Translation, Universals, Mystère

  • Michael L. Johnson


In an essay appropriately entitled ‘Understanding as Translation’, Steiner considers the omnipresence of translation in the human use of language. He notices how reading Shakespeare is tantamount to translating him: the historical development of language demands a decipherment between two psychocultural contexts. Likewise, ‘The world of an Austen novel is radically linguistic: all reality is “encoded” in a distinctive idiom’1 that the reader must translate (from ciphertext to cleartext by means of some encicode) in order to understand. But translation — the assumption of an alien vision, the inhalation of an alien voice — is not peculiar to literary experience; indeed, it is co-extensive with the whole human experience of language and essential to it. One who uses language effectively is a translator, an interpreter or, to use Steiner’s polyvalent word, an interprète.


Deep Structure Transformational Grammar Substantive Universal Phenomenal Evidence Specific Ensemble 
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  1. 1.
    George Steiner, After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), pp. 8–9.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    See Allan Calder, ‘Constructive Mathematics’, Scientific American, Oct. 1979, pp. 146–71.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Michael L. Johnson 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael L. Johnson
    • 1
  1. 1.University of KansasUK

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