Some claim that one can “find” “a” meaning in a text. I usually find that I’m bombarded with possible meanings. The claim is that by carefully parsing words one will arrive at the one true meaning.  And that meaning “is” or “is as if we got to” the meaning “intended” by the writers. They got to or started from that meaning.

This claim is made in a number of contexts, notably in connection with interpreting the language of a contract or constitution. 

That seems off of the mark.  When I write, the words never seem right, and when I read, good writing seems like a good tour guide — the words keep me looking in the right direction.

When I learned my second and third languages, it was viscerally reinforced that words aren’t the same thing as thought.  You need to move the English out of the way to let the French or German words present themselves so that they can be arranged into a construction that fits the rules and will point another person in the right direction.

But, it might be argued, even if the words come after the thought, maybe they still subsume it.  How can you talk about a thought except in words?  Aren’t the thought and its words consubstantial, at least practically speaking?  Speaking of which, translation provides a nice example that pushes back on this notion.  

The multiple versions of a legal text, for instance the clause that accords the power to arbitrate disputes to the ICC, can be written in different languages.  Do these mean the same thing?  Did the authors “intend” that they mean the same thing?  Does their “intent” bridge the nuances of language! What is “intent” in the various languages. Do we parse each in its own direction or think of them as having a collective intent?

http://beta.commonaccord.org/wiki/Org_ICCWBO_Agt_Dispute_Library_Polyglot

 

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