Professor Pedantic 教授的考究學問

The professor awaits your query on academic writing, though in all honesty, he doesn’t have a lot of time for you. He is a tenured full professor and working on yet another magnificent academic tome. Even so, he has graciously consented to entertain your question. Submit it and prepare to be edified.

QUESTION: In writing papers on psychology, I often have to use terminology that is culturally exclusive. An English translation often does not convey the nuances of a Chinese term. How can I best translate smoothly across cultural boundaries without loss of meaning?

Being bilingual is a wonderful asset for a writer or anyone else. The door to the world is opened just a little wider for a person conversant in two languages. However, along with the benefits of knowing two or more languages come the frustrations of translating obscure meanings from one language to another. In conversations, help from a conversation partner and hand gestures generally can bridge the obstacles. But in an academic paper, none of those solutions is available. Therefore, the writer is given the wonderful challenge of communicating the incommunicable.

This is especially the case when a word or phrase defines a cultural concept that is without its equal in a second culture. It is difficult enough when a base word in two languages has different meanings; it is much more difficult when a word in one language has no peer in a second. It is like building a bridge across a chasm with no access point on the other side. Still, engineers overcome such quandaries and so must writers. Once an incompatibility of terms is recognized, an academic writer has no other choice but to expand his capacity as a researcher and wordsmith.

First, the writer should thoroughly research the culturally unique term in question. Then words that definitively describe the term should be written down. These are the building blocks to communicate the term, piece by piece, to the new language. If a concept is particularly abstract, it can be described in terms of something similar and identifiable, using modifiers to explain any distinguishing features. If there is a term in a third language that bridges the gap, use it, again with modifiers as needed. Academic writers, like all writers, must develop their powers of description.


Posted at 2012-11-30 12:57:27

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