explores the way in which a translator makes decisions over whether to preserve the Anglophone culture in a phrase or word, or to adapt the translation to fit with Chinese cultural values and items. For instance, ‘Brussels sprout’ is translated in both Liang’s 1921 and Yang’s 1991 translations to the Chinese term for ‘baby-pea shoot’, whereas in Ren’s 2011 text, we read ‘brassica oleracea’ (the scientific classification for the plant), as well a Chinese semantic marker for ‘vegetables’ in general. Clearly, both Liang and Yang decided to stick with a translation that their readership would understand – a baby pea shoot being more familiar than a Brussels sprout – using traditional Chinese cultural language. Ren’s translation, however, assumes a readership’s familiarity with Anglophone culture, following the introduction of Western restaurants in China. Mingming also suggests that it is now easier to become familiarised with Anglophone culture via the internet, and that Chinese society now regularly consumes Western entertainment as well as Western cuisine.
Linguistic landscapes inShantou, China
While instances such as these suggest a conformity to Anglophone culture in China, Mingming argues that there are also attempts to resist the global cultural tide from the Western world. ‘Linguistic landscapes’ refer to the language of public signs – advertising billboards, private shop signs, road signs, street names, etc. Mingming argues that there is a linguistic function to these signs (to provide information), but also a symbolic function (to reveal power structures and develop local cultural identity). Mingming’s research focuses on the linguistic landscape of Chaoshan, an area in China comprised of two adjoining cities, Chaozhou and Shantou.
Mingming argues that in Chaoshan there is a negotiation between submission and subversion in translation. There is a requirement by law to display Mandarin on public signs, but English is sometimes displayed too, especially on hospitals and other public services. It is on private shop signs where English is more commonly found alongside Mandarin or Chinese, and it is here that the politically resistant act of translation takes place.
While English was once a symbol of social status in China, more recent efforts have been made to subvert this expectation to conform to Anglophone culture. Take for instance, the fact that numerous private shops do not provide a direct translation from Mandarin to English, whereas older, more established modes of translation, such as those on street signs, still do. Instead, establishments such as tea houses and art training centres (e.g. Shenmo Education and Toneba Art Training) attempt to preserve both local and national culture by providing creative translations, rather than direct translations that render the linguistic meaning of Chinese words into English.
In the instance of the Art Training Centre, the name of the centre is dongba, which more or less translates as the English tone (fitting for an establishment of its kind). However, the ba character is added in an effort not to give in to providing a purely English-sounding name, thereby retaining local cultural values. Mingming argues that transliteration such as this results in a hybridisation of English and Chinese, which uses resources from both languages for a creative expression of meaning and identity.
“Mingming explores the way in which a translator makes decisions over whether to preserve the Anglophone culture in a phrase or word.”
Translational creativity inonline discourse
While such resistive attempts are made in the physical world, Mingming argues that more varied attempts are made online, where the role of the individual is made paramount and creative expression is encouraged among many contemporary cultural communities. It is the instant and multitudinous nature of the Internet that allows online users to disseminate language and counterbalance the hegemony of English. This is primarily done by breaking the linguistic rules of English and by using language with a creative mindset to express Chinese culture and challenge modern ideologies.
Take, for instance, the translational creativity of traditional English expressions. Mingming highlights the fact of a growing income inequality in China and the subsequent pressure amongst millennials to succeed. However, she notes that some millennials have embraced a relaxed, laissez-faire subculture that resists social competition and expectations. This subculture (named foxi) and its adherents’ attitude finds its most eloquent expression on Weibo (a popular micro-blogging site in China). In one post, we find the English expression ‘follow your heart’ (written in English). However, the Chinese translation found alongside is a play on words. Phonetically, it seems to match ‘follow your heart’, but the literal translation means ‘to act like a coward’ (an occasional expression of self-deprecation).
Manipulating the expected linguistic rules of English allows Chinese youth to express their disdain for the social pressures of (a historically Western) worldview which prioritises self-advancement. By using English as a cultural resource – combined with postmodern literary techniques such as sarcasm and irony – resistive efforts against the overwhelming tide of Western capitalism in China can be expressed. Most importantly, these efforts appear to be more relevant and arguably more successful than those made in the physical world, such as in the translation of children’s literature and public signage.
Which areas of cultural context might need significant consideration in Chinese-English translation for Western readerships?
I’ve recently read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun, in which a resident robot, Klara, observes and accompanies a dying human child in a dystopian world. The novel dwells on Klara’s estrangement in human society, providing a reading experience not unlike a translation, for translation, too, brings the reader to a culture different from their own. Indeed, many of us read translation for the very experience of novelty and defamiliarization. It is the translator’s task to strike a fine balance between the poetics of defamiliarization and the readability of the text.
- Mingming Yuan. (2020). Ideological struggle and cultural intervention in online discourse. Perspectives, Vol 28 (Issue 4), pp. 625-643. https://doi.org/10.1080/0907676X.2019.1665692
- Mingming Yuan. (2020). Representing Anglophone culture in China. Babel, Vol 66 (Issue 1), pp. 118-141. https://doi.org/10.1075/babel.00135.yua
- Mingming Yuan. (2020). The translation of sex-related content in Peter Pan in China. Translation Studies, Vol 13 (Issue 1), pp. 65-79. https://doi.org/10.1080/14781700.2019.1604256
- Mingming Yuan. (2019). Submission and resistance in the English linguistic landscape of Chaoshan. English Today, Vol 35 (Issue 2), pp. 20-28. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0266078418000214
- Mingming Yuan (2018). Translation, Modernity Acceptability. 3L: Language, Linguistics, Literature, Vol 24 (Issue 3), pp. 72-82.
Dr Mingming Yuan traces shifts in cultural attitudes through English-Chinese translations.
Mingming Yuan is Associate Professor in translation studies at Shantou University. She received her PhD in Translation and Interpreting from Monash University. Her research interests include translation and identity, linguistic landscape in translation and global Englishes.
College of Liberal Arts
243 Daxue Rd, Guangdong
Shantou, P. R. China
Shifts in cultural attitudes toward translation
The culture of each language involved in a translation will determine the creation and interpretation of the meanings. The translator will navigate the gulf between the languages, arriving at the precise meaning by playing with the implicit/explicit relationship of the languages.What are the cultural aspects of translation? ›
Cultural aspects that include in stereotypes, speech levels, pronouns, idioms, even in proverbs are things that can lead difficulties for translators to translate. He or she sometimes should look for the closest meaning in order the translation products can be accepted in the target language culture.How culture became a factor in English translation? ›
Because culture gives birth to language, translation and culture are intimately connected. Meanings in both source and target languages are profoundly affected by their cultural context, especially in business translation.What is cultural reference translation? ›
Cultural references refer to the lexical items that either do not exist in the target culture or deviate in denotation or connotation from lexical equivalents in the target culture. Translating cultural references poses challenges for translators since these references are gaps in specific target culture.What are some cultural problems in translation? ›
Cultural problems in translation arise due to differences between the two languages in expressing identity and lifestyle. Translators will find it difficult to translate abstract or concrete concepts in the source language/culture (SL/C), completely unknown in the target language/culture (TL/C).What are the factors affecting translation? ›
- Difficulty of Project. When the material is complex, technically or the work revolves around translation of marketing material, the complexity in the translation will arise. ...
- Language. ...
- Deadline. ...
- Size. ...
- Complexity. ...
- Personal factors. ...
- Quality. ...
- Cultural factors.
Culture gives language different contexts. The same words passed from one culture to another obtain slightly or radically different meanings. Sometimes those meaning differences represent slight or intense value differences that could be critical in translations.What is the cultural theory of translation? ›
Cultural translation is studied through cultural anthropology, a field of anthropology focused on cultural issues among humans. This discipline questions translation through cultural differences. Indeed, translation studies are not only based on language issues, but also on cultural contexts between people.What is cultural approach translation? ›
The cultural approach or 'cultural turn' (see The turns of Translation Studies*), as it is commonly known, is a theoretical and methodological shift in Translation Stud- ies that gained recognition in the early nineties and is primarily associated with the work of Susan Bassnett, André Lefevere and, later, Lawrence ...How does culture influence language change? ›
Language and culture are dependent upon each other. When events and experiences occur within a culture, language is used to express them. To an outsider, the words that evolved from the cultural experience have no meaning, but to insiders, the words resonate in an oral tradition not unlike storytelling.
Translation can also be difficult because of cultural differences. Words often reflect the culture and the society that use them. Therefore, words that are able to describe very specific things or emotions might now exist in other languages.How does culture affect language acquisition? ›
“If children are given cultural knowledge, immersed in a culturally rich environment, and exposed to culturally basic material, they may learn the second language with more ease because their background knowledge about the second-language culture will make comprehension less difficult,” write Kuo and Lai.What is the relationship of language and culture in translation? ›
The translator renders into another language what the words in the original message mean in their culture. The cultural specifics influence the way the language units are used and understood. Culture finds its expression in the language and through the lan- guage.What are examples of cultural references? ›
Each region of the world has historical events that people in that region are expected to know. For example, when someone says the name, Adolf Hitler, or talks about “The Blitz,” they all know that that person is talking about World War II. These words are examples of common cultural reference points.Is translation a cultural factor? ›
translation is nearly always conducted within a certain cultural environment, and consequently, “translators may be said to operate first and foremost in the interest of the culture into which they are translating” (1995: 12).What are the major barriers in translation? ›
Abstract There are barriers that translation must scale through to be effective, some of which are social and cultural. Social and cultural differences exist between and amongst nations. In most cases too, we find a country having several social/cultural diversities.What are the problem and challenges of translation? ›
Common challenges in translation include knowing about a variety of features such as the language structure which differs between languages. For example, a simple English sentence has a subject, a verb, and an object, such as 'She eats chicken.What are the 5 main external factors affecting language change? ›
environmentalism (Beard, 2004).
- Political Factor. ...
- Technology Factor. ...
- Social Factor. ...
- Foreign Influence Factor.
A professional high-quality translation incorporates several essential factors: firstly, the original text must be accurate and authentic, and ideally has been fully proof-read in the original language. Secondly, the translator must have sufficient time to maintain the accuracy of the message.What is the role of translation and interpretation in our life and culture? ›
Translation is necessary for the spreading new information, knowledge, and ideas across the world. It is absolutely necessary to achieve effective communication between different cultures. In the process of spreading new information, translation is something that can change history.
Most translators and translation scholars are probably familiar with the concept of translation as a major tool used to bridge the gap between different cultures.What is the importance of translation as a cultural and literary practice in contemporary times? ›
Importance of literary translation
It enables people to understand the world. Students are able to understand philosophy, politics and history through the translated works of Sophocles and Homer. Many more readers are able to enjoy new insights into the different ways of life through contemporary translations.
Let's finish our analysis of culture by reviewing them in the context of three theoretical perspectives: functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism. Functionalists view society as a system in which all parts work—or function—together to create society as a whole.What are the two main approaches to translation? ›
He called these two approaches semantic translation and communicative translation respectively. According to Newmark, 'semantic translation attempts to render, as closely as the semantic and syntactic structures of the second language allow, the exact contextual meaning of the original' (1981, p.What are the 4 basic concepts of translation? ›
Outlining of some of his statements will be enough to get his point of view on trans- lation process: 1) the translation must convey the source words, 2) the translation must convey the source ideas, 3) the translation must be read like the original, 4) the translation must be read like a translation, etc.What are the types of cultural approach? ›
Cultural psychology, cross-cultural psychology, and indigenous psychology are three approaches to the psychology of culture.What is the purpose of cultural approach? ›
The Cultural Approach allows students to visualize the "big picture" of historical context. It pushes them to find answers and solve problems on their own with the teacher as the facilitator and not leader.What is cultural translation and adaptation? ›
The following working definitions are useful in considering their distinction: Cultural adaptation: Adapting an existing instrument to measure a phenomenon in a different culture. Linguistic adaptation: Translating an existing instrument to measure a phenomenon in people who speak another languag.How does culture affect language and communication? ›
Culture can influence how we communicate verbally via the words, phrases, metaphors, and culture-specific slang between two or more people. It also affects what topics are deemed appropriate for conversation based on cultural norms/values present within a culture's social environment.How culture affects language and society? ›
The language that we speak influences our cultural identities and our social realities. We internalize norms and rules that help us function in our own culture but that can lead to misunderstanding when used in other cultural contexts. We can adapt to different cultural contexts by purposely changing our communication.
A culture gap is any systematic difference between two cultures which hinders mutual understanding or relations. Such differences include the values, behavior, education, and customs of the respective cultures.What is the relationship of culture in language learning? ›
Culture and language are inextricably linked. You can't understand a culture without first learning a language. A specific language is usually associated with a particular group of people. You interact with the culture of the language's speaker when you communicate in their language.What are three factors that affect language acquisition? ›
- Exposure to the New Language. When learning a new language, the most important factor is exposure. ...
- The Age of the Learner. ...
- The Learner's Native Language. ...
- The Learner's Motivation.
Language, Translation, and Culture
The Importance of Culture in Translation
Blurring the Line between Language and Culture
Language is not only words but also pronunciations, tone, and particular dialects. All of these parts of a language are shaped by culture. Culture, meanwhile, is influenced by shared experiences, environment, and history. Language is created and shaped by the needs of a culture as it changes.Is translation a cultural factor? ›
translation is nearly always conducted within a certain cultural environment, and consequently, “translators may be said to operate first and foremost in the interest of the culture into which they are translating” (1995: 12).How does translation affect cultural exchange? ›
Translating is a converting process that helps people who speak other languages to understand one another. It helps to connect cultures and eradicate the cultural differences that may be present. The translation is important to both language and culture because it enables better communication between two people.How does culture connect to language? ›
The two are intertwined. A particular language usually points out to a specific group of people. When you interact with another language, it means that you are also interacting with the culture that speaks the language. You cannot understand one's culture without accessing its language directly.How does culture influence language change? ›
Language and culture are dependent upon each other. When events and experiences occur within a culture, language is used to express them. To an outsider, the words that evolved from the cultural experience have no meaning, but to insiders, the words resonate in an oral tradition not unlike storytelling.How does cultural factors influence language? ›
Language is inherently cultural, as it reflects these norms and factors in both subtle and explicit ways. A language may develop sayings that reflect cultural norms, slang terminology that reflects cultural trends, or even syntax that reflects cultural beliefs.
Culture can influence how we communicate verbally via the words, phrases, metaphors, and culture-specific slang between two or more people. It also affects what topics are deemed appropriate for conversation based on cultural norms/values present within a culture's social environment.What is the cultural theory of translation? ›
Cultural translation is studied through cultural anthropology, a field of anthropology focused on cultural issues among humans. This discipline questions translation through cultural differences. Indeed, translation studies are not only based on language issues, but also on cultural contexts between people.What are 4 examples of cultural factors? ›
The major elements of culture are material culture, language, aesthetics, education, religion, attitudes and values and social organisation.What are the 4 cultural factors? ›
Many cultural characteristics, and the health states related to them, are associated with education, occupation, income, and social status. These factors influence one's awareness of the world, and whether one will seek improvement or accept things as they are.What is the importance of culture in translation? ›
Culture gives language different contexts. The same words passed from one culture to another obtain slightly or radically different meanings. Sometimes those meaning differences represent slight or intense value differences that could be critical in translations.What are examples of cultural transformations? ›
- Technological innovation and innovation -for instance, the internet connects people across social groups. ...
- Globalization -the integration between nations causes different cultures to copy each other, resulting in a new culture.
In reality, language uses to convey cultural ideas and beliefs. Furthermore, both culture and language allow us to look backward in history. Also, it helps shape our thoughts. Our cultural values influence the way we perceive, talk, and communicate with others.