Cultural Exchange

To Optimize Language Environment for the Promotion of Dunhuang Culture

Dunhuang culture needs to be passed on via communication with the world in order to become a new impetus for Sino-Western cultural exchange, interaction and integration. There are various approaches to advertising this profound ancient culture, and language is a pivotal way. 

Dunhuang culture, the essence of the ancient Silk Road, consists of multiple factors such as religion, art, science and technology, literature, medicine, agriculture, architecture, and folk-custom. It is a rich lode of history, culture, and Chinese and western philosophy that presents itself in a unique way. Language is an indispensable intermediary between Dunhuang culture and the world. However, problems still exist in the language environment of cultural communication.

To be clear, the language environment of cultural communication refers to the internal and external conditions of a language. Internal conditions include how the language is presented, translated and spread; while the external ones include language awareness, policies, techniques, and human resources. The efficiency, breath and depth of cultural exchange largely depends on this environment. In Dunhuang’s case, the unsatisfactory language environment has somehow limited the publicity of Dunhuang culture despite its historic and modern value shared by both China and the western world.

I.Internal conditions

Language environment during cultural exchange depends on its internal driving mechanism, i.e., the function and effect of environmental factors. To be more specific, the mechanism here is about how language functions during cultural communication, including the sufficiency, propriety and efficacy of statement. The environmental factors concerned mainly contain language conveyor, type and style of discourse, accuracy of expression or translation, etc.

The promotion of Dunhuang culture is hindered by the following shortcomings.

First, media adopted for advertising are scarce. On one hand, media like publications, recordings, videos, and the Internet are not fully used. Dunhuang studies has long been an important cross-border academic discipline, yet several countries in possession of related materials have somehow been inward-looking instead of exchanging with each other. So far, there have not been academic bilingual periodicals, let alone grassroots-friendly bilingual publications. As a result, this study has been more regional than international, and more academic than universal. On the other hand, few foreign languages are adopted in related publications. So far, publications on Dunhuang, which are of small quantity, are mostly translated into English, and only a few of them have French or Japanese versions. Moreover, seldom are artistic works like Fei Tian (‘flying Apsaras’) and Dunhuang translated into foreign languages, not even the world-famous dance dramas Si Lu Hua Yu and Da Meng Dunhuang (literally meaning ‘flowers and rain along the Silk Road’ and ‘the Great Dunhuang Dream’), despite the fact that they have been staged in over 30 countries and regions. Using various media in advertising Dunhuang can reap colorful results. In contrast, the lack of diversity of language media limits the publicity of the culture. The composition of language conveyor determines the language environment, and serves as the foundation for cultural communication. The limitation of language conveyor is the root cause for the short of internal drive.

Second, current phraseology to the outside world is not efficacious. Phraseology refers to the international expressions employed according to contents and target audience, including output of foreign language and translation. One aspect in question is how the phraseology works effectively for cultural factors, which is assessed according to two criteria -- the fidelity of the reproduced cultural factors, and the effectiveness and adaptability. Expression and translation strategies impact the result of cultural communication, while the way and style of discourse determines the presentation and acceptability of cultural factors and thus affects the efficacy of communication. In terms of Dunhuang, the monotony and inefficiency of expression and translation strategies impedes the formation of a multifunctional, multidimensional and consistent system of phraseology. This is why the promotion of Dunhuang culture has been ‘uni-dimensional’.

Thirdly, the accuracy of expression is far from satisfactory. Accuracy of wording is the core of language environment that decides the way and transmission effectiveness of cultural information. The language environment for promoting Dunhuang culture has been compromised due to off-standard or improper use of words in translation or communication in foreign languages. This exerts negative influence on cultural communication.

II.External conditions

The internal drive largely depends on the external environment of the language, which comprises policy, resource, management, etc. First, policy is pivotal in the planning and management of language and the allocation of resource. It exhibits the outlook for cultural communication of the government and social organizations. Without policy, a sound language environment can never be built. Language planning is about choosing proper language conveyors, channels of communication, and foreign languages, and the standardization of language, etc. Second, ‘resource’ refers to foreign language speakers, language-related technologies and conditions. Moreover, research and management institutes in this regard are also an integral part.

Promoting Dunhuang culture remains an arduous task because of incomplete language planning and insufficient language resources, which results in an imperfect system for language-based communication, the lack of language variety, and inconsistency of contents. Meanwhile, there is no sufficient technical support and bilinguals, or efficient language services and dynamic management during the process. One of the key problems lies in the lack the necessary supervision, assessment and management, which leads to improper use of words to describe Dunhuang culture or even misunderstanding. Consequently, the advertising work will not gain expected result while the connotation of Dunhuang culture will be distorted and its spirit polluted.

Another aspect concerned is language awareness, i.e., the social use of foreign languages and awareness of their environment. This awareness can balance the external and internal language environment. To some degree, the above-mentioned problems occur because people’s language awareness is immature and thus make little of language during cultural communication. For a long time, Dunhuang culture has been showcased in such art forms as song and dance, whereas language has seldom been used. Subsequently, this culture has been narrowly defined to be simply about art. However, even the promotion of art requires a comprehensive system of art and language symbols to improve the interaction between cultures. Dunhuang culture consists of profound artistic and cultural philosophies that need language to deepen, complete and advocate.

What’s more, it is though language communication that Dunhuang culture was formed and has been developing ever since. Dunhuang is the result of the communication with foreign cultures such as Han, Uighur, Khotan, Kucha, and ancient Tibet. Therefore, this ‘language complex’ shows the characteristics of various languages. Therefore, not only does language environment serve the promotion of culture, it is also a way of cultural promotion, as well as an indispensible part of cross-cultural communication, interaction and integration. 

The lack of language awareness brings defective language-related policy, planning and management, and hence impairs the internal drive of language environment. In order to promote Dunhuang culture, we need to present the best part of it and create a sound language environment. In term of macro policies, the government should see the whole picture to formulate coordinating and complementary plans, while appointing professional institutes to manage and allocate resources. From a micro perspective, the government should organize professional training programs that cover both language and cultural factors to maintain the internal drive, and establish a supervision and assessment system to guard language from negative impact. To establish a sound language environment for promoting culture requires an internal-external balance and coordination. While factors inside the environment interact with each other to keep the system functions in a healthy way, the internal and external parts integrate to form a multidimensional environmental structure. In this case, not only will culture be promoted more efficiently, language and culture will also interact more and function together. (Original article from Chinese Social Science Today)