Text complexity as an indicator of translational style

A case study


  • Hailing Yu Hunan University
  • Canzhong Wu Macquarie University




text complexity, translational style, systemic functional linguistics, the Platform Sutra


This paper is to explore the applicability of the concept of text complexity within systemic functional linguistics to the analysis of translational stylistics. Text complexity is measured in terms of grammatical intricacy and lexical density. The case study concerns four English translations of the Platform Sutra, which is itself a composite text consisting of the Chan master Huineng's personal narrative, public sermons, ritual instruction and conversations with students. Text complexity of the four translations is analysed both intertextually and intratextually. Intertextually, degrees of text complexity of Huineng's words in different translations are compared; intratextually, the variation of text complexity of Huineng's words in different registers within one translation is investigated. Differences among translations are interpreted in terms of the translating purposes and strategies, as well as the translator's attention to the inherent heterogeneity of the source text.

Author Biographies

Hailing Yu, Hunan University

Hailing Yu is an associate professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and International Studies, Hunan University, China. She obtained her doctoral degree from the Department of Linguistics, Macquarie University, in 2017. Her research interests cover translation studies, systemic functional linguistics, and discourse analysis.

Canzhong Wu, Macquarie University

Canzhong Wu is a senior lecturer in the Department of Linguistics, Macquarie University. He is specialized in translation studies, the development of computational tools for multilingual grammatical reference resources, and systemic functional linguistics.


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How to Cite

Yu, H., & Wu, C. (2019). Text complexity as an indicator of translational style: A case study. Linguistics and the Human Sciences, 13(1-2), 179–200. https://doi.org/10.1558/lhs.35709




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