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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 Three: Axiological elements of meaning


10.  Axiological semantics

10.1  Preliminaries

Verificationist and truth-conditional approaches to meaning are concerned with only one of the three classical valuable things, i.e. with “truth”.74 In traditional semantics the remaining two “goodness” and “beauty”, if at all mentioned, perform only a marginal role and are relegated to the poorly defined area of connotations. Still, these axiological aspects of meaning have been extensively dealt with by semanticians, psychologists and philosophers, working outside the structuralist-generative tradition. They have considered them to be elements of emotive meaning, usually as aspects of connotation (see section 9). These emotive aspects or ‘overtones’ (cf. Ullmann (1962)) were only marginally dealt with by linguists working in mainstream semantics. The latter were mainly concerned with denotative aspects of meaning in spite of the fact that as early as the beginning of the twentieth century van Ginneken (1910–1913) compiled a lengthy bibliography of writings on various emotional overtones, embracing such aspects of connotation in the area of figurative speech as colours, sounds, odours, tastes, and many others, in a large number of languages. This bibliography testifies to the important function that these elements perform in natural languages.75

These overtones are strictly connected with ‘values’, which are the central subject matter of axiology. Psycholinguists Osgood, Suci and Tannenbaum (1957), who introduced the term ‘semantic differential’, have shown that values perform a dominant function in the structure of concepts (see also Osgood 1980). Their research revealed that emotions are among the...

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