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Radical translation is a term coined by American philosopher W. V. O. Quine to describe the situation in which a linguist is attempting to translate a completely unknown language, which is unrelated to his own, and is therefore forced to rely solely on the observed behavior of its speakers in relation to their environment. This is primarily meant to be a thought experiment, for, as Quine puts it, "radical translation is a near miracle, and it is not going to be done twice in the same language."
Quine tells a story (Quine 1960) to illustrate his point, in which an explorer is trying to puzzle out the meaning of the word "gavagai". He observes that the word is used in the presence of rabbits, but is unable to determine whether it means ‘undetached rabbit part’, or ‘fusion of all rabbits’, or 'temporal stage of a rabbit’, or 'the universal ‘rabbithood’
The subject is dealt with in more detail under Indeterminacy of translation.
- Indeterminacy of translation
- Meaning (linguistics)
- Philosophy of language
- Radical interpretation
- W. V. O. Quine
- Quine, Word and Object (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1960)
- Philosophy of Language: The Central Topics. eds., Susana Nuccetelli and Gary Seay. Rowman & Littlefield, 2007
- "Indeterminacy of Translation Again." W. V. Quine. in Philosophy of Language: The Central Topics. eds., Susana Nuccetelli and Gary Seay. Rowman & Littlefield, 2007
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