Reading Blog — “Thick Translation” by Kwame Anthony Appiah — M.Paczkowski (11.3)

He begins by mentioning a few proverbs of the Twi-language, which his mother has been attempting to understand and catalogue. He has reduced many of these sayings into English, offering a literal translation. Says he has spent too much time working in theory of meaning or philosphical semantics. Getting the meaning right is hardly the first step towards understanding. “What we translate are utterances, things made with words by men and women, with voice or pen or keyboard, those utterances are prodcuts of actions, which all actions are undertaken for reason” The distinctive nature of utterances is that it is conventional. Say what an utterance meant by identifying teh belief that it was conventionally intended to produce. Speaker communicates a belief by way of utterance that her hearers recognize both the belief she intends them to have and to recognize the primary intention. He considers such the gricean mechanism. Conversational maxims: understanding the effect to which we are trying to be helpful, for example, both maximally and relevantly informative. “These thoughts we communicate by encouraging others to draw inferences that go beyond the meaning of words we utter”. Characteriscally, he has focused on lanauge that is assertoric, yet similar lines of thought can be applied to optatives. Learning grammar and lexicon of a language is to learn its set of instructions. Identification of intentions it to know the literal meaning, yet how does one know if he or she fully knows such intentions? 

Translation is an attempt to find ways of saying in one language something that means the same as waht has been said in another. “It has been thought that the literal intention that goes with some or perhaps all sentences is one that you can  have only if you speak the language to which those sentences belong” Therefore, it language determines the thoughts you have, then translation is always impossible. Its not shocking that you cannot exactly say in Twi that the wall is, well, burnt sienna. We cannot translate any talk at all because every sentence in  which it can occur subtly shades the meaning of every word. If right, then there are serious barriers to translation present.

Literal intentions are not the sole way to operate the Gricean mechanism. Distinctions between direct and indirect speech. Can you communicate indirectly? This distinction between indirect and direct is not the same distinction between literal and non-literal. Sometimes indirect communication proceeds the way of literal intentions. This can be captured in translation. Sometimes you need a little richer contextualization. You will need a general concept of mutual knowledge. In proverbs, the sentences used in them literally mean anything, they literally mean exactly what they say. However, it becomes clear that neither proverbs nor metaphors mean only what they say. What produces mutual knowledge and what is the threshold by which one is considered to have attained mutual knowledge? 

He says that, in the broadest sense, the thought that meaning is what is communicated by the Gricean mechanism. He says it seems bizarre to spend so much time worrying and concerned with the author’s intentions. The author may not be present (dead, etc.) and thus his intention is not worth our concern. Must have a certain degree of knowledge of the language to understand fundamental intentions. Many texts require that we grasp the Gricean burden that words would bear in ordinary uses. Must practice producing language whose understanding requires us both to grasp what would have been the literal intentions and accept that these are not the writer’s intentions in the present case. Attention to intention can often produce severe mistakes. The novel and the sonnet are not constructed by a process of meaning generation. Translation is to produce something that shares the literary properties of the object-text. “We may choose, rightly, to translate a term in a way that is unfaithful to the literal intentions, because we are trying to preserve formal features that seem more crucial”. Therefore, we cannot speak of perfect translation since there is not a definite set of desiderata. Can the Bible be considered a text that relatively transcends culture? 

Our culture is settled on a particular set of institutional mechanisms for addressing the question of what matters. Questions of adequacy of translation are truly questions of adequacy of understanding. This may imply which modes of reading are the most productive. The way of understanding reading and translation will question how we should do it is highly context-dependent.

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