Translating anglophobia: Tensions and paradoxes of biliterate performances in Singapore

Tong King Lee

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.

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).

Full-text access is restricted to subscribers. Log in to obtain additional credentials. For subscription information see Subscription & Price. Direct PDF access to this article can be purchased through our e-platform.

[ p. 250 ]References

Berman, Antoine
1985/2004 “La traduction comme épreuve de l’étranger.” Texte 4: 67–81. Trans. Lawrence Venuti as “Translation and the Trials of the Foreign.” In The Translation Studies Reader (Second edn), ed. by Lawrence Venuti, 276–289. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Bhabha, Homi
1994The Location of Culture. London: Routledge. Google Scholar
Bokhorst-Heng, Wendy D.
1999Language Is More Than a Language. Singapore: Centre for Advanced Studies, National University of Singapore.Google Scholar
Booth, Wayne C.
1983The Rhetoric of Fiction (Second edn). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Casanova, Pascale
2005 “Literature as a World.” New Left Review 31: 71–90.Google Scholar
Chan, Leo T.H.
2010Readers, Reading and Reception of Translated Fiction in Chinese: Novel Encounters. Manchester: St. Jerome.Google Scholar
Chen, Rongzhao (ed.)
Xinjiapo dangdai huawen wenxue zuopin xuan. Xiaoshuo shang/ xia juan [An anthology of contemporary Singapore Chinese literature. Fiction; in 2 vols.]. Hong Kong and Singapore: Mingpao Monthly and Youth Book Company.
Dixon, L. Quentin
2009 “Bilingual Education Policy in Singapore: An Analysis of Its Sociohistorical Roots and Current Academic Outcomes.” International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 8 (1): 25–47.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Grutman, Rainier
2006 “Refraction and Recognition: Literary Multilingualism in Translation.” Target 18 (1): 17–47.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2009 “Multilingualism.” In Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies (Second edn), ed. by Mona Baker, and Gabriela Saldanha, 182–185. Abigdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
Hatim, Basil, and Ian Mason
1997The Translator as Communicator. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Ho, Elaine Y.L.
2010 “Chinese English, English Chinese: Biliteracy and Translation.” In Hong Kong Culture: Word and Image, ed. by Kam Louie, 55–73. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.Google Scholar
Hokenson, Jan W., and Marcella Munson
2007The Bilingual Text: History and Theory of Literary Self-translation. Manchester: St. Jerome.Google Scholar
Kachru, Braj B.
1992 “Models in Non-native English.” In The Other Tongue: English Across Cultures (Second edn), ed. by Braj B. Kachru, 48–74. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
Kuo, Pao Kun [Guo Bao Kun]
1995Bianyuan yixiang: Guobaokun xiju zuopinji (1983–1992) [Images at the margins: A collection of Kuo Pao Kun’s plays (1983–1992)]. Singapore: Shibao chubanshe.Google Scholar
Kuo, Pao Kun
2000Images at the Margins: A Collection of Kuo Pao Kun’s Plays. Singapore: Times Media.Google Scholar
Lee, Tong King
2009 “Asymmetry in Translating Heterolingualism: A Singapore Case Study.” Perspectives 17 (1): 63–75.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Lim, Lisa, and Joseph A. Foley
2004 “English in Singapore and Singapore English.” In Singapore English: A Grammatical Description, ed. by Lisa Lim, 1–18. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Meylaerts, Reine
2006 “Literary Heteroglossia in Translation: When the Language of Translation is the Locus of Ideological Struggle.” In Translation Studies at the Interface of Disciplines, ed. by João F. Duarte, Alexandra A. Rosa, and Teresa Seruya, 85–98. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Mezei, Kathy
1998 “Bilingualism and Translation in/of Michèle Lalonde’s Speak White.” The Translator 4 (2): 229–247.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
[ p. 251 ]
Ministry of Education, Singapore
2004Report of the Chinese Language Curriculum and Pedagogy Review Committee. Singapore: Ministry of Education.Google Scholar
Ong, Keng Sen
2000 “Directing Lao Jiu: A Process of Excavation.” In Images at the Margins: A Collection of Kuo Pao Kun’s Plays, 306–315. Singapore: Times Media.Google Scholar
Quah, Sy Ren
2000Shizhong yinzhe/Invisibility. Trans. Sim Pern Yiau Singapore: Ethos Books.Google Scholar
2004 “Form as Ideology: Representing the Multicultural in Singapore Theatre.” In Ask Not: The Necessary Stage in Singapore Theatre, ed. by Tan Chong Kee, and Tisa Ng, 27–42. Singapore: Times Edition.Google Scholar
2006 “Performing Multilingualism in Singapore.” In Between Tongues: Translation and/of/in Performance in Asia, ed. by Jennifer Lindsay, 88–103. Singapore: Singapore University Press.Google Scholar
Rappa, Antonio L., and Lionel Wee
2006Language Policy and Modernity in Southeast Asia: Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. New York: Springer. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Simpson, Andrew
2007 “Singapore.” In Language and National Identity in Asia, ed. by Andrew Simpson, 374–390. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Spolsky, Bernard
2004Language Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
St. André, James (ed.)
2001Droplets/Diandi. Singapore: Department of Chinese Studies, National University of Singapore.Google Scholar
St. André, James
2006a “You Can Never Go Home Again’: Cultural Memory and Identity Formation in the Writing of Southeast Asian Chinese.” Journal of Chinese Overseas 2 (1): 33–55.Google Scholar
2006b “Revealing the Invisible: Heterolingualism in Three Generations of Singaporean Playwrights.” Target 18 (2): 139–161.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Statistics, Singapore
2006General Household Survey 2005, Statistical Release 1: Sociodemographic and Economic Characteristics. Accessed 25 September 2010, http://​www​.singstat​.gov​.sg​/pubn​/popn​/ghsr1​.html.
Tan, Eugene K.B.
2002 “Reconceptualizing Chinese Identity: The Politics of Chineseness in Singapore.” In Ethnic Chinese in Singapore and Malaysia: A Dialogue Between Tradition and Modernity, ed. by Leo Suryadinata, 109–136. Singapore: Times Academic Press.Google Scholar