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ON THE GRAMMAR OF TRANSLATING WITTGENSTEIN

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This article investigates the rules of the use of the word "translation" in two distinct cases where it is applied to explain Wittgenstein's texts rendition into English. If we give surveyable representations of the employment of this
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  ON THE GRAMMAR OF TRANSLATING WITTGENSTEIN João José R. L. de Almeida State University of Campinas  joaojose@unicamp.br Abstract:  This article investigates the rules of the use of the word “translation” in two distinct cases where it is applied to explain Wittgenstein’s texts rendition into English. If we give surveyable representations of the employment of this word in both cases, we can clearly see how and why translation is used in varied and dissimilar ways between them; but, more than that, we can also see how and why sometimes the translators, or their advocates, severely disagree with other alternatives. So that the underlying problem seems to be, in fact, the strange regimentation of arguments for a dispute over differences in language-games. This is so peculiar that even Wittgenstein was not in the least discouraged to intervene in the personal choices of his translators. Thus, to the extent that confusion between empirical and grammatical propositions may be at the root of these collisions, I expect to bring more attentive consideration to some consequences of what the grammar of the word “translation” possibly mean to the activities of translating Wittgenstein’s texts into another language. Keywords:  translation theory; grammar of translating; Wittgenstein; surveyable representation.  In a passage from the  Philosophical Investigations  (2009b, § 23) in which Wittgenstein is explaining that there are countless kinds of uses of signs, words, and sentences, and that this diversity is not something fixed, i. e., it is something for which it is not possible to formulate unequivocally, in all these uses, necessary and sufficient conditions for their application, he indirectly assumes, at the end of the section, that what the logicians said about the structure of language, including the author of the Tractatus  Logico-Philosophicus , is flawed. Language cannot be viewed anymore as a rigid system of internal correlations upholding the use of statements. This particular use of language, as well as any other function it fulfills, can only be described in line with its practical application. So, he accepts that the uses of signs, words, and sentences are part of varied activities in different forms of life in which we speak a language, and, precisely for this reason, decides to call them “language-games”, in order that the fact that they are part of an activity, of a form of life, be emphasized. Subsequently, he displays a long list of random examples of language-games in which “translating from one language into another” is the second last of them. As any language-game, translating does not contain abstract rules by which we can define its correction. We cannot even know what it is, apart from the concrete way in which this word is applied in multiples forms of life that explain that activity. In a sense, this is a strange thing to say about translation. Because, in translation theory, more often than not, rules are formulated regardless of the empirical facts that support the induction of those supposed rules. Different schools of thought in general contend about what translation consists in and how it should be, exclusively through abstract rules. Anthony Pym, one of the best known experts in the field, describes and comments on dozens of translation theories in his introductory book on the theme (cf. 2010). All theories are specifically presented there as  paradigms ; but, after examining the PRELIMINARY DRAFT  2 use of this word throughout the book, it apparently has the meaning of a list of patterns structured around some notion of equivalence between source and target languages. Then “equivalence”, as I am particularly interpreting here, refers to sets of different and miscellaneous criteria by which a correct relationship between two (or more) languages is to be established, naturally concerning each specific objective. Pym says that “equivalence is not a stable concept” (p. xi), assumption with which I totally agree, but this term is treated in his book as just one of the paradigms. He rather  bases his whole argumentation on the idea that translation is a “performative value”, one more abstraction, instead of exploring the motley techniques in which each one of these  performances is expressed. So, he continues, when translators disagree on some criterion or a bunch of them, each side of the dispute maintains the discussion without appreciating the other side’s perspective. In such cases, we would witness the formation of paradigms, which is not to be confused, in my view, with the similar concept employed by Kuhn to describe the evolution of natural sciences in terms of discontinuities along the history (cf. 1996). Kuhn is restricted only to natural sciences, and the only correspondence in Pym’s  book possibly consists in the fact that a research group builds a particular world view which is curiously blinded to the employment of alternative equivalence criteria from another group. Paradigms, then, might get into conflict with one another, eventually resulting in continuous tension between researchers, or induces an outbreak of a revolution if one paradigm overpowers the other in academic preferences, or maybe just settles down an obsequious silence when the competitors simply decide to go on with their separate paradigmatic ways (cf. pp. 2-3).  None of this should seem unusual for Wittgensteinians accustomed to see from time to time the spontaneous generation of cultural expressions organized around criteria and symptoms. There is a whole investigation undertaken by Wittgenstein throughout his  Nachlass  on how to compare and evaluate the ways different forms of life deal with  problems similar to ours, a procedure he often summarizes with the expression “natural history of mankind” (cf. Wittgenstein, 1998b, Part I, §§ 63, 142; Part II, § 40; Part IV, §§ 11, 13; Part VI, § 49; Part VII, § 17; but, especially, Wittgenstein, 1993a). Conflicts and misunderstandings among different forms of life could also arise when people eventually have a poor sense of their own self-righteous remarks. But what really might come as a surprise, just to stay in what concerns us here, is to see Wittgensteinians confusing grammatical with empirical propositions regarding equivalence in critical evaluations of translations. It is supposed that they should be basically conscious that right or wrong in cases like these should yield internal rather than value judgments. The meaning of translation can only be shown and justified by the way this word is used in each case and context. But we will see that, in a certain way, not even Wittgenstein could strictly follow all the consequences of his intuitions. In this article, I will briefly discuss two of such surprises and what could possibly mean, in my view, the grammar of the word “translation” in a Wittgensteinian  perspective. The Oracular Wittgenstein The first example of these confused evaluations comes from John Nelson’s vindication of Ogden & Ramsey’s superiority over Pears & McGuinness’ translation of the Tractatus  (henceforth ORT and PMT, respectively; cf. 1999). For Nelson, when PMT appeared in 1961 it was so enthusiastically acclaimed as being a decided improvement over ORT, that nobody cared if such a reckless approval could bring about unfair  3 academic ostracism to it. In this way, he argued that the fact that ORT had been “relegated to a bibliographical and exegetical oubliette has to be (…) one of the major scandals of contemporary scholarship and exegesis” (p. 175). These are very strong words. They make it much more interesting to notice here not so much his disappointment about which translation should be more cherished by the public, but the reasons for such a fervent statement. In fact, supporting Nelson’s so passionate mode of expression there seems to  be a firmly established set of criteria. Almost his whole article revolves around the argument that Sachverhalt   was mistakenly translated as “state of affairs”, replacing the old and good “atomic fact”. But,  before Nelson entered into his sole point of comparison to prove an undisputed ORT’s superiority, he considered general stylistic and technical aspects between the two versions. Firstly, Nelson defended that an oracular English, like that in ORT, corresponds exactly to the German character of Wittgenstein’s accents and structures in his writings. So, to present a straightforward English as a PMT advantage over ORT could only be done to the detriment of Wittgenstein’s idiosyncratic style. Secondly, Nelson argued that, despite some punctual defective translations in ORT, like, e. g., stating that “objects exist” instead of the more adequate “subsist” to better convey the actual meaning of bestehen , ORT is at the end technically much more accurate than PMT because its occasional imperfections does not tarnish the Tractatus ’s metaphysics. PMT, on the contrary, inflicted a deep wound into “the very heart of Wittgenstein’s system” (p. 169) through its domestication of Wittgenstein’s language. Thus, Nelson thought it was helpful to compare the two translations with respect to three “external criteria of adequacy” (p. 169): historical, intentional, and lexical. By the historical criterion it is attested that in the period of the Tractatus ’s gestation, “facts” were conceived to be the basic furniture of the world by Wittgenstein as well as the  philosophers with whom he was in most intimate contact: Moore and Russell (p. 170). The three of them agreed to qualify such facts as “atomic” because they could be derived from more general or molecular arrangements to their minimum compositional element. So that an atomic fact could constitute the fundamental component upon which the truth of a proposition would ultimately be dependent. History, therefore, would strength “atomic fact” instead of “state of affairs”. By the intentional criterion, the second on the list, it is declared that Wittgenstein both tacitly and explicitly gave his imprimatur   to “atomic fact” in his various correspondences exchanged with C. K. Ogden. And, finally,  by the third criterion, on the lexicality of Sachverhalt  , it is argued that… One dictionary meaning of ‘Sach’ is fact; and of ‘verhalten’, the verb, stop. So ‘Sachverhalt’ would  be ‘state of the case’ but looked at as a philosophical pun on ‘fact’ and ‘stop’, giving the sense of a final stopping place in our analytic dividing down to simples, it would translate perfectly into ‘atomic fact’ (p. 174). The most striking point about Nelson’s discussion, however, is not exactly the criteria he chose to support his views, but his specific use of the word “external”. What does he mean by “external”? Certainly, he is referring to elements that exist or come from outside the text. But “external” is presented here connected to “criteria”; the term seems to give the criteria a special note, perhaps indicating greater importance or weight to this  particular class of judgement patterns: “We now present here not any criteria, but external ones”. In fact, regardless of whether or not we should count elements outside the text as measurement standards, the problem is the possibility of value judgments of other translations based on what Nelson deems as “external”. More specifically, can we say that one translation is better than another based on what the author of the text himself  4 indicated as the best words and phrases to convey the content of what he srcinally said in his own language? In my view, PMT could completely disregard these criteria, based exclusively on the fact that they are not really committed to such parameters. In other words, the external criteria are just grammatical propositions in ORT, they are not inert empirical matter laid down outside the text, and, just for this reason, able to decide on their own which is the best translation. As part of the grammar of translation in ORT, these criteria became what we usually call the symptoms by which we can justify the employment of a determined concept, because such standards are already given in the grammar of that activity. If someone says, e. g., “I have a toothache”, and at the same time shows something we consider as a toothache behavior, such as moaning, squeezing the eyes, and putting one of her hands on one side of her face, these empirical samples are not to be understood as something independent or outside the alleged toothache; they are, in fact, internally associated with it in order to be recognized as “toothache behavior”. There is no such thing as “here is toothache, and here is behavior” (Wittgenstein, 1993b,  p. 298). These symptoms only fulfill the function of confirming the correct employment of the criteria, and that is why they are anticipated in the catalog of toothache behaviour. Suppose that someone asked Nelson why should we follow his rules instead of PMT’s: straightforward English, clear and fluent style, and metaphysically coherent terms? Nelson would probably repeat once more his own external criteria, as if she didn’t get it right for the first time. If she continued to ask why are these criteria an indication of ORT’s superiority, Nelson would probably answer that he finds them more satisfactory to do just that. He would be presenting some sort of demands or requirements, like being closer to what the author really wanted to be said in English. So far so good. But the way his criteria are introduced and used in his argument, suggests that he was using the word “external” to probably mean “empirical evidences above any theory”, as if we had, for one side, the theory, and, for the other side, the empirical data to which any practice of translation should mandatorily refer. Ordinary empirical facts, used in this sense, are just those kind of things which anyone could dispute in regard to some specific hypothesis. Such disagreements generally stem from the fact that the contestant assumes that her data reveals the opposing theory contains anomalies, i. e., empirical facts not really foreseen  by the opponent’s system. Thus, that theory is shown to contain a flaw. But, in that case,  both parties accept that the theory in question must be empirically adequate under the crucial referred circumstance. They can only disagree about what is to be “crucial” in that case. Therefore, theory and the facts it pinned down are internally related as criteria and symptoms. The two parties can be splitted as just two slices of the same cake; they are not so distinct like two separate realms with independent systems without the slightest hope of a possible rearrangement. Anyone can disagree, e. g., that the earth is round. The set of ordinary facts capable to prove that the earth is round have always to face the tribunal of experience, no matter how and when they are waved. That is their game, the competing hypotheses in geophysics wage their battles around the same kind of empirical samples because this is part of the grammar of using empirical data either to test his own or to falsify the opponent theory in the natural sciences. This is certainly impossible in Nelson’s case, to be frank. The grammar of translation has a different orientation than those of the rules that guide the employment of concepts in natural sciences. Translation, significantly, always expresses translators tastes and preferences, while this possibility is totally proscribed in the use of concepts of natural sciences. Nelson’s criteria simply cannot be claimed as necessary or universal in this sense. PMT’s too, just for the record. But physics, chemistry, and biology do play under those strictures; their hypotheses, to the contrary of the rules that guide translations, must not contain aesthetic choices, nor even show the researchers’ preferences. Even  5 though researchers preferences and general guidelines for dealing with the empirical world could hardly be denied as natural counterpart of the sociology of the natural sciences, and may even influence their epistemology and methods along the time. But the way they deal with their criteria and symptoms are completely distinct from the language-game of translation. There are remarkable categorial differences between the different grammars and how empirical propositions are managed within each model of research, i. e., the roles those empirical samples really play in relation to each particular activity. Hence, rather than an universal parameter of equivalence, which is impossible in the language-game of translation, Nelson was just imposing on us his particular picture of Wittgenstein, one of the philosopher’s physiognomies, so to say. The image of an enigmatic prophet and the grammatical propositions that accordingly guide his own conceptions of how to translate Wittgenstein’s texts. Wittgenstein’s Signature The second example I would like to evoke, comes from dissimilar translations of a Wittgenstein’s confessional excerpt about a difference he sees between all great art and his own artistic pursuits. It was written in the MS 122, pp. 88r-88v, in January 10, 1940. The first translation of this text was published by Winch & Pichler in the amended and revised second edition of Culture and Value  (Wittgenstein, 1998a, p. 43); the second, appeared in a McGuinness’ book of essays (2002, p. 22). Although the srcinal was written in code, the reader can easily refer to the facsimile of the document at http://www.wittgensteinsource.org to deepen the research. All these versions can be  placed side by side to a better comparison. Original Deciphered Winch & Pichler’s Version McGuinness’ Version In aller großen Kunst ist ein WILDES Tier: gezähmt. Bei Mendelssohn, z. B., nicht. Alle große Kunst hat als ihren Grundbaß die primitive Triebe des Menschen. Sie sind nicht die  Melodie  (wie, vielleicht, bei Wagner), aber das was der Melodie die Tiefe & Gewalt   gibt. In diesem  Sinne kann man Mendelssohn einen ‘ reproduktiven ’ Künstler nennen. – Im Gleichen Sinn: mein Haus für Gretl ist das Resultat entschiedener Feinhörigkeit,  guter   Manieren, der Ausdruck eines großen Verständnisses  (für eine Kultur, etc.). Aber das unsprüngliche  Leben, das wilde  Leben, welches sich austoben möchte – fehlt. Man könnte also auch sagen, es fehlt ihm die Gesundheit   (Kierkegaard). (Treibhauspflanze.) Within all great art there is a WILD animal: tamed.  Not, e.g., in Mendelssohn. All great art has primitive human drives as its ground bass. They are not the melody  (as they are, perhaps, in Wagner), but they are what gives the melody depth  &  power  . In this  sense one may call Mendelssohn a ‘ reproductive ’ artist. – In the same sense: my House for Gretl is the product of a decidedly sensitive ear,  good   manners, the expression of a great understanding   (for a culture, etc.). But  primordial   life, wild   life striving to erupt into the open – is lacking. And so you might say, health  is lacking (Kierkegaard). (Hothouse plant.) In all great art there is a wild  beast – tamed. In Mendelssohn, for example, there is none. All great art has as its ground-bass the primitive drives of mankind. These are not the melody (as they are, perhaps, with Wagner)  but they are what gives the melody its depth and power. This is the sense in which Mendelssohn can be called a ‘reproductive’ artist. In this sense too the house I  built for Gretl is the product of an extremely sensitive ear, of good manners: it is the expression of a great understanding of a culture etc. But life, primitive, wild life with its tumultuous desires, is missing. One could also say, health is missing (Kierkegaard). (A hothouse plant.)

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Oct 16, 2019
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