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Our panel of 88 professional philosophers has responded to

Question of the day

Translation is enormously important in philosophy. It is a philosophical topic of interest in its own right. There are issues that arise in connection with the thesis of the indeterminacy of translation and "radical translation", from scratch, associated with Quine, that call for an account of what translation actually is. Should language preserve poetry, or is it true that poetry is what is lost in translation? Is it acceptable to turn a Hebrew original into perfect English iambic pentameter, for example, as the King James Bible did, 'She gave / him of / the fruit / and he / did eat'? Or is the importation of a majestically inevitable and continuing process into the language itself a specious artifact? There is also the question whether translation into an ideal language is translation at all, or whether it is a funny kind of reconstruction. Besides all this, we have the question whether, since French and German, for example, lack an equivalent word for the English "mind", English sentences using "mind" really can be translated into these languages. Does it work to say that the mind-body problem in German is "das Seele-Körper Problem", or that to say in French, 'My mind is made up' means 'Jai décidé'? And if it doesn't work, is the translation defective? Or is all that translation of such sentences can achieve a rough-and-ready match? It is true that for many Germans "Seele" (soul) has no religious connotation, but for some it does. Besides, if it has no such connotation, is it right to translate it into English as "soul", which certainly does have the connotation? These are important questions. And when it comes to larger but perhaps nonsensical questions such as whether "mathematics is a language", the difficulties are only magnified. After all, the word for "language", in English, is descended from "lingua", which means "tongue".