A proposed strategy for translating polysemous language in German philosophy
Translators of German philosophy into English must often choose whether to express concrete or abstract meanings for polysemous German keywords. This article discusses “differential translation,” a widely underestimated strategy for representing polysemous words in translation. Disavowing both untranslatability and the necessity of terminological equivalence, this strategy integrates signs of polysemy into the reading experience by presenting foreign keywords in brackets after their differing, context-dependent meanings. The article discusses how translators have already responded and how they might respond even more constructively to passages where Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and Hans Blumenberg, respectively, choose words that link abstractions to images: by presenting existence as both foundational and ground-like (gründlich), time as both fluctuating and fluid (strömend), and common sense as both obvious and nearby (naheliegend). Encountering differentially translated texts would challenge future scholars to evaluate the unity of the concepts behind the words.
Keywords: polysemy, phenomenology, metaphor, untranslatability, Heidegger, Blumenberg
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Published online: 13 April 2017
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