Translating anglophobia: Tensions and paradoxes of biliterate performances in Singapore

Tong King Lee

Abstract

This article examines problems arising from biliterate performances in English and Chinese in the context of the sociolinguistics of Singapore. The questions asked include: What are the ramifications of translating Chinese literature carrying anglophobic themes into English? How might translation displace anglophobic readings from Chinese literary works? What kind of identity discourse do self-translation practices engender? The article examines three cases of cross-linguistic practice as biliterate modalities in Singapore, with an eye on the identity discourse emanating from the translational space between English and Chinese in each case. In the first case, it is argued that the English translation of a Chinese poem with an anglophobic stance triggers an ironic self-reflexivity on the part of the target text reader and has the potential to exacerbate the cultural anxiety faced by the Chinese-speaking Self in the source text. The second case presents an example where the anglophobic interpretation of a Chinese play can potentially be ‘unread’ through the homogenization of code-switching through translation. In the final case of a self-translating playwright, it is found that English-Chinese and Chinese-English translations establish an asymmetric symbiosis whereby translation creates an interliminal space in which a hybrid identity discourse is negotiated. The three cases illustrate the tensions and paradoxes residing in the translational space between English and Chinese in Singapore, pointing to the problematic of interand cross-cultural communication in the multilingual state.

Keywords:
Table of contents

In March 2011, the Mingpao Monthly of Hong Kong and the Youth Book Company of Singapore jointly published a two-volume anthology of Singapore Chinese fiction written in the post-1980 era. In the introduction to the collection, the chief editor Xi Ni Er, also the incumbent President of the Singapore Writers’ Association, expounds on the prominent themes dealt with by the Chinese authors represented in the collection. These include “[a] persistence in [their] mother-culture, anxiety about education and language policy reform, a sense of loss over transformations in landscape and the resulting fading away of memories, a resonance with and concern about the vicissitudes of everyday life among the common folk” (Chen 2011, vii; my translation).

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