A Concise China: An Exploration of Language and Culture
A concise China is an instance of a novel of language. The book tells a story about a female Chinese who came to London to research the English language but unfortunately finds herself in grammatical mishaps and encased in cultural gaffes. She falls in love with an Englishman who is twenty years older than her. She moves in with him, and the man will become more than a lover to her, she becomes a mentor.
The Language Barrier
The author makes use of this form of narrative to deliver a first-hand experience of the misunderstanding that the persona faced when she first settled in London when trying to communicate. The case is seen when she strikes in with her lover, despite his attempts to teach her the English language, she really can’t get it all. She says "I not Chinese, I British" an example of how she was finding it difficulty in communicating and forms broken sentences particularly at the beginning of the novel.. But as the novel progresses she learns the language and she is just able to express herself. Certain words, for example, do have the same meaning but not exactly the same. For instance, fertilize, and Shi Yue Huai Tai have the same meaning however not the same, and when she translates the Chinese word into an English sentence, she loses the meaning of the message she wants to pass to her English lover (Manser and Chu-yuan 98). Another example is with work where the character finds it difficult to understand the difference between mental work and physical work. She explains that in China all forms of work are known as 'scavenge the living.'
The Challenge of Cultural Integration
The author expresses her writing in an ungrammatical way not because she doesn't know proper English but wants to pass the message that even though you might understand another person's language, you will always feel like an alien among them. This is seen when she moved in with her lover, and despite the fact that she understands the English language she really can’t perfect on it (Gilmour 218). The impossibility of perfection is brought up by the poor choice of words, sentence structure and positioning of words in her dialogue with her lover. This makes it hard for them to communicate correctly forcing her boyfriend to convince her to take the European tour alone.
Cultural Disparity and Identity
Through the use of these form of narrative, the author is trying to show the disparity in culture between the Chinese and the British. For example, when her lover serves her quiche when all that she wants to eat is hot dumplings served with fennel and pork she says "...such an ambiguous food..." She continues criticizing the quiche imagining what her parents would say if they were to visit her and they her lover serve them quiche (Guo 66). This form of narration shows that despite her adopting the new language, she would not fully embrace their culture their food for example because they differ from the chines culture.
The author Xiaolu Guo did succeed in bringing out several lesson that a person leaning different language may face in their endeavors. By using this form of narrative, she brings out the misunderstanding that arises due to direct translation. The concept of not entirely fitting in is also brought about mainly spearheaded by disparity in culture of the main character and the society she is trying to fit into.
Gilmour, Rachael. “Living between languages: the politics of translation in Leila Aboulela’s Minaret and Xiaolu Guo’s A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers.” The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 47.2 (2012): 207-227.
Guo, Xiaolu. A concise Chinese-English dictionary for lovers. Anchor, 2008.
Manser, Martin H., and Chu-yuan. Concise English-Chinese, Chinese-English Dictionary. Commercial Press, 2004: 54-231.