Logos Multilingual Portal

3 - Collection of information

«"[...] the current that brings the sentences to [..]
stop for a moment before being absorbed by the
circuits of her mind [...]» 1.

At the end of the previous unit, we touched on the subject of the honing of perception, allowing, with practice, to detect finer and finer details. More than that, with practice it is possible to improve the duration, complexity, and depth of concentration on the perceptual act. Gibson''s examples concern a production engineer who can oversee a long sequence of mechanical operations, or a pilot who can keep track of all the information provided by his various instruments.
  Without a great stretch of the imagination, we can fancy what such refinement of perceptual abilities can mean when applied to translation activities. Obviously, the great concentration ability of a simultaneous interpreter comes easily to mind - many operations, not only those of a perceptual nature, to be carried out within an extremely short time span. Or that of a translator who is reading and, at the same time, has to keep track of all the inner and outer balances the utterance has in connection with the whole text: numerous synthesis and analysis operations carried out without the same pressure of the time limitations imposed on an interpreter, but which force her to focus on the structure as a whole and not on individual perceptual.

The spatial relations in an array, and the temporal relations in a sequence, permit the information to be taken in progressively larger and longer units or "chunks". One can finally grasp the simultaneous composition of a whole panel of instruments or a panorama, and apprehend the successive composition of a whole production line or a whole symphony 2.

Refinement of perceptual ability does not necessarily impose an active a role for memory. As it is possible to think without recalling, it is also possible to learn without remembering. Just as sensations are occasional and incidental symptoms of perceiving, "conscious remembering is an occasional and incidental symptom of learning" 3. Given that Gibson uses the adjective "conscious", we are lead to think that, when he writes that these operations do not impose the use of memory, the American psychologist refers only to conscious memory. We could reformulate some of his further statements this way: it is possible to think without using conscious memories, taking for granted the automatic and unknowing use of associations and memories.
  The same can be said about recognition: as we can recognize a person we know we have already met and not know who is she or where we met, it is, therefore, possible to recognize a word without remembering anything else about it. This is another argument suggesting the disconnection of learning and conscious memory.
  Let us now see how Gibson''s theory of information collection explains the effect of language on perception, a subject of still greater interest to many translators.
  Unlike previous theories that consider language a sort of code for labeling the reality perceived (drawing the conclusion that words, with their semantic limitations, limit perceptual capabilities confining the blurred perceptions to restricted coded definitions), Gibson postulates that language can have predication capabilities as well. It is not accidental that language is built with grammar, not only with vocabulary or, to say it in JAkobsonian terms, that it has syntagmatic association capabilities, beyond paradigmatic combination capabilities. The endless combinability of words, despite the (supposed) finiteness of each word, greatly increases the predication capabilities and, consequently, the expressive and interpretive potential. Gibson''s conclusion is that

Selection is inevitable. But this does not imply that the verbal fixing of information distorts the perception of the world 4.

Having perceived an object, the observer goes on and detects what Gibson calls affordances. Let us read in his own words about what he means by this term, coined by Gibson himself, then used by many researchers and spread all over the world exclusively in its English version.

I have coined this word as a substitute for values, a term which carries an old burden of philosophical meaning. I mean simply what things furnish, for good or ill. What they afford the observer, after all, depends on their properties 5.

With a polemic attitude toward the psychology based exclusively on laboratory experiments, and perhaps, also toward perceptual limitations postulated by the Gestalt school, Gibson sees the environmental, contextual aspect of perception in a new light. In a Darwinian perspective, according to which we must continuously adapt ourselves to our environment, we grasp the affordance of each object; in the case of an object or of a word, we do not limit ourselves to the fixed, denoted meaning, which would set insurmountable limits to perception, we also perceive the connotative, contextual, environmental meaning.
  If observer and observed environment are not abstract entities but are part of one context, this implies the impossibility of any kind of objective, detached observation "from without", in the same way as a fixed, cold, unrepeatable reading is impossible. The observer is part of the environment surrounding her as well as the text she is reading, so that each reading, each textual perception is, at the same time, a self-analysis 6.
  In turn, from this consideration derives the notion that each act of reading, in which one reads the text and at the same time, oneself, is a more or less subjective interpretation. A notion we will return to repeatedly during this second part of the translation course dedicated to the perception of the text by the translator.
  In the following units, we will touch upon the relationships between language and thought.


Bibliographical references

CALVINO I. If on a Winter''s Night a Traveller, translated by William Weaver, London, Vintage, 1998, ISBN 0-7493-9923-6.

GIBSON J. J. The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems, Westport (Connecticut), Greenwood Press, 1983, ISBN 0-313-23961-4. Prima edizione: 1966.

LOSTIA M. Modelli della mente, modelli della persona. Le due anime della psicologia, Firenze, Giunti, 1994. ISBN 88-09-20556-1.

1 Calvino 1998, p. 169.
2 Gibson 1983, p. 270.
3 Gibson 1983, p. 277.
4 Gibson 1983, p. 282.
5 Gibson 1983, p. 285.
6 Lostia 1994, p. 179.