Semantic models and translation

Table of contents

The academic study of translation has been concerned with meaning early on. Nida made use of structural semantics and componential analysis, especially with reference to bible translation (see Religious translation), in his pioneering work (e.g., Nida 1964: passim). Structural semantics is concerned with language as a system, and in those days it provided a strong theoretical basis for translation. One of the main insights, according to Nida, was that we do not translate words but bundles of semantic components. The word “forgiveness”, for example, has the components (1) a reprehensible action by one person, (2) a decision by an affected individual to overlook this action, and (3) a resulting state essentially equivalent to what existed before the reprehensible action occurred. In Navajo this bundle of features is represented by the paraphrase “to give him back his sin” (Nida 1974: 47).

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