Philosophy of translation meets translation studies: Three Hebrew translations of Kipling’s “If ” in light of Paul Ricœur’s “Third Text” and Gideon Toury’s “Adequate Translation”

Rachel Weissbrod

Abstract

Though there are no clear-cut boundaries between the philosophy of translation and translation studies, they are obviously not the same. They differ not only in how they address their subject matter but also in that they occupy different “niches” in the culture. In the terminology of Bourdieu, they partake in different, though possibly partly overlapping cultural fields. This article attempts to create a meeting place for two representatives of these disciplines: Paul Ricœur, a leading figure in French hermeneutics of the 20th century, and Gideon Toury, a prominent researcher in the field of translation studies. Ricœur’s concept of the (non-existing) “third text” is compared with Toury’s concept of “the adequate translation as a hypothetical construct”, which was proposed in the 1980s and negated in the 1990s; and Ricœur’s view of translation as “equivalence without adequacy” is compared with Toury’s stand on this issue. The possibility of working with both and reading each of them in light of the other is examined by applying their ideas to a test case—three Hebrew translations of Kipling’s “If ”. The underlying assumption is that establishing links between translation studies and the philosophy of translation can contribute to the understanding of the phenomenon, which is the subject matter of both.

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Table of contents

Translation can be approached from many angles. Two of them are the philosophy of translation and translation studies. Though there are no clear-cut boundaries [ p. 59 ]between them, they are obviously not the same. On the face of it, one can differentiate between them using Popper’s definition of a scientific theory (see Chesterman 1997: 14–17). A theory is scientific if it is testable, namely: it can be refuted through empirical research. Whereas translation studies employ scientific theories and test them empirically, the philosophy of translation offers ideas which are not expected to be tested in this manner. For example, when Walter Benjamin writes that the task of the translator is to quicken the ripening of the seed of the “pure” language rather than to transmit meaning (Benjamin 1992), there is no way to either prove or disprove his belief. However, such a differentiation between the philosophy of translation and translation studies is problematic because of its essentialism. It is doubtful whether Popper’s definition of a scientific theory can be applied to all or even most translation theories. Chesterman, who surveyed diverse approaches to the question of “what is a theory of translation”, found that they were based on utterly different premises (Chesterman 1997: 42–46). Another, more practical way to approach the question of how the philosophy of translation and translation studies differ is less rigid and more sociologically oriented: they differ in that they occupy different “niches” in the culture. The philosophy of translation shares with translation studies its subject matter, but it is also a branch of philosophy, an autonomous discipline which has its own university departments, academic conferences and journals. In the terminology of Bourdieu (1993), the philosophy of translation and translation studies partake in different, though possibly partly overlapping cultural fields.

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