In this paper, I present a METONYMIC THEORY OF TRANSLATION. I argue that the work of the translator is concerned more with the processing of metonymic equivalents between the source and target language than the literal one-to-one substitution of linguistic items. Categories between languages rarely correspond exactly and the relationship between source and target text is rarely metaphorical; instead, it is the middle ground of near approximations and partial overlaps which best describes translation. I consider the contribution from the translation-studies literature of ‘shift’ theory (eg Catford 1965, Vinay & Darbelnet 1995) and schemes for solving problems created by conventional metaphor (eg Baker 2011, Broeck 1981, Dagut 1976, Newmark 1982). I reinterpret the notion of ‘shift’ in terms of metonymy and re-characterize figurative language as far more than an occasional obstacle around idioms, but rather a universal enabler and the basis of translation itself. I demonstrate, using original data, that metonymic processing is involved both in writing first drafts (termed ‘interlingual translation’ by Jakobson (2004 )) and in producing final versions through revision (‘intralingual translation’ (Jakobson ibid)). The METONYMIC THEORY OF TRANSLATION presented here is grounded in a more general theory of metonymy, in which the cognitive ability to recognize part-whole relations between signs and parts of signs plays a vital role right across the spectrum of linguistic phenomena. I end the paper by suggesting that the lens of metonymy is also a useful tool for understanding knowledge by allowing us to integrate partial truths into unified wholes and resolve differences between competing theories.
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