Iconicity and developments in translation studies

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A fundamental issue with reference to the translation process concerns the type of relation between the original and the translated text. Peirce indicates three possibilities: icon, index and symbol. For many scholars it is a given that the relation of similarity between the original text and the translated text predominates and that the iconic relation ordinarily describes the character of translation. However, evidence is provided in this paper to show from a theoretical viewpoint (i.e. from that of translation studies) and a practical viewpoint (with examples provided) that a relationship between source text and target text which is characterised as iconic can only be weakly iconic because a target text can never fully resemble its source text in every respect linguistically and culturally. Furthermore in certain cases an indexical or symbolic relationship rather than an iconic one may even predominate. Since the 1980s, discourses about translation have broadened steadily. An outflow of these developments is a greater understanding of the superordinate categories of translation and the fact that the relation between source and target text is no longer only one of resemblance (i.e. iconicity). An example of iconicity from the Koran and its translation is provided as evidence for a predominant, but weak iconic relationship between source text and target text. Examples from the Sesotho Bible translation and <i>Das neue Testament</i> illustrate that the predominant relationship can also be indexical or symbolic (rather than iconic), respectively.


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