This volume of Signata makes an excellent companion piece to Roman Jakobson’s “On Linguistic Aspects of Translation” (1959). The editors, while never really addressing Jakobson or the essay directly, end up paralleling his arguments very closely. Like Jakobson, they leverage the philosophy of C.S. Peirce toward the purpose of re-defining translation as a more compelling semiotic phenomenon than it is typically made out to be. Like Jakobson, again, they decline translation into the categories of intra-linguistic, inter-linguistic, and inter-semiotic transfers. Indeed, the contributions collected here are for the most part grouped into these same categories, comprising three of four major sections: 1. The concept “translation” expanded (“Semiotranslational perspectives”); 2. Accounts and challenges of intra- and inter-linguistic translation (“Transpositions between verbal semiotics”); and 3. Accounts and challenges of inter-semiotic translation (“Transpositions between verbal and non-verbal semiotics”). The problem with “On Linguistic Aspects,” for all its vision, has always been its brevity. This collection, intentionally or not, adds much-needed depth to its arguments. Indeed, if one were to offer a seminar on Jakobson and his contribution to translation studies, one could append “On Linguistic Aspects” to this volume, and the result would be rewarding. I will give my sense of the stronger contributions, first, then end on a note of disappointment regarding the “memorium” for Umberto Eco, announced as the fourth major section of the collection. Simply remembering the major arguments of “On Linguistic Aspects,” and the order in which they occur, gives us the best sense of this volume’s coherence: 1. Jakobson begins by rejecting the idea that we interpret signs in reference to the world, and proposes instead that we interpret them by “translating” them into other more developed signs. With this, translation is reconceived, in an echo of Peircian thinking, as an immanent hermeneutic process. 2. He then proposes and explains his three categories: “re-wording,” “translation proper,” and “translation between verbal and non-verbal sign systems.” 3. Finally, he argues against untranslatability: interpreting signs via a development through other signs will always bridge the disjunctives between languages, but with concomitant transformations that are part of the process, not proof of its impossibility. The first major section of the volume is entitled “semiotranslational perspectives,” and its contributions go straight to Peircian precepts. Translation is Peirce’s “interpretant” in action, the primary driver of the signifying chain reaction that he termed “semiosis” (Peirce, 1992-1998). Susan Petrilli and Dinda Gorlée see translation in all intelligent design. Their vision has a limitlessness to it, and at times a ring of the Dionysian (Petrilli’s title is “Translation Everywhere”). This is inspiring, but I confess to having been left wanting an Apollonian counter-distinction or two, to help me see translation as a mode of signification or interpretation, rather than as simply identical with these things. I find that much in this expansionist view—and I am siding with the unpopular position of Umberto Eco here (Eco, 2001, pp. 67-94)—has to do with a kind of taxonomic levelling whereby the hyponym (“translation”) and the hypernym (“interpretation,” “signification”) are made to collapse into identity, producing “ecstatic” descriptions that in the end are every bit as unproductive as the old “static” ones of the translator as a type of “copyist” or faithful reproducer of others’ texts. The second section is organized thematically under a confluence of Jakobson’s first two proposed translation categories (re-wording and inter-lingual translation), and is called “transpositions between verbal semiotics.” Standouts here are Alessandra Chiappori’s “Raymond Queneau : Exercices de traduction,” Federica Massia’s “The Literary Prestige of the Translated Text: Collodi’s Re-writing of Perrault’s Contes,” and Yves Gambier’s “Traduction et texte : vers un double nouveau paradigme.” These …
- Eco, Umberto (2001). Experiences in Translation. Toronto/London, University of Toronto Press.
- Eco, Umberto (2003). Mouse or Rat? Translation as Negotiation. London, Phoenix.
- Jakobson, Roman (1959). “On Linguistic Aspects of Translation.” In A. Fang, and R. A. Brower, ed. On Translation, 23. Boston, Harvard University Press, p. 233-239.
- Peirce, Charles Sanders (1992-1998). The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings, 2 vols. Bloomington, Indiana University Press.