Letters are not the building blocks of words—they merely represent the sounds that are, and Chinese characters can do this just as well, if not better.
Roughly 170 years ago, Chinese merchants in Hong Kong invented a system for writing English speech sounds in Chinese characters (morphosyllabic transliteration) still widely employed today to learn English pronunciation and to transcribe foreign words and proper names into Chinese (see Names of the World's Peoples: a Comprehensive Dictionary of Names in Roman-Chinese (世界人名翻译大辞典). While this syllabic method of transcription reaches all the way back to writing on oracle bones, its more widespread use to transcribe English has helped consolidate, disseminate, and maintain pervasive phonotactic rules specific to so-called “China-English” (including systematic deletions, substitutions, additions, and stress-time “syllabification”). In fact, one can argue that the fate Chinese characters and the English language are now deeply intertwined as these phonotactic rules now govern the speech behaviors of more English speakers than there are Americans alive.
In this lecture Dr. Jonathan Stalling will explore several permutations of Chinese-English interlangauges as they lead into his Sinophonic English opera (Yingelishi) before turning to a new work he is calling Mirrored Resonance: The SinoEnglish Rime Tables. In this new project, Stalling draws upon Classical Chinese phonetics to imagine a new digraphic foundation for Chinese-English interlanguages structured within the epistemological framework of traditional rime tables. However, at the center of this new work lies a novel algorithm, which has now transcribed over 130,000 English words into “Sinographic English” along with new 3D digital learning environments created to accurately teach English pronunciation through Chinese characters in new ways.
Jonathan Stalling is an Associate Professor of English specializing in cross-cultural poetics, comparative literature, and translation studies at the University of Oklahoma, where he is the founding editor of Chinese Literature Today magazine and book series and the curator of the Chinese Literature Translation Archive at the University of Oklahoma Library. His books include Poetics of Emptiness (Fordham) (recently published in Chinese as 虚无诗学), Grotto Heaven, Yingelishi(吟歌丽诗), and Lost Wax: Translation through the Void (TinFish early 2015). He is also an editor of The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry: a Critical Edition (Fordham) and the translator of Winter Sun: The Poetry of Shi Zhi (1966-2007) (University of Oklahoma Press).