URL daily (Radical translation)
“Radical translation is a term invented by American philosopher W. V. O. Quine to describe the situation in which a linguist is attempting to translate a completely unknown language, which is unrelated to his own, and is therefore forced to rely solely on the observed behavior of its speakers in relation to their environment.”
“Quine tells a story (Quine 1960) to illustrate his point, in which an explorer is trying to puzzle out the meaning of the word “gavagai”. He observes that the word is used in the presence of rabbits, but is unable to determine whether it means ‘undetached rabbit part’, or ‘fusion of all rabbits’, or ‘temporal stage of a rabbit’, or ‘the universal ‘rabbithood’”
“…(Searle 1980), which attempts to show that a symbol-processing machine like a computer can never be properly described as having a “mind” or “understanding“, regardless of how intelligently it may behave.”
While language translation is by itself a very interesting work, I would wonder when Chinese was translated into English for the first time. Here are some examples:
1. Proper names of real world entities, such as elephant (象）, can be easily translated.
2. Functionary figures such as dragon （龙） carries different meanings
3. non-accessible things, such as the philosophical term Tao (道), causes more difficulties because they themselves do not have a clear cut definition in their native language.
4. Another example is the term china,which is also used to refer high-quality porcelain or ceramic ware, originally made in China. This sense is a good example of radical translation, where Quine’s “rabbit” was replaced by porcelain and “gavagai” was replaced by “china”.
The above philosophical arguments and real world translation examples lead to the following thoughts on the social norms:
1. meaning is rather Quine’s ontological commit, where the definition is socially agreed
2. while understanding and translation may be done by one person, the correctness of these actions is evaluated by social peers
3. it is worthy to read Searle’s The Construction of Social Reality (1995), (wikipedia provided a nice briefing)
Li Ding, 2008-12-11