Reflected Words: Meaning and Silence in Language and Translation

What role does translation play in philosophy of language? Recent development in the field has drawn parallels between theories of translation and theories of meaning, evident primarily in the work of Davidson and Quine. Communication has often been viewed as an act of translation or interpretation between speakers, particularly by Davidson in later writings. I think it is equally useful to view translation as an act of communication, and this approach is particularly valuable because it leads us to the conclusion that meaning is created through dialectic processes. Although translation studies has recently emerged as a new and promising academic field, it usually separates philosophical analysis from literary criticism. Quine’s work is typical of the philosophical approach, which concerns itself with hypothetical translation situations. What is of importance in these cases is the general process of translation, separate from any specific language. Quine’s radical translation thought experiment involves an imagined language of which we had no “prior understanding.” Davidson considers this situation as well, but does not restrict himself to it. He is also interested in the actual problems of interpretation that occur between speakers, even if they are speakers of the same language. However, neither Quine nor Davidson deal with actual translation techniques for literary works, which are usually discussed only within the context of literary criticism. It is my contention that the philo-sophical significance of literary translation has for the most part been overlooked, and I hope to show that literary translation has something to contribute to the more general discussion of translation and meaning within philosophy of language.
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