Translation as a double act of communication. A perspective from the semiotics of culture.
Göran Sonesson, Centre for cognitive semiotics, Lund University To be published in the acts of the 11
 World Congress of Semiotics of IASS in Nanjing, October 5 – 9, 2012 Abstract: There can be no doubt that translation is an act of communication, but if all communication is translation, it becomes impossible to understand the specificity of the act of translation. Here we will suggest that translation is a double, but integrated, act of communication. The idea rests on a model of communication that the present author has developed in earlier publications, taking his point of departure in the models of communication put forward by the Prague and Tartu schools of semiotics. Starting from this foundation, we will consider the difference in communicating with Alter (which is another  potential Ego) and with Alius, considered as the foreigner, the outsider, and/or the fiend. Again, we are involved with ideas suggested by the Tartu school, and developed in several  publications by the present author: Culture as opposed to Non-culture, to which may be added Extra-culture, all of which could be better understood in terms of Ego, Alius and Alter. Similar ideas, however, are present also in the late work of Edmund Husserl: the Homeworld as opposed to the Alienworld. The idea of translation between cultures, present in the Tartu school conception, would seem to bring in a metaphorical sense of translation. We will therefore investigate to what extent the translation metaphor applied to the exchange of words in one language (Jakobson’s intralingual translation) and the transference from one semiotic resource to another (Jakobson’s intersemiotic translation), as well as to the relation between cultures (according to the Tartu school) is enlightening or misleading – or perhaps a bit of  both. Keywords: Communication, Culture, Sender, Receiver, Interpretation, Cultural encounter It has become customary to use the Peircean sign model, which is perhaps rather a model of
communication, to account for translation (Cf. Colapietro 2003; Petrilli 2003). This is suggested by the idea that all meaning is translation, which itself may seem to result from Peirce’s claim that each of the three parts of a sign may be expanded into another sign, as well as from the more specific proposal that an immediate interpretant may be transformed into a dynamic interpretant, and so on until the final interpretant, which is perhaps never reached. Whatever the advantages of this model, it has a clear defect: it does not tell us in which way translation is different from other meanings. According to the present proposal, translation is a double act of communication. But it is perhaps not the only double act of communication there is. But we must start by trying to understand the act of communication as such.
1. For a new model of communication
We must liberate communication in the sense of presenting signs from the sense in which it involves cars, trains, and the like, which change their position in space. Although trains and cars move, change of position in space is not a requisite of communication, in the sense that a meaning is communicated from one person to another, contrary to what is suggested by the mathematical theory of communication still current in semiotics, and promoted, notably, by Jakobson (1960) and Eco (1976). There are things to be learnt about communication from the Prague model: that the receiver is equally active as the sender. And there are things to be learnt from the Tartu model. The latter is really concerned with relationships between cultures, but these can be reformulated in terms of the act of communicating. What the Tartu school says about sender and receiver cultures can be rephrased as two different positions in the act of communicating.
1.1. Beyond the heritage of Shannon & Weaver
Jan Muka
, the main figure of the Prague school of semiotics in the 1930ies, started out
from the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl model in order to describe communication, in  particular as instantiated in a work of art, but then added to this a social dimension. An artefact is produced by somebody, and it has to be transformed by another person into a work of art in a process of concretisation. The most important idea to retain from the Prague school, in my view, is that communication (in the sense of conveying signs) is not necessarily about transportation or encoding
, but it does involve the presentation of an artefact by somebody to
somebody else, giving rise to the task of making sense of this artefact. Since, to Muka
 (1970), this is a social act, the process of creating the artefact, as well as that of perce
iving it,
is determined by a set of norms, which may be aesthetic (and in works of art they would be
 predominantly so), but they can also be social, psychological, and so on. The work of art is
that which transgresses these rules. Muka
 points out, h
owever, that these norms may be of any kind, going from simple regularities to written laws. We could conclude that there is a continuum from normalcy to normativity, without qualitative divisions being left out.
 Fig.1. Model of communication integrating the Prague and the Tartu model, as proposed by Sonesson 1999
Since this model builds on the phenomenological conception of perception, it can easily be generalized to the everyday case of communication. All kinds of communication consists in presenting an artefact to another subject and assigning him or her the task of transforming it by means of concretisation into a percept. Simply put, what happens in communication, in the relevant sense, is that some subject creates an artefact, and another subject is faced with the task of furnishing an interpretation for this artefact (cf. Sonesson 1999). Although trains and cars move, change of position in space is not a requisite of communication, in the sense that a meaning is communicated from one person to another, contrary to what is suggested by the mathematical theory of communication. Nor is recoding a requirement (Fig.1). Indeed, the train and the car do not have much new to tell us, nor does the Lévi-Straussean woman circulating between the tribes. The two senses of communication may overlap in some cases (when a letter is transported by train, for instance), but basically
they are quite different. As for recoding, it is sometimes needed, but most of the time, the same (or at least overlapping repertories of) signs may be used at both ends of the communication chain. Of course, when the message is sent as a letter, the train or the airplane has to assist it on its way to the receiver. Sometimes the sender has to go to the same particular place to create the artefact. The telegraph, still current at the end of the 20th century, required such a displacement. By contrast, e-mail communication does not require more displacement on the  part of either the sender or receiver than sitting down in front of a computer or, more recently, firing up a smart phone. Sometimes the receiver has to go somewhere else to pick up the message. This is still the case if you want to experience srcinal prehistorical cave paintings or Renaissance frescoes. In other words, sometimes the sender and/or the receiver have to move, in addition to or instead of the artefact. Displacement is thus quite a separate issue from communication
 Fig.2. Model of communication in the special case of the message coinciding with (aspects of) the sender, as proposed by Sonesson 1999
Although displacement is not a requirement for receiving messages – even less so nowadays when you can send an email instead a telegram or peruse archives on the Internet without going to the actual place where the archives are located – displacement still has the
advantage of offering ever new potentialities of messages. Transport may be the occasion for communication. Indeed, movement has always offered new vistas, even to the predecessors of Homo sapiens and other animals. Precisely because movement may be a concomitant of specific kinds of communication, spatial displacement and communication have to be distinguished to begin with. Another peculiar case, which emerges once we construe communication as a task offered for interpretation, is that the sender may him/herself be (part of) the message (cf. Sonesson 1999). The artefact created is, in this sense, his/her own body (Fig.2) or parts thereof that are singled out for attention. This applies to all gesture, to all kinds of spectacles, to everyday meetings and indeed to the classical situation of communication. In the latter case, the sender may be saying something or showing a picture, but his/her own body is also  part of the message.1 As I have pointed out elsewhere (Sonesson 2000), the spectacular function can be described as an operation resulting in a division applied to a group of people, and separating those which are subjects and objects, respectively, of the process of contemplation; but, in fact, the subjects and objects of contemplation are often the same, at least temporarily. In the market, on the square, or along the boulevard, observation is (potentially) mutual, as well as intermittent. Yet, this is not true of the official parade or the dismemberment of Damien, or of the sporting event or the theatre. In ritual, there is a difference between those who only observe and those who, in addition to observing, are also observed. In contrast, along the  boulevard, but also already on the town square, the spectacular function is symmetric and continuously changing. However, contrary to what happens in other parts of everyday life, it is certainly dominant, in the sense of the Prague school; it not only retains the upper hand, but it also uses everything else for its purpose.
1.2. Orientation to target – or to source
According to an idea, suggested by Lotman (1976) as well as by Moles (1981), the sender and receiver of any situation of communication start out with “codes” — or, as I would prefer to say, systems of interpretation —, which overlap only in part, struggling to homogenise the system of interpretation as the communication proceeds. We can extend this idea by referring to the Tartu school conception that cultures may be sender-oriented and receiver-oriented (Lotman et al. 1975), and by transferring these properties to situations of communication. The
It should be noted that awareness and/or purpose have not been included in the characterization of communication given above. Messages of the sender’s body are of course often not intended.
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