Hardinge Simpole

Rendition Techniques in the Chinese Translation of Three Sanskrit Buddhist Scriptures
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By Chen, Shu-Fen
ISBN 1843820706
SERIES Cambridge Buddhist Institute
Paperback  340 pages
Published February 2004
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In past studies, most scholars did not pay attention to numerous facts such as who translated the Sanskrit Buddhist terms, when the translations were made, where those monks came from, or what dialects they spoke, etc.

In fact, chronology and nationality did play important roles in regard to the translators' choices of different rendition strategies. The three Buddhist Sanskrit scriptures examined in this study are the Diamond Sutra, the Heart Sutra, and the Sukhavati Sutra. Traditional recognized categories are not enough to deal with borrowings from Buddhist Sanskrit texts, and a much wider range of different rendition techniques are employed.

The Chinese terms are classified into four main types, namely, transliteration, translation, hybrid words and inexact renditions. Each main rendition type is further subcategorized into several subtypes. Several important findings are discovered while classifying the translation techniques: Chinese syllable length was used to compensate Sanskrit vowel length in transliteration; a "nominal head" was added to Chinese terms when translating Sanskrit adjectives without a head noun; a borrowed term which has entered the Chinese lexicon can function as a semantic marker; inexact renditions including renditions with added information or deleted information, loose translation and wrong translation are considered a separate rendition technique.

It is found that some translators are similar in rendering the Sanskrit terms based on three factors: first, they followed their precursors' renditions; second, they lived at close periods in history; third, they came from the same regions or countries. It is also found that Xuan-Zang's fourth principle of untranslatability "terms which are well established by precedent" should include not only transliteration, but also translation, hybrid words and inexact renditions. The well-established terms usually refer to the basic concepts in Buddhism, and even lay people are familiar with them. The translation of terms which are peripheral notions in Buddhism was usually not standardized and caused great variation among different translators.

Shu-Fen Chen is currently a member of the International Association of Chinese Linguistics and the Linguistic Society of America. Her research interests include: Middle Chinese phonology, Buddhist esoteric mantras, the translation of Sanskrit Buddhist scriptures and Chinese morphology. A list of her conference papers and publications is as follows: Her other publications include "A Study of Sanskrit Loanwords in Chinese," Tsing-Hua Journal of Chinese Studies, Tsing-Hua University, Hsinchu, Taiwan. "Lexical Translation and Transliteration in the Diamond Sutra," Proceedings of The Tenth North American Conference on Chinese Linguistics, Stanford University, 1998. "Vowel Length in Middle Chinese Based on Buddhist Sanskrit Transliteration," Proceedings of The Eighth North American Conference on Chinese Linguistics, Vol. 2. GSIL (Graduate Students in Linguistics), University of Southern California: 16 - 33, 1996.

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