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Abduction, induction, deduction

The translator's experience is, of course, infinitely more complicated than simply

what s/he experiences in the act of translating. To expand our sense of everything

involved in the translator's experience, it will be useful to borrow another triad

from Peirce, that of abduction, induction, and deduction. You will recognize the

latter two as names for types of logical reasoning, induction beginning with specifics

and moving toward generalities, deduction beginning with general principles and

deducing individual details from them. "Abduction" is Peirce's coinage, born out

of his sense that induction and deduction are not enough. They are limited not

only by the either/or dualism in which they were conceived, always a bad thing for

Peirce; but also by the fact that on its own neither induction nor deduction is capable

of generating new ideas. Both, therefore, remain sterile. Both must be fed raw

material for them to have anything to operate on — individual facts for induction,

general principles for deduction — and a dualistic logic that recognizes only these

two ways of proceeding can never explain where that material comes from.

"promptitude of action"



Hence Peirce posits a third logical process which he calls abduction: the act of

making an intuitive leap from unexplained data to a hypothesis. With little or

nothing to go on, without even a very clear sense of the data about which s/he is

hypothesizing, the thinker entertains a hypothesis that intuitively or instinctively (a

First) seems right; it then remains to test that hypothesis inductively (a Second) and

finally to generalize from it deductively (a Third).

Using these three approaches to processing experience, then, we can begin to

expand the middle section of the translator's move from untrained instinct through

experience to habit.

The translator's experience begins "abductively" at two places: in (1) a first

approach to the foreign language, leaping from incomprehensible sounds (in speech)

or marks on the page (in writing) to meaning, or at least to a wild guess at what the

words mean; and (2) a first approach to the source text, leaping from an expression

that makes sense but seems to resist translation (seems untranslatable) to a targetlanguage

equivalent. The abductive experience is one of not knowing how to

proceed, being confused, feeling intimidated by the magnitude of the task — but

somehow making the leap, making the blind stab at understanding or reformulating

an utterance.

As s/he proceeds with the translation, or indeed with successive translation jobs,

the translator tests the "abductive" solution "inductively" in a variety of contexts: the

language-learner and the novice translator face a wealth of details that must be dealt

with one at a time, and the more such details they face as they proceed, the easier

it gets. Abduction is hard, because it's the first time; induction is easier because,

though it still involves sifting through massive quantities of seemingly unrelated

items, patterns begin to emerge through all the specifics.

Deduction begins when the translator has discovered enough "patterns" or

"regularities" in the material to feel confident about making generalizations: syntactic

structure X in the source language (almost) always becomes syntactic structure

Y in the target language; people's names shouldn't be translated; ring the alarm

bells whenever the word "even" comes along. Deduction is the source of translation

methods, principles, and rules — the leading edge of translation theory (see

Figure 3).

And as this diagram shows, the three types of experience, abductive guesses,

inductive pattern-building, and deductive laws, bring the translator-as-learner ever

closer to the formation of "habit," the creation of an effective procedural memory

that will enable the translator to process textual, psychosocial, and cultural material