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Lecture | LIAS Lunch Talk Series

When Sherlock Holmes Speaks Chinese: Translationese in Chinese Fan Fiction

Wednesday 3 April 2024
LIAS Lunch Talk Series
Matthias de Vrieshof
Matthias de Vrieshof 1-4
2311 BZ Leiden
Vrieshof 3 / 1.04 (Verbarium)


Fan fiction, roughly re-writings of existing texts, is a genre of online literature prevalent both in China and across the globe. This talk examines an understudied component of fan fiction: language. In particular, I focus on a type of language called “translationese, a term used here to refer to a Chinese language style that showcases lexical, syntactic, and more broadly rhetorical traits of foreign (English) language.

Typical traits of translationese include direct use of English phrases, identifiable English habitual expressions in Chinese (such as “for God’s sake”), and syntactic transplants (for example, word order), among others. Offering a special, sometimes unsmooth reading experience, this non-idiomatic style becomes a window to explore how language usage affects the fan fiction narrative. In order to detect translationese, I rely on my intuitions as a native Chinese speaker (yugan in Chinese) and draw on linguistic studies on the Europeanization (Ouhua) of Chinese that has been at play throughout the modern era.

By close reading Chinese fan fiction based on the BBC TV series Sherlock, I will demonstrate how translationese helps to re-create an “English atmosphere, establish the key protagonist (Sherlock Holmes), and develop the fan fiction’s theme. My analysis shows how in the Chinese context, a sophisticated usage of translationese works as testimony of foreign language proficiency and literary cultivation, which enables the fan fiction authors to obtain mainstream transcultural capital through a subcultural practice. I argue that systematic attention to language usage (often confined to the study of canonical texts) can radically deepen our understanding of fan fiction and its engagement with wider cultural contexts.

About the speaker

Ye Jiang is a PhD candidate at Leiden University, and currently works on Chinese transcultural fan fiction. As a participant of Chinese online literature and culture for more than ten years, Ye Jiang’s research interests are in Chinese online literature, comparative literature, and cultural studies, which she approaches by a combination of online ethnography, self-ethnography, and close reading.

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