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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 Two: Aspects of linguistic meaning

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7.   Semantic relations between sentences and words

7.1   Semantic relations between sentences

Truth-conditional semantics provides a means to define a number of semantic relations between declarative sentences and between separate words. These relations are products of logical theories and ideally fit only analytical sentences which make up formal, artificial languages such as those used in logic. Therefore, they must be treated as a priori formal objects, elements of formal logic (or indeed mathematics), which only partly fit actual semantic relations obtaining in natural languages. This is so because attempting to describe a natural language in mathematical or logical terms is tantamount to applying a well-defined system to ill-defined phenomena. A well-defined system is isolated from real physical situations, contains no moving parts and is static as well as unchanging. (cf. Hockett 1968). According to Hockett, language, like all natural phenomena, is ill-defined and for this reason cannot be completely and exactly characterized by deterministic (rather than probabilistic) systems. A great number of interesting facts, especially those concerning the actual use of language in communication, which constitute ill-defined data, must be left out of account if a well-defined system is applied to such data. What may be described is “merely the best that language can do” (Bloomfield 1933: 512), mathematics being “the ideal use of language (Bloomfield 1933: 29) as well as “the specially accurate form of speech” (Bloomfield 1933: 147).

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