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Semantic asymmetries and the 'war on terror'

Montgomery, Martin (2009) Semantic asymmetries and the 'war on terror'. In: Globalisation, Political Violence and Translation. Palgrave McMillan, New York, pp. 117-135. ISBN 9780230235410

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This paper is not about translation in the strict sense of the transfer of meaning between distinct linguistic systems. It is concerned rather with the transfer of expressions from one domain of the public sphere, such as presidential addresses or broadcast interviews, to another domain, such as newspaper headlines. This could be considered a special case of what Jakobson (1959/2004) refers to as intralingual translation, 'an interpretation of verbal signs by means of other signs in the same language'2 - except that here we are concerned with the way key expressions are re-cycled in and through the news in ways that effectively broaden and narrow their meaning.3 It is the contention of this paper that in the coding and re-coding of events since 9/11 the terms war and terror have transferred back and forth between domains of the public sphere in such as way as to broaden the meaning of the item war while narrowing the meaning of terror.