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Wu, Y. Szajnberg, N. Kenny, E. (2020). Confusion of tongues: Chinese/English/German psychoanalytic dialogues. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 101(4):667-684.

(2020). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 101(4):667-684

Confusion of tongues: Chinese/English/German psychoanalytic dialogues

Yikun Wu, Nathan Szajnberg and Edward Kenny

Translation of psychoanalytic texts is notoriously complex, amplified by differences between Western languages/cultures and China. Freud labelled translation “traitorous”. A current challenge is the trend among some professional translators to diminish or eliminate hierarchies of accurate and inaccurate translations. We argue for accurate translation to transmit psychoanalytic concepts in Mandarin Chinese. The English Standard Edition involved unfortunate choices to “Latinize” key Freudian terms; for example, Es, Ich and Überich were rendered as Id, Ego and Supergo, instead of more experience-near common language equivalents in English, “it, I and over I.” Similarly, some recent translations of German and English psychoanalytic terms into Mandarin Chinese have also tended to perpetuate intellectualized distancing from Freud's original vivid words. Here, we focus on seven critical terms for core psychoanalytic concepts: Ich/I, Es/it, Überich/superego, Transference (Übertragung), Countertransference (Gegenübertragung), Psyche/Soul (Psyche/Seele), psychoanalysis and (surprisingly) schizophrenia. We suggest that the currently popular oral-aural translations from English into Mandarin perpetuate distancing and lead to mis-translations that obscure our foundational concepts. We propose alternative Mandarin translations for some terms and discuss the broader cultural challenges involved in transmitting the heart (and soul) of psychoanalysis with Chinese colleagues.

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