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Registerial expertise in translation: managing indeterminacy in the Chinese medicine classic Huangdi Neijing

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posted on 2023-09-22, 02:53 authored by Yan Yue

This thesis argues for greater emphasis in translation studies on the linguistic notion of register, specifically in the way that professional experience and training – with their registerial demands – may be a key to semantic decisions forced on a translator by the inevitable vagueries or indeterminacies of establishing a working “equivalence” across languages and cultures, as well as across deep time. The point of departure is the contested issue of who (clinicians vs non-clinicians) are the best or even “ideal” translator in the translation of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Essentially, it is a debate over the required “expertise”. This thesis probes the issue by investigating how the registerial expertise of a translator – in particular, clinical training and experience – can have consequences in managing some of the most complex dimensions of language – the inherent indeterminacies in translating the Huangdi Neijing (henceforth Neijing).

Like other revered classical literatures, the Neijing is an extensive body of TCM texts, a compendium of many authors, themes, and forms of directive, all with practical, but also metaphysical implications. After following many authorities from translation studies and register theory (Ch.s 2, 3 and 4), the thesis presents Halliday’s functional model of language (Ch.5) to map out various forms of indeterminacies, linguistic junctures where all translators are confronted with challenges in making decisions over ambiguities of semantic value.

Through selective case studies in (a) the logical elaborations of texture (Ch.6); (b) the epistemic stance that characterizes translations (Ch.7); and (c) the coherence achieved by the textual tightness of “cohesive harmony” (Ch. 8, after work by Hasan), this thesis has demonstrated, empirically, that registerial expertise is likely to have consistent consequences to translators’ decision-making and ultimately the outcome produced. Such outcomes include factors that are consistent and even measurable: extended elaboration, the discursive authority invoked, and interventions that fill out opaque reference and extend cohesive chains and their cross-chain interactions. The results suggest that the notion of register should be afforded greater value in translation studies – in particular, in translator training and preparation.

As for the “ideal” translator, rather than settling on the best, or “ideal”, it seems important to accept different translations for their different purposes, and readerships. As stated in the Conclusions (Ch.9), the non-clinically trained translators may be more attuned to metaphysical, ethical, and humanistic legacies, all of which are available through their choices and their paratexts – background notes, commentaries, and reflections. One factor can be further stressed: that a functional approach permits translation to be undertaken with greater explicitness as to the challenges and choices involved in what may seem vague, indeterminate, or unresolvable.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Introduction to the thesis -- Chapter 2 Translation complexities: an illustration -- Chapter 3 Translation as re-contextualization in cross-cultural communication -- Chapter 4 Registerial expertise -- Chapter 5 Vagueness as indeterminacy: a systemic functional perspective -- Chapter 6 The role of registerial expertise in ideational choice: logical indeterminacy in the translations of Neijing -- Chapter 7 The role of registerial expertise in interpersonal indeterminacy: tracing translators' voice through epistemic stance in Neijing translation -- Chapter 8 The role of registerial expertise in the texture of Neijing translation: cohesion and coherence -- Chapter 9 Thesis conclusion

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Doctor of Philosophy

Department, Centre or School

Department of Linguistics

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

David Butt

Additional Supervisor 1

Annabelle Lukin

Additional Supervisor 2

Canzhong Wu


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270 pages

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