Monday, October 27, 2008

On translations

Sometimes I think that a translation gives me a text that has nothing in common with the original. For instance, for me Habermas in German and Habermas in English are two different philosophers. What would Habermas’s philosophy be like, if we would translate his works into Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, or Silozi? I mean into languages that have, unlike English and German, not any relation with German at all besides that they function as ways for expressing the contents of the mind? Could we in those languages still understand what it is all about?

2 comments:

oldyrek said...

It's very hard say somethic with total same meaning, especially when we talk about philosophical texts but also we shouldn't fall into extremes. Even when we speak with sbd by own language,the same for both we should have different idea of some thing as love, hate, war, history. Maybe we should read originals but if we have guarantees that we correct feel or know every meaning. Maybe we should have one universal languages greek, latine or english for example...
so what solution you suggest to resolve it?

HbdW said...

There is much value in what you say. Even having one language, the problem of misunderstanding has not been solved, for misunderstandings have manykinds of reasons.
Anyway, when I wanted to translate the title of my dissertation from Dutch into English, I came to the conclusion that this was not possible, because the Dutch words had connotations that the English words hadn't, and this was essential. Translating it into German was not a problem, so language differences are a matter of degree.
Reading originals is the best we can do, but as long as we aren't fluent in the other language, the filter of one's native language remains. I think this is also so if we should use a universal language for science. If there would be only one language on the whole world, this would not be a solution, for you'll see that gradually there'll develop kinds of dialects and "language regions": areas where languages develop their own regional meanings.
However, there is also a positive side on this: Each language has its own cultural stock. It is an expression of a special culture. If there would be only one language much what has valuewould be lost.