Translation of semiotics into translation theory, and vice versa

Susan Petrilli

Punctum, 1(2): 96-117, 2015
DOI: 10.18680/hss.2015.0018


Reflection on sign and translation contributes to a better understanding of problems concerning these processes, thereby orientating relative research methodologies. The dynamics involved is the same in both cases and concerns the dialogical relation between one sign and another which as an interpretant confers meaning and sense on the preceding sign. Though different disciplines, sign theory and translation theory study the same process, semiosis. Semiotics and translation act as interpretants of each other illuminating different aspects of signs forming the process itself, their specificities and interrelatedness. All signs, verbal or nonverbal, are part of a larger network of signs, according to Thomas Sebeok’s global semiotics. Considering that interpretation is translation, that the relation between interpreted and interpretant is a translation relation, that interpretants defer to each other in open-ended chains of semiosis, global semiotics evidences the translational nature of semiosis, therefore the translational vocation of semiotics. Sebeok belongs to a tradition in sign studies that develops from Locke to Peirce and includes authors like Welby, Jakobson, Bakhtin, Morris. All deal with translation, whether directly with their sign theory (Welby, Jakobson), or indirectly with reflections on dialogue and the relation between reporting and reported discourse (Bakhtin), or whilst searching for signs to talk about signs (Morris). Global semiotics opposes anthropocentric and glottocentric approaches to the life of signs: the whole biosphere is suffused with signs. As a general sign science semiotics is endowed with a propensity for dialogic encounter and translation. As an interpretive/translational phenomenon and thanks to its specificity as artistic discourse evolving in the ‘great time’ (Bakhtin), literature best evidences the dynamics of semiosis and the properly human, therefore the question of dialogic otherness, responsive understanding, responsibility/responsivity, translatability/intranslatability, iconicity, visibility/invisibility, similarity/dissimilaritry, the paradox of translation.

KEYWORDS: Semiosis; Otherness; Dialogism; Responsive understanding; Similarity
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