Re: post.prepared for anglican (reversible translation)

From: Will Wagers (
Date: Wed May 21 1997 - 18:27:05 EDT

Carl W. Conrad wrote:
> At 2:42 AM -0400 5/21/97, Brian E. Wilson wrote:
> >I am absolutely fascinated that no-one else has yet come up with an
> >alternative definition of the distinction between a translation and a
> >paraphrase. I appreciate that my suggestion that a translation is
> >reversible, but a parapharase irreversible, may include too strict a
> >view of translation for some scholars. But unless an alternative
> >objective test for distinguishing between translating and paraphrasing
> >is laid down, should we not draw the conclusion that they are one and
> >the same activity, and that when one person says something is a
> >translation he is simply affirming that it is the paraphrase he
> >subjectively prefers to other paraphrases?
> Dare I state what is probably so obvious that it's not worth saying in
> response to this question? It seems to me that only the most concrete
> quotidian statements and questions are really translatable in the sense of
> admitting reversible translation: "I'm hungry," "He died yesterday
> morning," "Do you have a nickel?" But once you get into anything even
> slightly profound, metaphorical, or poetic, I suspect that we're involved
> with paraphrase, with a version that would admit of a variety of reverse
> "translations," several of which might be valid and some of which might be
> patently invalid.
> I don't think, however, that subjective preference is the only distinction
> between paraphrases: so long as one can present a cogent, defensible
> argument for one paraphrase over another (which is what we are doing most
> of the time on B-Greek, isn't it), one's choice cannot be called arbitrary
> (although it may be demonstrated to be questionable or even wrong).

I am coming in on the tail end of Mr. Wilson's thread, but I must say I
like his approach to the problem. I wonder whether some measures might
be devised based upon the standard of reversibility to allow us to
assign a confidence level to a translation. However, I would argue that
at the level of meaning, there is no reversible translatability, even
for simple phrases, because, as Ong points out, each word carries with
it its full etymology. A reversibility which depends merely upon symbol
manipulation (123 -> xyz -> 123) is mechanical and trivial and
achievable and no assurance of an equivalence of meaning. I can see
where measures might be devised of etymological descent so that two
words across languages might be compared just as genes are compared
across species. But, the uses of such measures are limited and because
of incomplete histories do not yield unambiguous results, i.e. there are
always multiple, irresolvable descent trees possible for a particular

I must admit that I use "arbitrary" to mean undetermined, or
irreversible, if you will, without reflecting upon the truth or
correctness of the result but upon the method of selection. Similarly,
"random", as I use it, refers to the selection process not the result (a
randomly- or arbitrarily-chosen lottery ticket may win).

Anyway, let's have more objective measures and definitions. It's a long,
time-consuming process, as is science, but it's the only way to break
out of our current and accepted difficulties.


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