Developing Sanity in Human Affairs

By Susan Presby Kodish; Robert P. Holston | Go to book overview

27
General Semantics and Translation Theory

Alexandra Chciuk-Celt

General semantics seems to concentrate almost exclusively on English, probably because it was invented in that language. I would like to suggest that Alfred Habdank Korzybski would doubtless approve of incorporating cross-cultural material in order to make the discipline more truly general in outlook: Anyone with a Polish surname and German middle name who writes in English surely owes as much of his linguistic theory to his international background as to his scientific studies. Korzybski was "led to suspect strongly that the finer differences in the structure of . . . languages and their use are connected with the semantics of . . . national groups." He considered international psycholinguistics a very promising field, although his attitude was characteristically prescriptive: he wanted to change the "emotional attitudes" of primitive civilizations to reflect modern scientific structural discoveries. 1

The input of anthropologists, psycholinguists, and translators would be invaluable in such a hypothetical agenda. In particular, general semantics and translation are more relevant to and supportive of each other than either general semanticists or translators usually realize. I wrote as much in my 1979 M.A. thesis, Thought for Food: Toward a Theory of Translation, and have since then been saying so to my translation students at the Polish Institute, Manhattanville College, and New York University. Korzybski himself repeatedly uses the term translation to denote any passage in either direction between lower and higher orders of abstraction, dynamics to statics, systems and frames of reference, ideas and emotions, scientific statements into structural language, items of terminology, impulse into actions, system-functions among each other, submicroscopic and macroscopic events, matrix mechanics into functional calculus, methods and levels among each other, ordinary equations and the language of operators, arithmetic and geometry, physiological results into "psycho-logical" feelings, and abstractions and experiences. 2

Very briefly: Any natural language is a psycholinguistic map of the society

-328-

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