Kendall’s Question

Throughout Chapter 4, Steiner comments on the challenges of translation and reaching equivalence between the natures of the two languages. He introduces the notion that by attacking translation, one vaguely attacks the essence of language itself. The author rationalizes that no two people share the exact identical meaning for the same term, yet if they do, there is no way to establish this like comprehension. The chapter further discusses that not everything can be translated as a result of potential loss of context. I found this negative portrayal of translation to troubling as I continued throughout the reading. Should we choose to forgo the means of receiving text in our native language simply because we will never be able to achieve an equivalent meaning? Is desire to learn more about other cultures and groups of people not justification for wanting to attempt to translate? How are we to be educated individuals if we do not choose look past our ethnocentric views and obtain even a glimpse into the lives of people different from ourselves?

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 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 (from your predecessors)

  • How might someone find the tertium comparationis between a known and a completely unknown language? Would you still be able to “deverbalize” the source text to emphasize the sense of the meaning that is supposed to be able to be expressed in all languages. Can you really find a sense of what someone is saying? For as we have been saying, every word has a different meaning even if they are considered synonyms. How can you translate into a language that might not have a grammatical structure? You would need to focus on the sense of the meaning, but is that even possible?


  • Pym talks about how belief in the equal values of language was rare in European theorizing before the Renaissance and rise of the printing press. Medieval thinking assumed that some languages were intrinsically better than others. Excuse my loaded question, but do vestiges of that same assumption still exist today?
    And in terms of translation as an enrichment of the target language – again, Pym calls it medieval thinking, I would call it average White American thinking. What do I mean by this?
  • While there are likely cases where there is no way around the structuralist view of translation, in that the world is a cut up of perspectives respective to the culture of any given source language, might there be a way, today, to work toward a sort of collage of language within the original construction of a text or source text? Pym mentions the language hierarchies, at a time prior to the printing press, but I wonder… In a world as technologically advanced as it is now where the printing press is somewhat marginalized by the digital press and at a period in history where global communication and information exchange is constantly occurring should there be a greater cognizant responsibility on the writer’s end, with the source text on behalf of the author’s potential target text? Or even a foreign audience whose second or third language learned is in the source text?
  • Toward the end of the reading, Pym mentions that in the Middle Ages, there was a hierarchy of languages that left the idea of equivalence little room for acceptance among translation theories of the time.  It seemed to me that the idea of superior and inferior languages was simply a rehashing of the idea that older things (in this case, languages) are more “pure” (essentially, confusing something’s age with its value), and that part of the reason for disallowing equivalent words and phrases to “come up” from other languages was to preserve this “purity”. This left me wondering if there were any examples of this phenomenom in our modern society (aside from the example of the french, which we have mentioned already).
  • Pym explains that “Japanese and Chinese…are very open to borrowing when dealing with new “international” subject matter, so that loans and calques become far more frequent and acceptable…”(17). Does a culture that lets “international” words into their language at an incredible rate stand the risk of losing a great deal of their cultural identity? Or perhaps in fact this openness to foreign words represent a deeper set of cultural values and goals? This emphasis on adding “international” language to Chinese appears to be in line with the Chinese priorities of economic progress and entering into the international field as an equal. Are rules of translation in themselves cultural?


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?