Four Faces, Eight Places: Elaborate Expression, Emergent Meaning, and Translation as Discourse Art

Walrod, Michael R.; Jamin R. Pelkey
This paper lights a torch at the dual flame of Paul Ricoeur‘s interaction theory of meaning and Northrop Frye‘s centripetal theory of meaning to shed light on the little discussed implications of "four-syllable elaborate expressions"—polyfunctional poetic phrases that frequently surface both in Chinese discourse and in various translations of the Chinese Bible. The term "emergent text-level meaning" (Walrod 2007) describes the gestalt semantics of a given text which, much like consciousness, cannot be reduced to the sum of its conventionally defined parts. Four-syllable elaborate expressions are common in the languages of East and Southeast Asia and involve aesthetically pleasing, often ancient, combinations of monosyllabic morpheme pairs that constitute microcosmic texts in themselves. For example, 四面八方 'four faces, eight places' is the Dangdai Yiben (Chinese Living Version) rendering of the Job 37:3 phrase, כַּנְפֹ֥ות הָאָָֽרֶץ or 'the wings of the earth', usually translated, "the ends of the earth" in English. Applying insights from the metaphor-oriented hermeneutics of Ricoeur (1981) and Frye (2006), we argue that four-syllable elaborate expressions illustrate some of the ways in which "metaphor" and "text" function interdependently. The meaning that emerges from this interaction of microcosm and macrocosm is itself dependent on an often overlooked factor: the successful integration of a poetic imagination conversant with the dynamics of language and thought in a given socio-geographical context—in this case, East Asia. Our conclusions have implications for philosophy of language and translation theory alike.
Content Language:
Translation theory
Theories of meaning
Interaction semantics
Chinese four-syllable elaborate expressions
Centripetal semantics
Nature of Work:
pages 11-26
Entry Number:
42 778