Term Chaos is Just Chaos, Part 2

Submitted by Robert Felt on March 21, 2007 - 10:19am.

Part Two: Not Just a Matter of Words

The title of this blog is taken directly from Nigel Wiseman's paper "Translation of Chinese Medical Terms: Not Just a Matter of Words ."[1] I had two reasons to choose this title. First, the Bensky, Blalack, Chace and Mitchell paper entitled "Toward a Working Methodology for Translating Chinese Medicine" contains no actual methodology. Thus, it is important to show an actual working methodology, what it contains and how it is organized. Second, I want you to see that this speech for non-linguists, which has been freely available for nearly seven years, clearly shows that Bensky, et. al. characterize source-oriented translation in a highly prejudicial manner:

. . . the rigid application of the principle of one to one correspondence in translating Chinese terms into English easily oversimplifies Chinese medical ideas and tends to obscure the very interpretive nuances that make individual texts worth reading.[2]

The "Not Just a Matter of Words" paper it is much less detailed than Wiseman's Ph.D. Thesis,[3] which describes his methodology in the much greater detail required by linguists. Nonetheless, it makes it clear that source-oriented translation is by no means "rigid application of one to one correspondence." For Bensky et. al. to present Wiseman's approach as word-for-word, rather than literal and source oriented, they had to ignore Wiseman's actual, publicly-available statements. There is a similar misdirection in Miki Shima's A.A.O.M. Nomenclature paper,[4] where he uses "Language of General Purpose" criteria (how you would speak to a patient) to critique "Language of Special Purpose (professional written language) terms.

When Wiseman is talking about "one-to-one," he is talking about the methodology of translating terms. Bensky, et. al. misdirect their readers by behaving as if this was a methodology for translating texts. The difference is that Wiseman, (along with many professional linguists and translators), works from extensive term lists that help translators learn and recognize terms in text, thus providing consistency of term use and recognition of when a different sense or period-specific interpretation might apply. The creation of term lists requires researching a much larger context than simply paraphrasing a single text, something that greatly enhances the translator's ability to recognize when terms are used in different senses.

The false reduction of source-oriented translation to a principle of one-word-for-one-word translation supported another of the unfortunate misrepresentations at the A.A.O.M. Nomenclature Conference. During the panel portion hua was constantly used as an example of why you cannot translate one-for-one. At every break someone asked me why Nigel stuck to such an unwarranted approach. Of course, it is not Nigel's approach. Not only is it not what he does, it has never been, and the falsity of this assertion is obvious to anyone who has ever bothered to look at the single character glossary of the Practical Dictionary (or any of his translations). Wiseman's translations of hua as "glossy" (tonuge fur), "slippery" (pulse) and "efflux" (uncontrolled flow from the body) has been public for 27 years since the publication of the now out-of-print "Glossary of Chinese Medicine and Acupoints." (It is not like there wasn't time to look it up!) Ironically, in the "Toward a Working Methodology for Translating Chinese Medicine" paper presented at that same conference, hua is used as an example of Wiseman's inability to stick with one-to-one translation in actual text. So, on the one hand we have people falsely criticizing Wiseman for translating one-to-one. On the other hand, he is falsely criticized for being unable to translate one-to-one. Both critiques obscure the issue; both falsify the facts.

The goal of source oriented translation is to maintain a traceable one-to-one relationship between the concepts and facts of a source text with the concepts and facts of its translation. Wiseman refers to the conceptual variance of characters or phrases as "senses," and recognizes them as they are recognized in every dictionary, as multiple definitions. The critical problem is not the tall tales about hua, it is the reduction of source-oriented translation to a principle that it is not.

Nigel's response to the Bensky, et. al. "Working Methodology" paper is available, so I will suggest you read it rather than describe his responses. We can talk about it if people wish. He does an excellent job of detailing the false claims made in that paper. However, in agreeing that you can learn from plurality in translation, his scholarly honesty lead him to miss an important point. The "Working Methodology" paper is like one of those trick questions from the 70's (e.g. "Do you walk to work or beat your dog?). Asking the question limits the answer. The "Can you learn from plurality" question is critical to the Term Chaos Theory. If you cannot learn from plurality, this theory crashes and burns. But directing our attention to learning from plurality is misdirection. That, of course, is why Craig's obfuscation[5] was so unfortunate; it obstructed getting to the point Kevin Ergil was trying to develop. "Learning from polarity" is neither the right question nor a question that is critical for the field. You can learn about gravity by falling off a roof but that does not make physics lectures useless. If our interest is teaching and learning Chinese medicine, we must inquire after the best practices.

The right question for the field is "What is the best way to learn the plural nature of some Chinese medical concepts?" This is the question that Term Chaos proponents must avoid because, if we ask it, we will look toward experience in Asia and the west and discover that dictionaries with multiple definitions are the overwhelming choice. We might also ask educators what role didactic inconsistency plays in education and learn that inconsistency is avoided like the plague, not cherished. In a future post I will examine how poorly Term Chaos fares in relation to how people learn.

Jake Fratkin's inexcusably-inaccurate criticisms have no place in any forum (See: Eric Brand's article, toward the end). If you're going to blame someone for something, you should first make sure they did it. However, again, the biggest problem was the misrepresentation of source-oriented translation as rigidly one-word-to-one-word. This is a huge disservice to anyone trying to understand the crux of the "term debate." I don't know whether this stance is a failure to understand the concepts or something like "negative advertising," but it strongly suggests that these critics have failed to read, or deliberately ignored, what Wiseman has to say.

What those of us promoting the idea that open standards are beneficial to the field object to is not multiple translations for characters used in different senses. What is objectionable is: (1) the decoupling of concepts from their meanings through conflation (combining several ideas into one term), (2) biomedicalization (turning a Chinese medical concept into a biomedical concept in translation) and (3) paraphrase (picking and choosing what ideas to translate based on the translator's choices).


The example I used at the conference (vetted for me by Eric Brand) was spermatorreha, which is both a conflation and a biomedicalization:

Another example of a commonly simplified cluster of traditional diseases is revealed by the use of the term "spermatorrhea." Spermatorrhea is often discussed in English texts as though it represents a specific state of pathology in Chinese medicine. In fact, Chinese medicine recognizes four distinct conditions of irregular seminal discharge. Because of this widespread simplification, few Western practitioners are aware of the applicable disease categories. This lack of knowledge causes many Westerners to speculate that spermatorrhea is not a disease but is instead a polite way of discussing masturbation. Thus, their therapeutic decisions are misdirected.

The four distinct disease categories of involuntary seminal discharge have nothing to do with masturbation, and each category represents distinct pathomechanisms and gradations of severity, requiring widely differing treatment approaches. [ . . .][6]


In the above-noted speech I stated the following:

While the basic Chinese medical concept of water swelling does largely correspond to edema, water swelling is further differentiated into traditional disease categories such as "skin water," and "wind water," each of which have different manifestations and require different treatments. In addition, the Western concept of edema contains pathologies that do not correspond to the general category of water swelling in Chinese medicine. For example, the biomedical condition of toxic edema is not classified as water swelling in Chinese medicine and cannot be treated as such.[7]

Both of these are compound examples that show both biomedicalization and simplification. Neither involves any assertion that every character or character phrase be translated with one and only one word. But both emphasize the necessity of preserving the whole Chinese idea. Please keep in mind that what Wiseman suggests is the use of "Western Medical Correspondences" - links to biomedical parallels - while preserving literal translation of the Chinese notions.

Decoupling concepts from their meanings.

This is, of course, intimately related to biomedicalization and paraphrase. And, all of these problems, including the more technical problems Wiseman describes in his response to the "Working Methodology" paper, are aspects of simplification for a chosen audience. Simplification is, of course, useful in the creation of particular texts for particular audiences, typically laypersons or members of allied fields. However, if we take as a basic principle that while any individual writer or translator is free to decide what in Chinese medicine is useless, and thus not transmit it, no one writer can make that decision for the field. Again, this is the essence of academic freedom, you cannot be denied self-expression but neither my others be denied access to the evidence.   Paraphrase, so-called "free" translation, allows a translator's estimation of uselessness be hidden from the reader. This brings us back to C.O.M.P. A book labeled as a translation that is actually a paraphrase (or simply unlabeled except by its commercial marketing and advertising) denies the writer's peers, and readers, knowledge of the very important fact that an individual's view has been layered over the Chinese text (meaning, in fact, the knowledge of the Chinese authors). Please carefully note this level of subtle misdirection. Huge amounts of what appears in English Chinese medicine is taken from texts that have an authoritative role in the P.R.C. A translator who decides to reduce, alter or change those texts in translation is implicitly asserting their superiority over the Chinese authors.

When an absence of references or the complexity of compilation render the relationship between the source and the translation practically unknowable, the fundamental principle of academic freedom noted in my first post of this series is completely voided:

A fundamental premise of academic freedom is that decisions concerning the quality of scholarship and teaching are to be made by reference to the standards of the academic profession, as interpreted and applied by the community of scholars who are qualified by expertise and training to establish such standards.[8]

In sum, "one-to-one" does not mean word-for-word, but maintenance of a clear relationship between the Chinese source and the translation. What is one-to-one is concept-to-concept and the relationship between the translation and its source.

The first post in this series is here .

The second post in this series is here.

[1] http://www.paradigm-pubs.com/files/files/NotJustWords.pdf

[2] http://www.aaom.info/2006_conf_nomenclature_binder.pdf, page, page 54

[3] http://www.paradigm-pubs.com/sites/www.paradigm-pubs.com/files/u1/ex.pdf

[4] http://www.aaom.info/2006_conf_nomenclature_binder.pdf, page 23.

[5] This was described in an earlier blog, where Craig Mitchell failed to answer Kevin Ergil's

question as to how term chaos would work for students who were not learning Chinese.

[6] http://www.paradigmpubs.com/sites/www.paradigubs.com/files/files/

AAOMPaper.pdf, page 7

[7] Ibid.