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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 Four: Translating various kinds of texts

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10.   Translating open texts

A text which is maximally participant (and situation) dependent has to meet two conditions: 1. It actually comes into being during the discourse and 2. It makes direct reference to the producer and the recipient. A text which is maximally participant independent exists, in some recorded and fixed (stable) form regardless of whether or not it becomes part of an interaction during discourse. […] Those texts which are maximally participant dependent are at the same time maximally open, which means that participants are completely free to influence their shapes. On the other hand, those texts which are maximally participant independent are at the same time maximally “closed” in that they do not allow for the potential participants of the discourse of which these texts are elements to become their co-producers. (Part 1:8.5)

If we lay aside various mixed kinds of texts and their translations, differences between translating written texts and oral texts (interperting) are to a large extent contingent on differences between translating closed texts and open texts, respectively. Here we need to take another look on this latter distinction. All kinds of spoken texts, before they somehow get recorded, are open since they come into existence during actual communication events taking place in real time, as it were on-line. The contents of such texts and their linguistic form are molded by (the) participants. Owing to interchangeability, one of the important properties of natural languages, in spoken interactions participant roles...

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