31(1) - 2019

Translatability, interpretation, and construals of experience

Ian MacKenzie


Translatability, interpretation, and construals of experience


Languages differ greatly, both morphosyntactically and lexically, which almost inevitably leads to minor losses or changes of meaning in translation. Following Herder and Schleiermacher, foreignizing translators attempt to understand an author’s word-usages by an empathetic psychological reading, and when they find an unfamiliar source language concept they ‘bend’ the nearest available target language word. In this article, I question the efficacy of such procedures, and suggest, following Gadamer, that meaning is always partly determined by the interpreter’s historical situation, so that the best a translator or reader can hope for is a fusion of horizons with the author. Yet experimental cognitive linguistics shows that even at the same time and place, there are considerable differences in the ways people construe and verbalize events and texts. So it seems likely that there are more meanings and effects that are intended by the author and carried across by the translator which readers either fail to notice or re-interpret, than there are traces of meaning and poetic effects that have not been (and cannot be) translated.


Translatability, word-usages, interpretation, fusion of horizons, construals of experience

DOI 10.17462/para.2019.01.04