As a department that is created to promote English as the second official language of Tainan City, the Tainan City Office of English as the Second Official Language (OEASOL) has strived to cultivate an English-speaking environment that minimizes the language barriers for foreigners to explore the local culture. There does not exist, however, a set of unified approaches to translation; OEASOL has always been careful on this matter and consulting with native English speakers in regards to the comprehensible ways of expressing the culture-specific elements of Tainan. For words that do not have a literal equivalent in English, OEASOL has adopted mostly transliterations -- where the original expression is used and annotated with pictures and detailed explanations in English -- to interpret them. Not only does this allow foreign visitors to learn certain phrases in Taiwanese Hokkien or Mandarin but also the unique features of the native culture are highlighted, simultaneously achieving the goals of globalization and preservation of traditional culture.
OEASOL indicates that the temple culture in Tainan reflects the lifestyle of the local community and hence requires a more comprehensive approach in translating, which is often carried out with the assistance of and advice from foreign consultants whose mother language is English. The “borrowing” technique of transliteration, according to them, best delivers the original meaning of words and prevents misinterpretation. Chris Caputo, the former consultant of OEASOL, stated that the temple culture in Tainan is strange yet something that arouses one’s curiosity in the eyes of foreigners. When explaining the prayer rituals in English, the symbolic meanings of the different patterns in which the fortune-telling blocks (often pronounced as “bwei” in Taiwanese Hokkien) land on the floor are best expressed in their native language form, “shing-bwei” (a positive result) and “yin-bwei” (a negative result), and with pictures and English annotations. American translator, Li Lin, also argued that though “shing-bwei” and “yin-bwei” could be directly translated as a simple “yes” or “no,” the cultural characteristics attached to the terms would be lost in translation if they are expressed like this.
Lin further suggested several other examples in which culture-specific words are expressed in their original texts. “Ramen,” for instance, is commonly known as Japanese-style noodles and pronounced as it is; similarly, Indian culture comes to mind without any context when someone mentions “naan.” Translating words in their original phonetic form emphasizes the uniqueness of the native culture and “something that could not be found in other languages.” Lin said. This idea is consistent with the fundamental mission of OEASOL, which is to build a bridge between foreigners and locals through the appropriate usage of an international language.
OEASOL has also discussed with Joshua Samuel, an editor at Lonely Planet, a company dedicated to creating travel guides for various cities in the world, and Robert Dawson, an anchor at International Community Radio Taipei, in regards with the right way to transliterate or translate literally. Both agreed that expressing Taiwanese terms in their original form is perfectly plausible. Samuel stated that even American elders who had never visited temples have been able to understand the usage of divination blocks with the right instructions. They also praised the effort that Tainan City Government has made in shaping the city as a globalized environment, saying they have felt welcome as foreigners living in Tainan.
OEASOL expressed that the English-Friendly Temple project operated by Tainan City Government is a relatively creative program that has received much attention, prompting the office to be more careful in translating and interpreting the phrases in English. OEASOL affirms that all the content is supervised by foreign consultants who are native English speakers. Having seen an increasing interest in local temple culture among foreign visitors, OEASOL is preparing to create online tour guides for temples and historic sites in Tainan in an attempt to introduce the local culture to a greater audience.