Where is similarity?


Andrew Chesterman (University of Helsinki)


2005b      In Stefano Arduini and Robert Hodgson (eds), Similarity and Difference in Translation. Rimini: Guaraldi, 63-75.





Does similarity exist as a relation between entities “out there”, such as a raven and a writing-desk, or a source text and its translation? Or is similarity a matter of perception, a relation “in the mind”? Or both? Similarity has been called a multi-placed predicate: what does this mean, and what might it imply for translation studies? The article examines the problem of similarity assessment, with initial reference to similarity across different semiotic systems such as music, pictures and language. It then discusses the relevance to translation studies of the distinction between convergent and divergent similarity first proposed by Sovran (1992). Similarity assessment is shown to depend on point of view, on the contextual situation, on the relation of relevance, and on the purpose of the assessment. It therefore follows that no theory of equivalence can be tenable if it does not include notions of skopos, relevance and context, as well as the subjectivity of the translator. Finally, since extensional definitions of concepts are also based on similarity assessments, the concept of translation itself is also a relative one, perhaps prototypical. Similarity is shown to exist in all three of Popper’s Worlds.