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Lost in Translation

  Lost in Translation
  Photo: Considerations in the Translation of Chinese Medicine

Millions of people in the West utilize traditional Chinese medicine, but only a few schools in the United States that teach Chinese medicine require Chinese-language training. And only a handful of Chinese medical texts have so far been translated into English. Given the complexity of the language and concepts in these texts, there is a need for accurate, high-quality translations, say researchers at UCLA’s Center for East-West Medicine.

Now the center has published a document that includes a detailed discussion of the issues involved in Chinese medical translation. The document is designed to help students, educators, practitioners, researchers, publishers and translators evaluate and digest Chinese medical texts with greater sensitivity and comprehension. “This publication aims to raise awareness among the many stakeholders involved with the translation of Chinese medicine,” says Ka-Kit Hui, MD ’75 (RES ’78, FEL ’79), founder and director of the UCLA center.

The 15-page document, Considerations in the Translation of Chinese Medicine, was developed and written by a UCLA team that included a doctor, an anthropologist, a China scholar and a translator. Authors Sonya Pritzker, a licensed Chinese-medicine practitioner and anthropologist, and Hanmo Zhang, a China scholar, hope the publication will promote communication in the field and play a role in the development of thorough, accurate translations.

The document highlights several important topics in the translation of Chinese medical texts, including the history of Chinese medical translations, which individuals make ideal translators, and other translation-specific issues, such as the delicate balance of focusing translations on the source-document language while considering the language into which it will be translated. The document also addresses issues of technical terminology, period-specific language and style and historical and cultural perspectives. For example, depending on historical circumstances and language use, some translations may be geared toward a Western scientific audience, or, alternately, it may take a more-natural and spiritual tone. The authors note that it is sometimes helpful to include dual translations, such as “windfire eye/acute conjunctivitis,” in order to facilitate a link between traditional Chinese medical terms and biomedical diagnoses.

The final section of the document calls for further discussion and action, specifically in the development of international collaborative efforts geared toward the creation of more rigorous guidelines for the translation of Chinese-medicine texts.

For more, view a copy of Considerations in the Translation of Chinese Medicine.


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