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"Nontranslatable": Indigenous Concepts in Social Science Research on China

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Few would doubt that literary translation, in addition to transferring language, also deals with the problem of transferring aspects of culture. This is far less obvious with respect to the translation of scientific literature, which is held to use a universally valid and objective set of terms. The humanities and social sciences, however, involve just as many cultural ties as do literary works. This raises the question of how one should deal with terms that do not exist within the conceptual range of the target audience, or with concepts whose claim to universality is questionable. This gives rise to the question of whether indigenous concepts are universal or culturally specific. Finally, one must determine whether the use of indigenous concepts does in fact rule out a cross-cultural comparison. These questions are dealt with in this essay in the context of debates on the indigenization of the Chinese social sciences.

Affiliations: 1: Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Institute of Sociology


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