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The act of translating: hijacking authority

29 September, 2015 - 15:10

(The idea for this variation came to me while listening to a lecture by my colleague, George Aichele, Professor of Philosophy/Religion at Adrian College.)

Finally, the fifth variation, T\rightarrow X+Y , refers to the act of translating a thought from one language to another. Since literal "one to one" translations are often impossible, or produce meaningless gibberish, choices must be made, and as with all choices the usual elements of decision and action—goals, side effects, circumstances—all come into play.

The translator's goal may be to convey the meaning expressed by the words being translated as closely as possible. In this event he or she may have to decide which of several possible meanings of the words is the meaning for this purpose, and will also have to determine which alternative translations will best convey that meaning. These decisions are not, however, political decisions.

On the other hand the translator may be primarily interested in manipulating the behavior of people via the power of words. The authenticity of the translation then becomes of secondary importance at best, and the principal issue becomes: what words, labeled as the results of translation, will be most likely to encourage the people who read them to act in the ways desired by the translator?

The most obvious potential for this second kind of translation—translation with a hidden agenda—exists when the words being translated come from a document which people tend to regard as authoritative. 1 When the document being "translated" is in the same language as that it is translated into, we normally use the term interpret rather than translate, but here too there are abundant opportunities for a hidden agenda.2

Misinterpretations and mistranslations of authoritative documents, documents which are widely revered or respected, may be seen as efforts to hijack authority. They are efforts to gain automatic or unthinking approval of new ideas by portraying them as old. The use of this technique, or course, does not prove that the new ideas thus packaged are necessarily untrue or bad.