Monday, October 26, 2009

Ways of Translation: Part 1, Language as Proposition

Some time back, I blogged to quote a bunch of Aristotle experts (all rhetoricians), who noted that Aristotle's definitions for words are (as Jeffrey Walker put it) "not quite 'Aristotelian'." To be clear, not being quite Aristotelian is not such a good thing for Aristotle.

To be Aristotelian is to be logical. It is to define terms in terms of what A is and what A is not. It is to be syllogistical. It is to bind statements together (or "syn" + "logoi"). It to to begin with the given facts of Nature that any observer can objectively observe and to continue one statement (or "logos") after another until one reaches a proven, determined, indisputable conclusion. It is a construct congruent with Nature. To be logical in this way is to be propositional.

A couple of decades back, I took a Survey of Linguistic Theories course as part of a graduate degree in linguistics. For some balance, two different professors who had co-written the textbook taught the course. It was clear then (and it is clear as revised or newer theories about language and language science are constructed now) that most theoreticians about Language strive (as Aristotle did even in his writings on language) to be Aristotelian. Noam Chomsky's earliest theory of Language, for example, was obviously Aristotelian in its system of binary features. Even the more platonic division between Competence that underlies Performance is a binary. Likewise, the Relevance Theory of Deirdre Wilson and Dan Sperber that some linguists interested in translation are looking to assumes language as propositional (whether explicit or implicit propositions), that the natural essence of language is communication of a message or of information. In translation based on such, therefore, there are metaphors such as "equivalence" whether "literal" or "dynamic" or whether "formal" or "functional"; there are notions such as "source" and "target" and "accuracy." And these metaphors and notions, so named, are binary. The basis for even talking about Language and about Translation is Aristotelian. Language and Translation become the game of Proposition.

The game is like that of the first sower in Mark's translation of Jesus's parable of the sower:

ὃ μὲν ἔπεσεν παρὰ τὴν ὁδόν

"some fell by the way side"

Lest any reader miss that Mark explains (by having Jesus explain to his disciples):

Οὗτοι δέ εἰσιν οἱ παρὰ τὴν ὁδόν, ὅπου σπείρεται ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὅταν ἀκούσωσιν, εὐθέως ἔρχεται ὁ Σατανᾶς καὶ αἴρει τὸν λόγον τὸν ἐσπαρμένον ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις αὐτῶν

"And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts."

This is very much like Aristotle's propositional logic. If a statement is not logical, then it is illogical. If the statement is not true, then it is false. If the statement is unread or unheard, then there is no meaning to be gotten. The proposition is the main thing. The statement really is the only thing.

(and Nancy Mairs chimes in to say,

Which is not women’s language, since women, for a variety of reasons, live in a polymorphic rather than a dimorphic world, a world in which the differentiation of self from other may never completely take place, in which multiple selves may engage multiply with the multiple desires of the creatures in it.)

But, of course, there is more to the story, Mair's and Mark's and Jesus's. There are other ways of considering Language and Translation.

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