The Forked Tongue of Chinese-English Translation at MSU (Mandarin-Speaking University?), circa 2015

Sheng-mei Ma


The Michigan State University’s 2014/15 ‘Year of China (The China Experience: An MSU Exploration of Arts and Culture)’ envisaged a variety of cross-cultural events. This article samples the discursive and symbolic contact arising from such ventures through looking specifically at Chinese-English translation in novels and film captions. The coming of the Chinese, both the people and their language and culture, is seen to necessitate code-switching in communication between the guests’ Mandarin and the host society’s English - the lingua franca of globalization. The article argues and demonstrates that such translation is fraught with slippages and occlusion; diametrically opposed narratives are produced according to whether the object or the event is seen from the Sino-centric or U.S.-centric perspective. Despite the good intentions of cultural negotiation to elucidate, linguistic code-switching turns into an encryption, a forked tongue that ‘unspeaks’ what it alleges to translate from or into.

Keywords: translation, code-switching, bilinguality

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University of Sunderland

ISSN 2057-2042 (Print)
ISSN 2057-2050 (Online)



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