Centrum för kognitiv semiotik (CCS)

Humanistiska och teologiska fakulteterna | Lunds universitet


Translation as a Double Act of Communication: Reflections on the Semiotics of Translation

Göran Sonesson (Centre for Cognitive Semiotics)


The idea of the disciples of Jakobson and Peirce, according to which all acts occurring within and between different semiotic systems are acts of translation, may certainly give some insights into processes of meaning, but it leaves us without any understanding of the specificity of the act commonly known as translation. In an earlier paper, I suggested that translation proper (as Jakobson also calls his interlinguistic translation) is a double act of communication, and thus different from single acts of communication, such as the ordinary situation in which several persons are sharing information using one or several semiotic system for which they have (in principle) equal competence.

In the following, in order to be able to discuss these issues, I will substitute the notion of transference for Jakobson's notion of translation, retaining the term "translation" only for his translation proper. It should also be noted that Jakobson erroneously seems to suppose that such transference can only take place from or to language or between languages. Since there must be analogues to interlinguistic transference in other semiotic domains (such as gesture, pictures, etc.), we will adopt the general term intrasemiotic transference. Interlinguistic translation will thus be an instance of intrasemiotic transference.

This argument gives rise to two further issues: would Jakobson's intralinguistic and intersemiotic transferences also be double acts of communication? And could double acts of communication be distinguished from two single acts of communication that follow each other, of which there are certainly numerous instances which we would not like to call translations? Once we have clarified the notion of double act of communication, we will be able to answer these questions.