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The Translation Equivalence Delusion

Meaning and Translation

Tomasz P. Krzeszowski

Almost everything that one claims about meaning is likely to be questioned or disputed. Translation studies also abound in numerous controversies. However, there is no doubt that translations entail a transfer of meaning, even if the exact sense of the word "meaning" remains vague. The same applies to the term "translation equivalence". This book is an attempt to cope with conceptual, terminological, theoretical, and practical difficulties resulting from this nebula of issues. Numerous examples of translated legal, religious and artistic texts are provided to substantiate the claim that translation equivalence, except in the most trivial sense of the term, is indeed a delusion. The book is addressed to all those persons who are interested in mutual relations between semantics and translation studies.

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Chapter One: What is translation?


1.   Senses of the word ‘translation’ and related words in English and some other languages

Oxford English Dictionary (OED) explicates the first major sense of the word ‘translation’ (marked as I.) as “transference; removal or conveyance from one person, place or condition to another.” It was in this sense that the word ‘translation’ was originally used in ecclesiastical, religious and medical contexts to denote moving a bishop to another see or conveying a living person to heaven. In this sense “His Excellency Bishop X” could be translated from London to Canterbury, while the biblical Enoch, as well as somewhat later, Virgin Mary, were allegedly translated from this world to Paradise upon the expiration of their earthly existence. This is how Enoch’s translation is described in the New Testament: “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God has translated him; for before his translation he has this testimony, that he pleased God” (Hebrews 11,5).108 In this first major sense also a disease could be “translated” from one person or a part of the body to another. Only the second major sense (marked as II.) ‘translation’ is explicated as “The action or process of turning from one language into another” (Oxford English Dictionary).

The original senses in which these words were used are consistent with the etymology of the verb ‘to translate’ and its derivatives, acquired from Latin (possibly via French) in the 11th or...

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