Word and Object 7-16 - C H A P T E R T W O Translation and...

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C H A P T E R T W O Translation and Meaning We have been reflecting in a general way on how surface irrita- tions generate, through language, one's knowledge of the world. One is taught so to associate words with words and other stimula- tions that there emerges something recognizable as talk of things, and not to be distinguished from truth about the world. The voluminous and intricately structured talk that comes out bears little evident correspondence to the past and present barrage of non-verbal stimulation; yet it is to such stimulation that we must look for whatever empirical content there may be. In this chapter we shall consider how much of language can be made sense of in terms of its stimulus conditions, and what scope this leaves for em- pirically unconditioned variation in one's conceptual scheme. A first uncritical way of picturing this scope for empirically un- conditioned variation is as follows: two men could be just alike in all their dispositions to verbal behavior under all possible sensory stimulations, and yet the meanings or ideas expressed in their identically triggered and identically sounded utterances could diverge radically, for the two men, in a wide range of cases. To put the matter thus invites, however, the charge of meaninglessness: one may protest that a distinction of meaning unreflected in the totality of dispositions to verbal behavior is a distinction without a difference. 1 An interim draft of Chapter I1 was published, with omissions, as "Meaning and translation." Half of that essay survives verbatim here, comprising a scattered third of this chapter. 26
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5 7 FIRST STEPS OF RADICAL TRANSLATION 27 Sense can be made of the point by recasting it as follows: the infinite totality of sentences of any given speaker's language can be so permuted, or mapped onto itself, that (a) the totality of the speaker's dispositions to verbal behavior remains invariant, and yet (b) the mapping is no mere correlation of sentences with equiva- lent sentences, in any plausible sense of equivalence however loose. Sentences without number can diverge drastically from their re- spective correlates, yet the divergences can systematically so offset one another that the overall pattern of associations of sentences with one another and with non-verbal stimulation is preserved. The h e r the direct links of a sentence with non-verbal stimulation, of course, the less that sentence can diverge from its correlate under any such mapping. The same point can be put less abstractly and more realistically by switching to translation. The thesis is then this: manuals for translating one language into another can be set up in divergent ways, all compatible with the totality of speech dispositions, yet incompatible with one another. In countless places they will di- verge in giving, as their respective translations of a sentence of the one language, sentences of the other language which stand to each other in no plausible sort of equivalence however loose. The firmer
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