Steiner 4


Steiner’s work makes some interesting points both in favor of translation and against translation. He brings up an interesting concept relating to the life of speech or L’intraducibilita. This means that every speech-act is totally un-repeatable because time has passed. Thus, “to translate is to compound unrepeatability at second and third hand” (p.256). On the other hand, Steiner goes on to say that even in the arguments in favor of translation consist of their own barriers particularly with religion. On page 257 Steiner claims that “only translation has access” to the “more integral discourse…which wait between and behind the lines of the text”. Perhaps we can question whether or not this is really so. Does translation only have the power to access it? Are there absolutely no other ways to attain the desired understanding and meaning? If this is so, how is it possible or, is not truly possible, to completely translate something without losing certain aspects of the meaning its author has intended? It seems Steiner suggests that the true meaning and understanding of a phrase, word, expression, etc. underlies the translation process itself. This idea that Steiner points out almost parallels many semiotic theories which examine the semantic transfer from the original language to the targeted language.

Steiner Chapter 4 Thought Questions

Lawrence Humphrey “distinguished between major and trivial tongues according to history, philosophy, and letters which they record and express” (p. 277-278). He then claims that it is “solely between major languages that the process of translation is truly meaningful” (page 278). His work was with Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. These seem like choices that highlight many of the major biblical and Old World civilizations. However, does he therefore claim that these three languages will remain the major languages throughout time? If language is based on social climate to understand the context of the work and thus to be able to then translate it, how can the major language not change throughout history?

Furthermore, how is translation possible if there is not a true conformity between thought and speech? If the full entity of thought is not completely and exactly captured in speech, we cannot hope to then translate the words without loosing some of the original meaning of the author.

Finally,  we do not know if there is any basic commonality of language, particularly in terms of human processing, and our models of learning and memory are inferred from incomplete knowledge. How then can we have a theory of translation if we do not know how we store, organize, or produce the different languages of an individual’s mind?

Steiner Chapter 4 The History of Translation

Breughel detail
The Tower of Babel, detail, Breughel

Steiner, Chapter 4

Claims of Theory Periods in translation

  • from classical times until 18th century – translation more a version in a new language and not a word for word translation but rather what is the gist of something and then re-express it in one’s own language. What are the assumptions behind such a theory of translation? Dryden, Horace, Cicero
  • Theoretical and hermeneutic inquiry—Translation set within the questions of theories of language and the mind—develops its own vocabulary and method. People writing about the hermeneutics of translation are also practitioners–Schleiermacher, Schlegel, Humboldt.
  • Machine translation – attempts to map relations between formal logic and models of linguistic transfer
  • We are still in the hermeneutic moment, because he claims of the discovery of Benjamin’s paper (1923) which appeals to a universal notion of language, revitalizing the arguments of the ChomskyistsWhat about the realm of World Literature?
  1. 251—Should there be any passage from one tongue to another? Religious and psychological doubts about this—Kabbalah, Kafka, can one utter the knowledge of God in a mortal tongue?

But ironically much of the need to translate has come from Christianity’s need to translate the Gospels. Language should not prevent you from salvation.

Translation also seen as the “intertraffick of the mind”—a language community wants to enrich itself from outside

  1. 262 Not everything can be translated. Theology and gnosis posit an upper limit—not everything can be translated now—there is no unwobbling pivot from which we can view the world and history

Registers of translation—common matter and recreative transfer from one literary philosophic or religious text to another

  1. Literal
  2. “faithful but autonomous restatement” (266)
  3. “imitation, recreation, variation, and interpretive parallel” (266)

Difference between Dolmetschen and Übersetzen

Dolmetschen- refers to interpretation using both literary and contextual views of a text to come up with a translation. Not just translating- interpreting.

Übersetzen- This refers to translation/translators. This focuses on finding word-to-word equivalencies.

Goethe’s three phases of translation

  1. 277  First order of translation acquaints the target culture with the foreign culture in the latter’s own terms. Imperceptible entry of the foreign into our domestic vocabulary—Luther and his stress on the everyday.

– This is done in the hopes that translated text will then translate into the foreigner’s lives.

  • Appropriation through the surrogate: native garb placed on foreign form – could this be a parody?

– This refers to new/translated ideas acting as replacements for old ones- one example being the teaching of Christianity to foreigners in terms of their own religious views.

  • Metamorphosis and entelechy will lead to a perfect identity between original and translation. The translator has to create a tertium datum.

-implies a full understanding of the meaning in a foreign text.

  • Jakobson—interlingual translation is a translation which is infinitely regresses/progressing
  • Transmutation is a recoding, a placing of one sign into another system—systems of signification- allows us to figure out the meaning of words in relation to things other than other words. Uses pictoral representations as a way of gaining more accuracy.
  • Can we theorize about translation? Can we produce models?
  1. 300 In significant measure, different languages are different, inherently creatively counter-proposals to the constraints, to the limiting universals of biological and ecological conditions. They are the instruments of storage and of transmission of legacies of experience and imaginative construction particular to a given community.”

– This addresses the idea that when removed from a native context, certain words are never the same. There are plenty of theories that attempt to reach a conclusion about which approach to translation is best, but if context is lost, meaning is damaged.

Steiner Chapter 4 Questions from your predecessors

  •  On one hand, I can potentially see the demise of words “when words shake off ‘the burden of having to mean’ and will be only themselves, blank and replete as stone.” On the other hand, these blank words can determine our thoughts as we fill in our own meanings around these words.  Realistically speaking, can they really exist in the long run?
  • Steiner speaks of translation being a useful process because of the fourth step of translation, reciprocity. He cites Hegel and Heidegger in arguing that by attempting to clarify the text’s essence, we are in fact enriching the meaning through repeated attempts of understanding. I have two issues with this. First of all, it would only enrich the meaning if you were aware of its original meaning. Thus, if you could only read the language it was translated into, it would make the meaning shallower instead of giving multiple routes of exploration into the text. This could be explained by the fact that he seems to promote a type of translation that can be truer to the heart of the text than the original. “Where it surpasses the original, the real translation infers that the source-text possesses potentialities, elemental reserves as yet unrealized by itself”(160). I also take issue with this answer however. Does this mean that the text takes on a life of symbols and meaning of its own? Is it a reflection of some purer question or answer that can be better refined through translation? With this answer, Steiner really does kill the author.
  • Steiner spends most of page 158 talking about translation as an act of violence, destruction and as he says “infection.” Yet can’t we also see the act of translation as one of creation, as a means of building new links and bridges between languages so that the more we translate the more we connect different cultures?  Rather than fearing that “we may be mastered and made lame by what we have imported” can’t we see ourselves as enriched and more connected to a linguistic system and thereby people different from our own?
  • “As he sets out, the translator must gamble on the coherence, on the symbolic plenitude of the world (p. 7).”  Language, like many other cultural fundamentals has been shaped and guided by the evolutionary “powers that be,” so to speak. Adaptively surviving to best fit the cultural environment, within which it is set or from which it emerged. While the language’s culture has also operated adaptively but in ways best-fitted to the culture’s surrounding ecological and civil environments. How do we as a cultural collective translate our external environments? How as individuals do we do this? It seems a difficult task, for the human self, to not project his or her notions, beliefs or one’s internal understanding–onto external phenomena. Humans have a strong tendency to be human-centric and anthropomorphize. In translation or cross-linguistic understanding, is it dangerous to be culture-centric or even narcissitic in projecting the “we” or the “I” familiar to the source text or of the interpreter’s/translator’s/reader’s language, endemic to his or her cultural habitat? And in regard to this, what do we make of those persons native to polyglot habitats?
  • Steiner says that genuine translation should aim to equalize; it should neither fall short of the original text, nor should it surpass it.   If no such perfect “double” exists, then what is more favorable? Possibly like Schleiermacher, I would argue the latter. However, in talking about enriching the source text via the target language, the notion of hierarchy of languages is back in play.
    Is it really possible to “know better that the author did” in translating a text? What would that involve?
  • Steiner brings up the analogy of translation with code-breaking, of “leaving the shell smashed and the vital layers stripped”.  The idea of translation as code-breaking is an interesting one, partly because it brings up the idea of language as a code.  As we’ve covered this idea a bit before (“Everyone who can understand me can go ahead”), I think it would be more interesting to consider how translation can both decode, and encode, a text.

Pym Discussion Questions

Pym refers to the idea of tertium comparationis, which explains a possible universal understanding for meaning that lies outside of individual languages. Therefore, as Snell-Hornby clarifies, it is assumed by natural equivalence thinkers that all languages posses the ability to be conveyed in a similar manner. However, doesn’t variance in culture imply that this cannot always be true? Pym rationalizes that if translation presents a new concept or way of thought to a culture, how can the introduction of this idea be deemed natural? There is also concern that major cultures feel dominance over the rest of the world in accordance to their belief that the world is a reflection of those civilizations that achieve power. Anthropologist, Stuart Hall, questions the concept of “the West and the Rest” and how this notion came to be. He comments that the European’s discovery and expansion into the New World brought with it the theory that industrialized Europe is what all societies strive to become. This belief then diminished their appreciation for the unique culture that they had encountered. In conclusion, based on which assumptions (if at all) is it fair for one society to determine their language is superior to that of another?

Pym 2 Reading Questions

Taken as a whole, a text has a greater meaning than each individual word, as Pym acknowledges when he talks about text levels. Vinay and Darbeinet’s translation procedures address how to account for all these levels. How can a balance of fidelity to the phonetics, to the lexis, to the phrase, to the sentence, to the semantic function, etc of the source text be attained? Is a translated text equivalent if it cannot completely satisfy all these levels at once? Vinay and Darbeinet state their preference is to shift downwards. Is this preference the same for translating between Asian and European languages since they have a very different structure?

Related to this reading is the questioning of psychologists as to whether we think differently if we are speaking in our native language or a second language. There is much thought on if we “think in a language”- are the signaling pathways of neurons in the brain the same when processing different languages. Professor Faull said that she felt as though she had a different personality when speaking English as opposed to German. Could there be a biological basis to this or is it that she typically only uses a certain language in a particular context, such as in the classroom or at home or with colleagues in academia, where she would talk differently in tone and formality that accounts for this feeling of multiple personalities? Further, would speakers of the same two languages translate a text differently based on if the source text is in their native language or second language? If no, does this mean that there is not a natural equivalent?

Discussion questions from Nina

As a theorist in translation field Pym represents us many other thoughts about it. The chapter starts by defending the equivalence paradigm. And he comes to decision that “preexisting equivalence is based on the historical conditions of print culture and national vernacular languages”.
He touches next questions:
-what should be translation?
-what could be a perfect paradigms for translating?
-what is in general translation theory?
-what means “use theory/paradigm” in this case?
-what do you need for the good/proper translation?
-is there any “ideal” type translating?
-why equivalence is different?
-how we need to translate the text to make it maximally closer to the original?

Pym Questions

Translation is the carrying of a meaning/ idea from one language to another. Because there often times aren’t corresponding words to every two languages, it is important that the same meaning be conveyed by a different expression. In translation studies, there exist two branches of equivalence- formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence. The two differ in that formal equivalence relates to linguistic factors (word-word translation) and cultural factors (sense-sense translation). How does one maintain an equilibrium between both  aspects of linguistic equivalence and cultural equivalence regarding translation?

I was most intrigued by Jakobson’s theory regarding semiotics as it relates to translation studies. Jakobson examines the referential, emotive, conative, phatic, metalingual, and poetic functions as part of the factors of communication. When we examine the functions of language for a certain image, word, or text, we also examine the relationships that operates between the two along with the characteristics of these functions.

One factor I was particularly interested in are the different prosodic effects that arise in the translation from word to word between two languages. For instance, the word “chicken” in American culture signifies chicken as a live animal and chicken as meat/food. In Spanish, the signifier “pollo” signifies chicken as in meat/food while the word “gallita” signifies chicken as in a hen or rooster.

Pym questions

Pym makes the claim that we are always theorizing when we translate: we make subconscious choices on what word is a better fit; whether to foreignize or domesticate; whether to create a dynamic equivalent when there isn’t a natural one; whether to privilege the source text or the target text; how to navigate between the conceptual/cultural grids of the ST and TT.; are we thinking of the movement of meaning in spatial and maybe also temporal terms?

He also claims that all this theorizing doesn’t necessarily mean that we are using a “theory” of translation, but that we are talking within one or another “paradigm”.  The paradigm set forth in this class is one that is firmly rooted in hermeneutics.  Of primary importance are terms like “understanding”, “meaning”, and “equivalence”.


  • a relation of equal value between ST and TT and can be linguistic, stylistic, formal
    • natural equivalence is a priori to the act of translation
    • natural equivalence is non-directional
    • equivalence is an impossibility to those who see language as deeply embedded within the structure of society and culture
    • equivalence paradigm functions at many levels–it can overcome this structural problem by positing that all language systems can point to a referent that is a tertium comparationis; in the same way as metaphor works
  • We can illustrate some of the concepts of equivalence by using online translation machines.  Use Google Translate etc to see what is lost.  How can we break this up into components to see how the translation has occurred?