Gao, Yun (2010) Changes of Kunming City in Southwest China - Translation and transcription. In: The Culture Role of Architecture, 23-25 June 2010, University of Lincoln. (Unpublished)

Many researchers argue that global consumer culture consumes signs and symbols as well as products and services (Lash and Urry 1994). Others, however, don’t think that there is one global mass culture. Different authors have suggested diversity can be seen as outcome of globalization (Bannerjee and Linstead 2001; Robertson 1992). Howes, for example, use the word ‘creolization’ to describe the processes of ‘recontextualization whereby foreign goods are assigned meanings and uses by the culture of reception’ (King 2004:36, citing Howes 1996:5). Using examples of residential buildings in Kunming city in Southwest China, I will argue that recontextualization and hybridization happen in two different ways through translation and transcription. Some foreign architectural signs and symbols are interpreted and then restated with signs and symbols in the local language, whereas others are mixing within the local urban fabric without interpretation. Very often those transcribed signs and symbols are used as imported brand images. They therefore are not subject to altering or nativizing.

Many researchers recognize that ‘the emergence of a global consumer culture is a homogenizing trend it simultaneously acknowledges and exploits distinct market niches based on culture difference’ (King 2004:36, citing Bannerjee and Linstead 2001). I will argue that local markets also exploits and seek various ways of incorporating different cultural concepts and meanings through the process of ‘translation’ and ‘transcription’ based on their distinct cultural and social environments.

In Saussy’s paper about the media creoles and the invention of the Chinese words for the telephone in the early 20th century, he argues that both translation and transcription are crucial to modernity (Saussy 2008). Saussy suggests that there are means of linguistic and cultural interchange that do not amount to translating, and call this complementary dynamic transcription (ibid.).

One of the English examples for transcription is a borrowed word: Sharawaggi. The word Sharawaggi that was much used in the Architecture Review towards the end of the war had first been translated from the Chinese in 1965 (Farmer 1999: 163-4). According to Farmer, the word had described the deliberate irregularities and contrasts of garden design first, and then was used to describe the pleasing effects to be had from exotic juxtapositions of architectural styles and plant varieties in the eighteenth century. However, the word was thought to be too esoteric and scholarly for discussing widely the role of the picturesque in post-war building construction, and had been eventually replaced by other English words (ibid.).

According to Sussay, by creating a borrowed word, a loan word, we mark the foreign thing with a name that does not come from English, the language in which we are doing the explaining, but rather a name from Chinese was reproduced. In this way, we don’t translate, but mimic (Sussay 2008). Sussay explains the difference between translation and transcription by using the loan word as:

“Loan words are an opposite of translation in the following sense: with translation, interpretation always precedes the restatement; but with loan words, incorporation occurs without interpretation. Translation works out what the meaning of the foreign text is, then elaborates a corresponding set of meanings that will suitably address the speakers of the target language” (Sussay 2008:4).

In the process of transformation of residency forms in China, there also exist similarly two kinds of processes of incorporating the external signs and symbols: firstly, transcription or importation represents something that has not originally existing in Chinese architectural tradition before; they were imported in their original foreign forms. On the other hand, translation or innovation expresses the meaning in Chinese architecture of something foreign, accepting the Chinese substitute of a foreign concept. These two processes not only reflected on the names of new building styles, but also reflected on the building forms. The discussion of these processes needs to be set into the context of the urban development in China

Microsoft_Word_-_50039120.pdf - Accepted Version

Download (649kB) | Preview


Downloads per month over past year

Add to AnyAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to LinkedinAdd to PinterestAdd to Email