On randomness

Imogen Cohen

Abstract

Andrew Chesterman’s 2008 article “On Explanation” examines what it means to explain translational phenomena. In doing so, it explores the nature of explanation itself and raises one crucial question: How much is beyond explanation? In other words, to what extent could translational phenomena be due to mere chance? This article addresses this question by drawing on six landmark experiments within the field of psychology. These experiments suggest (1) that we, as translators, might unknowingly be injecting random elements into our translations, and (2) that we, as Translation Studies scholars, might be ‘seeing’ causes in that randomness where there are none. This article also draws on psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s ideas about the ‘illusion of causation’ and on Nassim Taleb’s definition of randomness within the humanities and social sciences. It concludes by arguing that retrospective explanations of translations should pay far more than lip service to the notion of chance.

Keywords
Publication history
Table of contents

Explanations are ubiquitous, come in a variety of forms and formats, and are used for a variety of purposes. Yet, one of the most striking features about most explanations is their limitations. For most natural phenomena and many artificial ones, the full set of relations to be explained is enormous, often indefinitely large and far beyond the grasp of any one individual.

Full-text access is restricted to subscribers. Log in to obtain additional credentials. For subscription information see Subscription & Price. Direct PDF access to this article can be purchased through our e-platform.

References

Bassnett, Susan, and André Lefevere
1998Constructing Cultures: Essays on Literary Translation. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
Brownlie, Siobhan
2003 “Investigating Explanations of Translational Phenomena: A Case for Multiple Causality.” Target 15 (1): 111–152. Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
Bruno, Cosima
2012 “The Public Life of Contemporary Chinese Poetry in English Translation.” Target 24 (2): 253–285. Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
Chesterman, Andrew
1998 “Causes, Translations, Effects.” Target 10 (2): 201–230 Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
2008 “On Explanation.” In Beyond Descriptive Translation Studies: Investigations in Homage to Gideon Toury, edited by Anthony Pym, Miriam Shlesinger, and Daniel Simeoni, 363–379. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
2011 “On Explanation” [lecture given at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona, Spain, on February 2, 2011]. Part one: https://​www​.youtube​.com​/watch​?v​=53L​_g​_S​_MK0; part two: https://​www​.youtube​.com​/watch​?v​=cfpVF1w6AVQ.
Colman, Andrew M.
2009A Dictionary of Psychology. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Darwin, Charles
1872The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. London: John Murray. Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
Englich, Birte, Thomas Mussweiler, and Fritz Strack
2006 “Playing Dice with Criminal Sentences: The Influence of Irrelevant Anchors on Experts’ Judicial Decision Making.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 32: 118–200. Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
Hall, Lars, Petter Johansson, Betty Tärning, Sverker Sikström, and Thérèse Deutgen
2010 “Magic at the Marketplace: Choice Blindness for the Taste of Jam and the Smell of Tea.” Cognition 117 (1): 54–61. Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
Hall, Lars, Petter Johansson, and Thomas Strandberg
2012 “Lifting the Veil of Morality: Choice Blindness and Attitude Reversals on a Self-Transforming Survey.” PloS ONE 7 (9): e45457. Crossref logo
Hall, Lars, Thomas Strandberg, Philip Pärnamets, Andreas Lind, Betty Tärning, and Petter Johansson
2013 “How the Polls Can Be Both Spot On and Dead Wrong: Using Choice Blindness to Shift Political Attitudes and Voter Intentions.” PloS ONE 8 (4): e60554. Crossref logo
Halverson, Sandra
2003 “The Cognitive Basis of Translation Universals.” Target 15 (2): 197–241. Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
House, Juliane
2013 “Towards a New Linguistic-Cognitive Orientation in Translation Studies.” In Interdisciplinarity in Translation and Interpreting Process Research, edited by Maureen Ehrensberger-Dow, Susanne Göpferich, and Sharon O’Brien, special issue of Target 24 (1): 46–60. Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
Hubscher-Davidson, Séverine
2009 “Personal Diversity and Diverse Personalities in Translation: a Study of Individual Differences.” Perspectives: Studies in Translatology 17 (3): 175–192. Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
Hume, David
(1777) 2007An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Edited by Peter Millican. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Jääskeläinen, Riitta
2002 “Think-aloud Protocol Studies into Translation. An Annotated Bibliography.” Target 14 (1): 107–136. Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
Johansson, Petter, Lars Hall, Sverker Sikström, and Andreas Olsson
2005 “Failure to Detect Mismatches between Intention and Outcome in a Simple Decision Task.” Science 310 (5745): 116–119. Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
Johannsson, Petter, Lars Hall, Sverker Sikström, Betty Tärning, and Andreas Lind
2006 “How Something Can Be Said about Telling More Than We Can Know.” Consciousness and Cognition 15 (4): 673–692. Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
Johansson, Petter, Lars Hall, and Nick Chater
2012 “Preference Change through Choice.” In Neuroscience of Preference and Choice. Cognitive and Neural Mechanisms, edited by Raymond Dolan and Tali Sharot, 121–141. Amsterdam: Elsevier Academic Press. Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
Kahneman, Daniel
2011Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Allen Lane.Google Scholar
Kahneman, Daniel, and Amos Tversky
1974 “Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases.” Science 185 (4157): 1124–1131. Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
Kaplan, Michael, and Ellen Kaplan
2006Chances Are… Adventures in Probability. London: Viking Penguin.Google Scholar
Keil, Frank C.
2006 “Explanation and Understanding.” Annual review of Psychology 57: 227–254. Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
Mussweiler, Thomas, and Fritz Strack
2000 “The Use of Category and Exemplar Knowledge in the Solution of Anchoring Tasks.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 78 (6): 1038–1052. Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
Laviosa, Sara
2002Corpus-based Translation Studies: Theory, Findings, Applications. Amsterdam: Rodopi.Google Scholar
Lefevere, André
ed. 1992Translation/History/Culture: A Sourcebook. London: Routledge. Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
Pinker, Steven
2007The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature. New York: VikingGoogle Scholar
Pym, Antony
1998Method in Translation History. Manchester: St. Jerome.Google Scholar
2010Exploring Translation Theories. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Robinson, Douglas
1991The Translator’s Turn. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
Saldanha, Gabriela, and Sharon O’Brien
2013Research Methodologies in Translation Studies. Manchester: St. Jerome.Google Scholar
Salmon, Wesley C.
1998Causality and Explanation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
Scott, Clive
2012Literary Translation and the Rediscovery of Reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Strack, Fritz, Leonard Martin, and Sabine Stepper
1988 “Inhibiting and Facilitating Conditions of the Human Smile: A Nonobtrusive Test.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 54 (5): 768–777. Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
Taleb, Nassim Nicholas
2010The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. 2nd ed. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
Toury, Gideon
1998 “A Handful of Paragraphs on ‘Translation’ and ‘Norms’.” Current Issues in Language and Society 5 (1/2): 10–32. Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
Tymoczko, Maria
2012 “The Neuroscience of Translation.” In The Known Unknowns of Translation Studies, edited by Elke Brems, Reine Meylaerts, and Luc van Doorslaer, special issue of Target 24 (1): 83–102. Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
Vanderauwera, Ria
1985Dutch Novels Translated into English: The Transformation of a “Minority” Literature. Amsterdam: Rodopi.Google Scholar
Venuti, Lawrence
2002 “The Difference That Translation Makes: The Translator’s Unconscious.” In Translation Studies: Perspectives on an Emerging Discipline, edited by Alessandra Riccardi, 214–241. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Von Wright, Georg Hendrik
(1971) 2004Explanation and Understanding. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
Wason, Peter C.
1968 “Reasoning about a Rule.” Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 20 (3): 273–281. Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
Wright, Chantal
2016Literary Translation. London: Routledge. Crossref logoGoogle Scholar