Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

A Worldview Lost in Translation

A Worldview Lost in Translation
Issues with Translating Ayurvedic Science into a Biomedical Worldview

Georgia Richardson-Melody

Language, thought, and culture are intimately connected. Based on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, language influences one’s thoughts; therefore language also influences perception of reality, or worldview. The worldview associated with a language is understood within that cultural context, I then argue that language translation poses difficulty in preserving the worldview from one language into another. Language users, within the same culture, have a shared understanding of the context for the meaning of their language. The meaning of the Sanskrit language is lost when translated into modern-American English due to differing cultural linguistic formations, and contexts.

Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine, has been preserved in the Sanskrit language, posing unique challenges to proper translation of Ayurvedic science into modern-American English and also the modern construct of Biomedicine in the West. Today in the West, there is a growing interest in using alternative medicines to that of Biomedicine, which in turn is wrapping Ayurveda into a category “under” biomedicine. I feel that this increase in interest, poses challenges to the correct understanding of Ayurveda, due to the tendency of Westerners to try to understand Ayurveda through the existing biomedical construct. This challenges proper translation of Ayurvedic medicine because it does not fit into the Western construct of medicine. I make two arguments for language and issues with translation:

1. Translation of Ayurvedic science into the biomedical worldview is difficult due to contrasting understandings of science.
2. Proper translation of the Ayurvedic texts into modern-American English is difficult due to the complexity of the Sanskrit language where meaning and interpretation are important aspects of the language.

In order to understand how language translations can affect linguistic worldview of science, we must consider that each culture understands science through a shared language. This creates a shared worldview associated with science. Ayurveda is a holistic science, considering the language use and interpretation as important as the other variables of life that Ayurveda takes into consideration. Biomedicine maintains the hegemonic worldview that it is “modern science” with scientific proof for validation, whereas Ayurveda has validation through history. Therefore, when Ayurveda is placed into the biomedical construct, we see conflicting worldviews which challenge proper translation.

Key words: Ayurveda, Sanskrit, English, Translation, Worldview, Sapir-Whorf

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April 23, 2010 - Posted by | abstract

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