, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 305-308

Comments on Nigel Wiseman’sA Practical Dictionary of Chinese Medicine (I) —On the “word-for-word” literal approach to translation

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Comments were made on the “word-for-word” literal translation method used by Mr. Nigel Wiseman inA Practical Dictionary of Chinese Medicine. He believes that only literal translation can reflect Chinese medical concepts accurately. The so-called “word-for-word” translation is actually “English-word-for-Chinese-character” translation. First, the authors of the dictionary made a list of Single Characters with English Equivalents, and then they gave each character of the medical term an English equivalent according to the list. Finally, they made some minor modifications to make the rendering grammatically smoother. Many English terms thus produced are confusing. The defect of the word-for-word literal translation stems from the erroneous idea that a single character constitutes the basic element of meaning corresponding to the notion of “word” in English, and the meaning of a disyllabic or polysyllabic Chinese word is the simple addition of the constituent characters. Another big mistake is the negligence of the polysemy of Chinese characters. One or two English equivalents can by no means cover all the various meanings of a single character which is a polysemous monosyllabic word. Various examples were cited from this dictionary to illustrate the mistakes.

The paper was written on the basis of an e-mailing discussion with FANG Ting-yu (Beijing University of Chinese Medicine), LIU Gan-zhong (China-Japan Friendship Hospital), LU Wei-bo (China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine), WANG Kui (World Association of Traditional Chinese Medical Societies), WANG Tai (Medical College, Qinghai University) and ZHANG Qing-rong (Liaoning Traditional Chinese Medical College)