Submitted by Robert Felt on January 17, 2007 - 9:41am.

A Guided Tour of The"Term Debate"

By Robert L. Felt, Publisher Paradigm Publications


What you are about to read contains my personal views along with many dozens of published papers. I've provided links and references so you may check whatever you like but the interpretation of events is my own. Since I have financial interests in the field's publications, it is fair to assume I am biased. Since terminology effects virtually every aspect of transmission -- teaching, training, record-keeping, curriculum, text and test development for example -- it effects virtually everyone's self-interest.

In my view, our participation in the "Term Debate" (perhaps even the term debate itself) began with our (Paradigm Publications') publication of Fundamentals of Chinese Medicine, in 1985. The Fundamentals project began much earlier with the late Paul Zmiewski's idea for an "East Asian Medical Studies Center" (E.A.M.S.C.). The idea was to encourage the publication of articles, books, and research papers that would establish what we thought of as a foundation literature, a library developed from the work of respected Chinese scholars and clinicians. We intended this library to serve as a shared body of knowledge for English-speaking clinicians. We reasoned that since professional fields depend on such a body of knowledge, Chinese medicine would also require a literature that was reliably sourced in Chinese writings. Furthermore, given the extreme rarity of western clinicians with even a modicum of the experience available from Chinese-speaking traditional physicians, we assumed it would likely be at least a generation before the contributions of native English-speaking clinicians would begin a rise to the level of Chinese experts. E.A.M.S.C. was to be one instrument for encouraging that rise.

One of the main values of the library proposed by E.A.M.S.C. was that this level of highly-vetted information could become the knowledge base from which other literature such as student textbooks derives. While elements of every field's knowledge base comes from commercial sources that earn profits for their authors and publishers, a reference literature is not proprietary in the sense that someone controls access to the information itself. For example, western knowledge of anatomy, biochemistry, or physiology belongs to those fields but is accessed and used by other disciplines in science and medicine. You do not need permission from anyone to discuss or write about these foundational matters. Writers are, of course, free to disagree with aspects of a foundation literature, (with their own work sometimes becoming a part thereof). Yet, at this level of shared knowledge content is less about the opinions of particular writers and more about work that has (like Chinese medicine itself) stood the test of time through peer review and broad experience.

In the case of Chinese medicine in East Asia, unlike that of biomedicine in the West, the reference literature includes prominent historical texts. This complicates its representation in modern English because Chinese medical ideas are not freshly minted to the requirements of the current era but are instead the outcomes of long-standing cultural experience. Although this is not an absolute, Chinese medical concepts contain more historical and literary substance than does biomedicine. Thus, Chinese medicine (C.M.) is a particular challenge to translators and teachers because it requires linguistic tools that are available only to those with advanced training. This was clear to E.A.M.S.C.'s initiators from their own experience and education.

In this regard, Nigel Wiseman's linguistic research was unique in that it did not begin with the intent to translate a particular text or prepare a particular compilation as a commercial publication aimed at a known market. Wiseman chose a basic, broadly-used Chinese medical primer (Zhōng Yī Xué Jī Chǔ) to put his analysis of Chinese medical language to a practical test. Because this text contained what a select group of Chinese experts considered the basic, essential clinical concepts, any approach to translation that cannot deal with those concepts (or fails to recognize them) is inadequate by definition. While Wiseman's Ph.D. at Exeter University eventually covered a much broader linguistic territory, he began with his own needs and the needs of those students of C.M. studying in Chinese-speaking clinics.

Today's students often do not realize that at this time the People's Republic of China did not yet offer access to resident C.M. study. Where Taiwan's Normal University offered programs from which resident visa applications would be approved and Taiwan's Chinese medical schools and clinics offered organized ways to study C.M., Taiwan was thus a natural destination for studying C.M. in a Chinese-speaking environment. That experience, particularly trying to keep pace with native Chinese-speakers during hands-on clinical training, is what brought the need for a highly Chinese-centric terminology (what is called "source-oriented") into clear focus. You cannot work in a Chinese-speaking clinic with an abbreviated repertoire of concepts.

Nigel Wiseman was trained at Harriot-Watt University, a prestigious language institute that trains elite linguists for high government and academic institutions. Thus, the task of organizing the development of an English C.M. terminology naturally centered on Nigel. At the time of Fundamentals publication in 1985, the E.A.M.S.C. group that included Nigel Wiseman, Andy Ellis, Ken Boss, and Paul Zmiewski, as well as other Chinese-literate students, had been in both formal and informal clinical training longer than most. Thus, one of the most interesting ironies of the term debate is two fold. First, so-called "non-clinicians" like Wiseman had more rigorous C.M. education than did most westerners who work as clinicians. Second, the role of highly trained and experienced native Chinese like Feng Ye, whose experience virtually no westerner can match, are most often ignored. While this is to be expected, those with a personal presence in the West will always have greater recognition, it is important to understand that the emphasis of source-oriented translation is the ideas of the original authors, not the understanding of the translators.

At this time we we're really not expecting a debate; we actually felt that people would appreciate making this research available.   We were printing a list of some 600 terms in Chinese and English and distributing it to everyone we knew who was involved in Chinese medical translation.  In those days we needed to use a "nine pin printer" with Taiwanese software just to print characters, so it was a very clumsey operation.  Not much came of distributing the list from the clinical field but we did get a lot of advice and support from academics, in particular Paul Unschuld.