Re: Reversible translations

From: Jim Beale (
Date: Sun May 18 1997 - 16:45:55 EDT

At 12:36 AM -0700 5/17/97, kdlitwak wrote:

> Ammo?! Sorry I don't have any ammo, not even a light saber. At
>12:30 AM, in a stinking hot house, huddled over my computer trying toi
>decide where in a paper to refer to an article on Paul's conversion, I
>don't have energy to find anything specific. I do know that J.
>Fitzmeyer and, I think, M. Black, have both dealth with the possible
>Aamaic background of the canonical Gospels. I'm afraid that you'llhave
>to look themup and do some research to get "ammo," but I don't think
>this subject lends itself to shoot outs. Then again, I'm a doctoral
>student and have to nuance things to the piont they almost disappear.
>Every month there are fewer and fewer things I know, so I'm not the
>right person to come to for ammo.

Poor Ken! His great learning is driving him mad!!! :-)

I have a couple of thoughts which will surely display my great
ignorance, and hence my sanity... ;-)

First, and foremost, I want to defend the logical possibility of
reversible translation. There is nothing intrinsically impossible
about the idea. This is predicated on the assumption that the
initial translation can be accurate. On this, Chomsky writes:

   The existence of deep-seated formal universals ... implies
   that all languages are cut to the same pattern, but does
   not imply that there is any point by point correspondence
   between particular languages.
   (_Aspects of the Theory of Syntax_, 30)

The real existence of universals (both formal and conceptual) seems
to me to be a necessary presuppposition for the possibility of any
translation between two languages. From the Christian perspective,
the existence of such universals is grounded in the mind of God,
the Logos, whence cometh language. The existence of many languages,
in conjunction with the ability to understand their grammars, is a
gift from the Lord; another glimpse into the mystery of unity in
diversity. It is another area in which the exquisite harmony of the
One and the Many shine forth the glory of the Trinity.

   The phenomena of the languages of the world appear to be
   highly diverse, but, increasingly, it has been shown that
   over a large and impressive range they can be accounted
   for by the same principles, which yield highly varied
   results as the properties of the lexical items vary from
   language to language.
   (Noam Chomsky, "Language and the Problems of Knowledge," in
    _The Philosophy of Language_, ed. A.P. Martinich, pg. 517)

Granting the existence of a universal grammar, deep structure, and a
sufficient correspondence among languages, translation is certainly
possible. And if translation is possible, which no one here (I don't
think) will deny, it would then seem to be logically untenable to hold
that reverse translation is impossible.

Practically though, unless the one who does the reverse translation
is of the same mind as the one who does the forward translation, it
would seem very unlikely that the forms used to express the thoughts
would be identical. If that is what is meant by "reversible," then I
would take exception with the definition. Two widely disparate (both
syntactically and lexically) sentences can express the same thought.
So, though the reverse translation might have a radically different
appearance from the original, in reality it is _possible_ for it to
be identical in content.

Then again, the fun of playing whisper down the lane is in the hilarious
changes that happen along the way . . . :-)

In Christ,
Jim Beale

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