Xiaoying Liang: The Dictionary

Zealous Stories: Animation winner, Xiaoying Liang, is a graphic designer whose work destabalises, stretches and interrogates the boundaries of day-to-day objects created by their dictionary definitions. Xiaoying playfully questions the authority of the dictionary, defining her practice through this project of self-discovery.

Screenshot of The Dictionary, Xiaoying Liang 

Congratulations on winning Zealous Stories: Animation! Your moving image ‘The Dictionary’ interrogates the definitions of everyday objects. What was your inspiration for this project?

 My main sources of inspiration were:

The Treachery of Images, Painting by René Magritte

One and Three Chairs, Installation art by Joseph Kosuth

 The Dictionary 

Your work explores the concepts of prescriptivism and descriptivism in linguistic theory. Can you tell us a more about what this means and how this is demonstrated in your animation?

Prescriptivism believes that language should be used in a certain way, people should follow instructions and rules written in books / the dictionary. Otherwise communication will eventually cease to exist. Descriptivism argues that the dictionary only describes the language in conjunction with how their speakers used it during a certain time period.

In my animation, the dictionary represents ‘authorities’ in languages, and the moving images and narration play with what happens when people actually use the language.

The whole film performs the act of define and redefined.

Preliminary poster sequence, Xiaoying Liang 

Could you give us some insight into your production process? 

It’s my degree show project. The idea originates from the experience of being an international student who is constantly lost in translation. First, I broke down every dictionary definition and began to write a script. Then, I collected elements from magazines and brochures to make collages.

I used photoshop to edit every image in the timeline, frame by frame.

I am interested in the different layers one word could have. I started to research what’s missing in the process of translation, with a set of experiments in iteration. This film is part of that iteration.

The Dictionary 

You tackle some of the complexities of words in your narration. Do you narrate as a sort of introspective recount of your personal thoughts?

Yes, it’s a way of storytelling, it goes with the movement of the objects. It reflects the mechanism of descriptivism.

The dictionary definition of Animation is: the technique of photographing successive drawings or positions of puppets or models to create an illusion of movement when the film is shown as a sequence. – How would you define your practice?

The sequence of images demonstrates the fluid transaction of objects one word represents until it reaches the boundary the definition gives.

Screenshot of Defing Graphic Communication Design, Xiaoying Liang 

Is moving image your preferred method of storytelling? Do you work in any other mediums?

Yes, but not the only method. I work with printed materials as well. Before this film, I experimented with other medium too. For this project, I made a poster before the film when the idea started to take shape. I also made booklets and illustration. They are all sequences of objects and images.

What’s next for you? Are you working on any exciting projects?

I just finished a commercial project which is also a film to define ‘graphic design’ in different languages.

The Dictionary 

Xiaoying Liang’s work, The Dictionary, was selected by industry guest judges from WONKY Films, Animago and Ars Electronica Animation Festival.

Follow Xiaoying on Instagram 



Ellie Isaacs

Community Manager
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