Davidson’s Notions of Translation Equivalence

Francesca Ervas 1
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1Università Roma Tre

Copyright ⓒ 2016, Sejong University Language Research Institue. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Published Online: Jan 01, 2017


The paper analyses the relationship of semantic equivalence as described by Donald Davidson in his theory of meaning, showing its limits above all in respect to language use in the contextual situation. The notion of equivalence used by the “first” Davidson does not successfully explain why some biconditionals are simply true and why others, besides being true, offer the real translation of the source sentence. The paper argues that the main limits of the Davidsonian proposal, which lie in the very attempt to apply Tarskian theory of truth to natural languages, are partially overcome later by Davidson himself. Above all in his paper A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs (1986), Davidson rejects the very idea of an “invariance of meaning” and proposes a “second” notion of equivalence, described as the research of momentary and always changing points of convergence of interpreter and speaker, depending on contextual information. This convergence is possible because of a “deeper equivalence,” a common cognitive apparatus that allows communication to take place. At any rate, as the paper aims to demonstrate, this solution seems to simply shift the problem on to another level of explanation. Once this level of “deeper equivalence” is reached, there is too no explanation of exactly how a translator can understand contextual implications in order to grasp functional equivalence.

Keywords: translation equivalence; radical interpretation; translatability; meaning nvariance



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