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Context, Logosyllabary, and Multiple Choices. Reflections on 30+ Years of Translating Chinese Buddhist Texts

Paul L. Swanson


This essay presents some ruminations on the challenge of translating Chinese Buddhist texts, based on more than thirty years of working on such a task, and looking forward to developments for future translations. First I will recall some personal guidelines for translation (especially the importance of context). Second, I will then reflect on a few passages and arguments from three books I have read recently on translation and language (in particular the characteristics of the Chinese language) and what it means to “read” Chinese. Third and finally, I will examine a few terse phrases from the Chinese text (the Mohezhiguan) I published recently in a heavily annotated translation to illustrate how a translation proceeds, and to show that more than one correct translation is possible, depending on the annotation (or lack thereof) and the intended audience.


Translation; Chinese; Context; Reading; Logophonetic; Annotation

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