Linguistic Transformation and Cultural Reconstruction:Contradictions in the Translation of Loanwords in Late Qing



A large amount of loanwords were introduced into Chinese after the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895. YAN Fu’s translations and “Japanese loanword” advocated by LIANG Qichao and WANG Guowei represented two different ways of linguistic reform. Language is a complicated web of significance and when we speak a word, it not only signifies a concept but also classifies category. Therefore, the semantic changes of a single word will cause the reconstruction of the relative elements of the language and culture. The translation of loanwords in late Qing was a cross cultural semantic transformation, which resulted in great changes of the traditional Chinese episteme. In this process, YAN Fu’s translation and the Japanese translation represented two different strategies of cultural reconstruction, but they both encountered the same difficult problem of self-confliction. On the one hand, the “cultural determinism” and the “linguistic determinism” existed contradictorily in YAN Fu’s cultural-linguistic thoughts, especially in his only linguistic work --Yin Wen Han Gu(《英文漢詁》). On the other hand, though “Japanese loanword” was easier to understand than YAN Fu’s translation, the simplification of the translation caused rupture and confusion in the Sino-west cultural transformation so that the positive cultural selection of LIANG Qichao and WANG Guowei turned out to be the passive acceptance. This contradiction was embodied in the arguments on “the Great Harmony” and “the quintessence of Chinese culture” in late Qing and it can also be interpreted as the confliction between “universalism” and “relativism”, “translatability” and “untranslatability”, “globalism” and “localism” in the current cultural context. Key words: Loanwords; Language; Culture; YAN Fu; LIANG Qichao; WANG Guowei

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