A theoretical account of translation - without a translation theory

Abstract
In this paper I argue that the phenomenon commonly referred to as "translation" can be accounted for naturally within the relevance theory of communication developed by Sperber and Wilson (1986a): there is no need for a distinct general theory of translation. Most kinds of translation can be analysed as varieties of interpretive use. I distinguish direct from indirect translation. Direct translation corresponds to the idea that translation should convey the same meaning as the original. It requires the receptors to familiarise themselves with the context envisaged for the original text. The idea that the meaning of the original can be communicated to any receptor audience, no matter how different their background, is shown to be a misconception based on mistaken assumptions about communication. Indirect translation involves looser degrees of resemblance. I show that direct translation is merely a special case of interpretive use, whereas indirect translation is the general case. In all cases the success of the translation depends on how well it meets the basic criterion for all human communication, which is consistency with the principle of relevance. Thus the different varieties of translation can be accounted for without recourse to typologies of texts, translations, functions or the like.
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