Underpinning Translation Theory

Kirsten Malmkjær
The University of Cambridge, UK

This article suggests that the discomfort with translation theory felt by some translation scholars arises from the fact that translation theory has tended to undermine itself, and hence translation studies as such, by questioning the existence of its own subject matter. An attempt is made to ease the discomfort by defending Davidson's (1973; 1974) reply to the indeterminacy thesis proposed by Quine (1960). Finally, the article draws on Davidson's later theory of linguistic interaction (1986) in presenting a model of translation which highlights features which translation does not share with other types of linguistic interaction, and which may, consequently, merit particular attention in translation theory.

Table of contents

In his insightful review of Benjamin (1989), van den Broeck (1992: 111-113) highlights the discomfort with translation theory felt by a number of translation scholars, stressing, at the same time, that relevant description must nevertheless be theoretically founded. This is clearly the case: the enterprise of description is premised on the existence of a theory on the basis of which descriptive categories are derived. Of course, it is possible to keep [ p. 134 ]one's theoretical assumptions covert, but this strongly mitigates against informed discussion, which is crucially dependent on theoretical assumptions being made overt. Assuming that informed discussion is desirable, therefore, the possible causes of the discomfort with theory to which van den Broeck refers merit discussion.

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