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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: Delimiting the scope and coping with metalanguage


1.   Meaning, semiotics, semantics, and signs: preliminary description

Meaning has attracted notice of various specialists, such as philosophers, psychologists, and naturally enough linguists. Whatever we do or say may have meaning both for us and for someone else, in some sense of the word ‘meaning’. Even when we do something unintentionally, there is always a way to attribute some meaning to what we have done or what happened to us. Suppose, for example, that you accidentally fall over and break your right arm. This simple accident can be interpreted and understood in an unlimited and unpredictable number of ways, not only by yourself as the direct experiencer of the event but also by all possible witnesses as well as by those who hear about it by means of verbal accounts. For you your fall and the resulting fracture of the arm may mean that you will not be able to do certain things for the next few weeks, that you must be more careful when you walk down the street, that your mother or your wife will be worried, and so on. Also for those who watched the accident it may mean an indefinite number of things, depending on how they interpret what they witnessed. Whatever you or anyone else associates with this accident is part of the meaning of what happened. Generally speaking, whatever happened, in this case falling down and breaking an arm, stands for or represents or means something else. This is what...

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