Sunday, 16 August 2015
Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything,
David Bellos, Penguin, 2011, page 72
The meaning of what we say is context dependent. The same words have different meanings depending on when and where we say them. Bellos explains:
The point is worth repeating: what an utterance means to its utterer and to the addressee of the utterance does not depend exclusively on the meaning of the words uttered. Two of the key determinants of howan utterance convers meaning (and of the meaning that it effectively conveys) are these: the situation in which it is uttered (the time, the place and knowledge of the practices that are conventionally performed by people present in such a time and place); and the identities of the participants, together with the relationship between them.
One has only to consider the way the word 'covenant' is understood in Jewish and Christian circles, or between some Christian circles and other Christian circles, to see the truth in Bellos' claim. Yet, as an English word, it is not translated when in those different contexts; the speaker and the hearer are assumed to be aware of the cultural connections that the word has in those contexts. Using it with the wrong cultural meaning can cause amusement or offence.