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The Challenge of Translating Chinese Medicine

编辑:语际翻译     2009-6-9         转载请注明来自  语际翻译公司 http://www.scientrans.com

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Q. How does one get into something as recherché and specialized as translating Chinese medical texts?
A. I suppose it's what our colleague in Mexico City recently called El Demonio de Traducción. While in England, I had done some play translations for the RSC and became fascinated with the overall problem of putting across one culture in terms of another without sacrificing either one's value system. Just because a line was funny in German or French didn't guarantee it would be in English—a lot of other factors were at work: phonetics and usage of course, but also the totality of values shared by a culture. I started looking for other outcroppings of similar linguistic problems and collided with medicine. What different cultures accept as medical terminology—and even medical treatment—could just turn out to be as arbitrary as what they accept as humor.


Q. But aren't there lots of specialists working in this field—doctors, pharmacologists, anthropologists, sinologists...?
A. There you've hit on it. I don't think there are a lot of people in this field, and those that are involved are indeed specialists: the doctors and pharmacologists, whether Chinese or Western, don't know too much about foreign languages in general, much less the subtleties of translating (and far less still of linguistics), while most sinologists are fairly ignorant about both oriental and western medicine. Anthropologists have a fine overall view but often have a poor eye for clinical details or fail to relate to the other specialists.
Q. Precisely what are the issues in this field as they relate to language and linguistics? Is there really anything new and important here?
A. I think there's something old and important. In their famous hypothesis, Benjamin Lee Whorf and Edward Sapir raised some eyebrows by suggesting that people speaking different languages may be discussing quite different things when they are allegedly talking about the same subject. And Louis Hjelmslev, Hans Jørgen Uldall and others of the Glossematics school actually maintained that linguistics may be logically prior to science, that instead of linguistics being that branch of science which deals with language, science may in fact merely be a branch of linguistics dealing with nature according to linguistically predetermined prejudices, a sort of Procrustean nightmare preset for error. It could just be that both these theories have been lying around like mathematical formulas awaiting a major application to prove their validity, and Chinese Medicine may be that application.
Q. How is translating Chinese Medicine different from other technical translation, say mechanics from German into English or Islamic law into English, or even Oklahoma State law into Arabic?
A. I'd be willing to bet there's both a qualitative and a quantitative difference, though the Arabic examples come closer than the German one. Let me start by telling you a story, and then I'll become more technical. When my wife and I lived in Italy, she did the shopping to help her learn Italian, and she came home complaining she couldn't get certain cuts of meat from the butchers. I told her to concentrate on speaking better Italian, and it would work out. But she still couldn't get the cuts of meat she wanted. Finally, I was forced to go with her to the market place and patiently explain to various butchers in Italian what she wanted. But we still couldn't get it. It doesn't even exist. The Italians cut their meat differently than we do. There are not only different names for the cuts but actually different cuts as well. The whole system is built around it—they feed and breed their cattle differently so as to produce these cuts. So you could argue it's not even the same steer—technically, anatomically, it might just qualify as a different subspecies.
Q. Are you suggesting that the Chinese may be a different species of human beings?
A. Not at all, simply that we have to be aware that in their medical system they slice the human animal differently and use quite different terminology than we do. This drives some western medical people—and others convinced our system must be not merely the best but the only possible one—up the wall. Probably most of the misunderstandings surrounding Chinese Medicine in the West spring from the fact that we are poor linguists, especially here in America.
Q. How do they cut the human animal differently?
  A. In just about every way. The relationships they observe and measure are not the ones we do, the measurements and benchmarks are not the same as ours, their interpretation of such benchmarks will be different from ours, the diagnosis these suggest is not the same, and the treatment and interpretation of a patient's progress can also radically diverge from our own. Yet the whole process is quite logical and consistent, so logical that I am now working on a way to represent Chinese Medicine in terms of computer logic, using AI as a basis. The Chinese language, especially medical Chinese, is in fact similar to certain computer languages in its constant reiteration of If/Then/Else Structures.

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