Macquarie University
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Recreating the images of Chan Master Huineng: a systemic-functional approach to translations of the Platform sutra

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posted on 2022-03-28, 16:55 authored by Hailing Yu
This research applies systemic functional linguistics (SFL) to the comparison of four English translations of the Platform Sutra (Wong 1930; Heng 1977; Cleary 1998 and Cheng 2011), in the field of descriptive translation studies. The Platform Sutra is an ancient Chan Buddhist text that records the public sermons and personal conversations of the Chan master Huineng (638-713). The focus of the research is on the image of Huineng recreated in each translation, with the concept of 'image' defined as the semantic consequence of patterned lexicogrammatical choices in translating the Platform Sutra. The study specifically answers the following two research questions: 1. To what extent is the image of Huineng represented differently in the translations of the Platform Sutra? What particular image is recreated in each translation and how did the translator achieve this? and, 2. Why is a certain image of Huineng recreated in one translation but not the others? The first question is to be answered by conducting a bottom-up analysis from the level of lexicogrammar to that of semantics; and the second question can only be satisfactorily answered by taking the context into consideration. The methodology of the study integrates quantitative and qualitative analyses, with the analytical tools adopted being SysFan (Wu 2000), SysConc (Wu 2003) and Wmatrix (Rayson 2003). The analyses of the four translations are conducted in the form of journal articles from the perspectives of verbs of saying, personal pronouns, MOOD and MODALITY, multimodality and evaluation, and textual complexity, which are within the ideational, interpersonal and textual metafunctions respectively. Results show that different images of the same Chan master Huineng have been recreated in each translation, which are reflected through the recurrent lexicogrammatical choices in the ideational, interpersonal and textual systems, though the influence of each system varies. Both the recreating of images and the lexicogrammatical choices can be further interpreted by taking the context of translation (Field, Tenor, Mode) into consideration. The significance of the present study lies in both its comprehensive analysis of different translations of the same source text from a systemic functional perspective, and its emphasis on religious texts as an invaluable resource for both SFL and translation studies.


Table of Contents

1. Introduction -- 2. Translation of Chinese Buddhist texts, Huineng, and the Platform sutra -- 3. Same Chan master, different images : the story of Huineng and its translations -- 4. Verbs of saying and images of Huineng -- 5. Personal pronouns and images of Huineng -- 6. MOOD & MODALITY and images of Huineng -- 7. Images of Huineng on book covers and in verbal texts -- 8. Paratextual attitude and the image of Huineng -- 9. Text complexity and images of Huineng -- 10. Conclusion.


Theoretical thesis. Includes bibliographical references

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Linguistics

Department, Centre or School

Department of Linguistics

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Canzhong Wu

Additional Supervisor 1

Zhongwei Song


Copyright Hailing Yu 2017. Copyright disclaimer:




1 online resource (xvi, 242 pages diagrams, graphs, tables)

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