The Hermeneutic Motion

  • The hermeneutic motion: the act of elicitation and appropriative transfer of meaning.
  • First movement of translation: Trust. Trust that there is something to be understood (though betrayed by nonsense rhymes, etc.)
  • “”Anything” or “Almost anything” can mean “Everything”.
  • Every meaning worth expressing could be monadic and will not enter into any alternative world.
  • Second movement of translation: Aggression, incursive and extractive.
  • Heidegger: Da-sein (the thing there) only comes into authentic being when it is comprehended/translated.
  • Comprehension “comprehends” not only cognitively but by encirclement and ingestion.
  • Certain texts or genres have been exhausted by translations; others, their translations are even more “ordered”, more “aesthetically pleasing”. (the sonnets of Louise Labe after Rilke’s Umdichtung).
  • Third movement of translation: Incorporative: the import of meaning and form, the embodiment, is not made in or into vacuum.
  • No language, no traditional symbolic set or cultural ensemble imports without risk of being transformed.
  • Fourth movement of translation: the piston-stroke, which completes the cycle.

What to lose?

Since anytime we translate a language, something substantial will be lost, it is the choice of the translator on what to sacrifice when they translate. So given the choice, is it better to lose fluidity of a text (but with all the information needed) so the reader would have a harder time understanding it, or is it better to have a smooth translation, but with lost information?

The Claims of Theory

  • Four periods of history of translation.
  • First period (verbum pro verbo): seminal analyses and pronouncements stem directly from the enterprise of the translator.
  • Second period (one of theory and hermeneutic inquiry): The question of the nature of translation is posed within the more general framework of theories of language and mind.
  • Third period (one in the modern current): Structural linguistics and information theory are introduced into the discussion of interlingual exchange.
  • Forth period (similar to the third phase): the approaches (logical, contrastive, literary, semantic, comparative) are still being developed, while Walter Benjamin’s paper (Die Aufgabe des Ubersetzers) caused a reversion to hermeneutic, almost metaphysical inquiries into translation and interpretation.
  • The strengthm the ingegno of a language cannot be transferred. Eg: “ash” is no translation of “Fire”.
  • The history of translation coincides with and informs that of Western thought and feeling.

Is it always possible?

A good translation, to a reader, is one which is easy to understand, easy to read, while to the translator, is one that gives all the information given in the ST. So is it always possible to have a translation that presents all the given information but is easy to read and understand, in other words, pleases both the reader and the translator?

To Translate

  • To translate: “passing from one language to another”.
  • Dolmetschen: the exchange of supposedly equivalent linguistic values in the passage from one language to another according to the method of an interpreting agency.
  • Ubersetzen: the displacement of reader in relation to his native language by virtue of the translation such that they become foreign to each other.
  • No natural equivalence of “to translate” from Greek.
  • In Greek, “interpreter” = “translator”.
  • Translatio: transfer from one meaning to another; transfer of a term from one language to an equivalent term in another; transfer of culture or government from one epoch to another.
  • “Qur’an”: to read, to recite; word of God revealed to Muhammad, essentially to humanity.

Pym Chapter 2

  • Equivalence is a relation of “equal value” between a source text segment and a target text segment; sometimes value is on the level of form, sometimes it is reference; sometimes it is function.
  • Equivalence can be established on any linguistic level, from form to function.
  • Natural equivalence is presumed to exist between languages or cultures prior to the act of translating.
  • Natural equivalence should not be affected by directionality.
  • Structuralist linguistics, especially of the kind that sees languages as world-views, would consider natural equivalence to be theoretically impossible.
  • The equivalence paradigm solves this problem by working at levels lower than language systems.
  • There are several categorizations of the procedures by which equivalence can be maintained.
  • Amplification: the translation using more words than ST to express the same idea.
  • Reduction: opposite of amplification.
  • Explicitation: the translation gives specifications that are only implicit in the ST.
  • Implicitation: opposite of explicitation.
  • Generalization: when a specific term is translated as a more general term.
  • Particularization: opposite of generalization.
  • The sub-paradigm of natural equivalence is historical, since it assumes the production of stable texts in languages with equal expressive capacity.

Equivalence and Translatability


  • Some define translation in terms of equivalence relations; some regard equivalence as irrelevant or damaging; others said they are used as convenience.
  • Equivalence: relationship between source text (ST) and target text (TT).
  • Referential or denotative equivalence: SL and TL refer to the same thing in the real world.
  • Connotative equivalence: SL and TL triggering the same or similar associations in the minds of native speakers of the 2 languages.
  • Text-normative equivalence: SL and TL being used in the same or similar contexts in their respective languages.
  • Pragmatic or dynamic equivalence: SL and TL having the same effect on their readers.
  • Formal equivalence: SL and TL having similar orthographic or phonological features.
  • Textual equivalence: similarity in ST and TT information flow and in the cohesive roles ST and TT play in their respective texts.
  • One-to-one equivalence: more than one TL expression in the TL for a single SL expression.
  • Korrespondenz: formal similarity between language systems.
  • Aquivalenz: equivalence relations between real texts and utterances.


  • Translatability: the capacity for some kind of meaning to be transferred from one language to another without undergoing radical change.
  • Stimulus-meaning: reference and sense in natural languages are sufficiently well-defined by the meaning.
  • Occasion sentences: sentences produced under the same situational conditions and circumstances without “collateral information” – can be translated with relative reliability.
  • Standing sentences: sentences embedded in and depending on a specific situation.
  • Observation sentences: lie between two extremes.

Translation reviews and untranslatables

  1. I chose Aeneid: Book VI, translated by Seamus Heaney and reviewed by Colin Burrow. It is a poem, so loss of essence is almost evident. As Burrow said: “as a translation it is not quite right. Virgil describes the oak as ‘fissile’, splittable, relatively weak when those purposeful imperial axes hit it; Heaney has to build additional resistance into the labor with the ‘tougher cross-grain of oak’ because for him making and building have to be hard”. Burrow mentioned parts of Virgil’s poem where he used simple words in a sophisticated way, whereas in the translated version, it is not like that anymore. The way the words are used aren’t as clever as intended in the original poem.
  2. Natural equivalence:
  • Máy tính: computer
  • Điện: electricity
  • Giá mà…: If only….
  • Dẫu có….hay không: whether or not
  • Hóa ra: turns out

Untranslatable words from Vietnamese to English:

  • Gà ác: a type of chicken with white feather while its skin, eyes and feet are all black, originated from Asia.
  • Thuốc Bắc: a type of medicine commonly found in East Asia, used to treat seemingly incurable diseases.
  • Duyên: bound to meet as lovers or friends in the future.
  • Đi nhậu: go out for a beer or wine with friends.
  • Nhõng nhẽo: knowingly being a brat to be able to get what they want.