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Translation and Its Metaphors: the (N+1) Wise Men and the Elephant

  • Date Submitted: 08/05/2013 03:09 PM
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Translation and its Metaphors: the (N+1) wise men and the elephant
Nicholas Round
University of Sheffield
This symposium was first planned because several of us involved in the teaching of translation and interpreting at Sheffield had come to see these things as having features in common with a range of other disciplines – some taught or practised by us, others not. We wanted to know whether these perceptions were more widely shared, and whether they were felt to be important. Answers on both counts turned out to be affirmative; they were also gratifyingly diverse. Their diversity does more than echo the variety of linkages posited in the first invitation to this dialogue. It confirms that we have to do with a network of connections of different kinds (which may, locally, be either more or less highly organized) rather than with some single master-pattern and its applications.
By contrast, some of the things that have been said from time to time about translation do seem to envisage it as furnishing just that kind of pattern. George Steiner, following up a chapter-title that invites us to consider “Understanding as Translation”, informs us that “Human communication equals translation” (1975: 47). Octavio Paz insists that “every text… is the translation of another text” (1971:154). Translation, Rosanna Warren writes, “is a model for cognition and survival” (1989: 6). These bold assertions may, of course, be manners of speaking only. Claims that are hardly less sweeping can make better sense in terms of their original, more localized applications. When Theo Hermans asserts that “Our accounts of translation constitute themselves a form of translation” (1999: 65), his possible over-commitment to a metaphor seems relatively apt in its immediate translation-studies context. José Saramago’s declaration that “To write is to translate […] We transfer what we see or feel into a conventional code of symbols” (1997: 85) clearly prioritizes writerly experience over...

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