Translation in Asia: Theories, Practices, Histories

By Lindsay, Jennifer | Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, February 2013 | Go to article overview

Translation in Asia: Theories, Practices, Histories


Lindsay, Jennifer, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies


Translation in Asia: Theories, practices, histories

Edited by RONIT RICCI and JAN VAN DER PUTTEN

Manchester: St Jerome Publishing, 2011. Pp. 191. Index.

There is much that scholars of Asia can learn from thinking about translation, and much that translation studies scholars can learn from studying practices in Asia, as this excellent book, Translation in Asia: Theories, practices, histories, edited by Ronit Ricci and Jan van der Putten reveals. The book consists of an introduction and eleven chapters, with contributions by Thomas Hunter, Torsten Tschacher, Peter Friedlander, Ronit Ricci, Haslina Haroon, Vijayakumar Boratti, Jose Mario Fransisco, Didi Kwartanada, Erlinda Alburo, Paul Rae and S. Sanjeev. Essays discuss translation in South and Southeast Asia (despite the broad 'Asia' of the title), and from, into, and between languages including Sanskrit, Javanese, Malay, Tagalog, Cebuano, Filipino, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Hindi, Mandarin, Arabic, Spanish and English. The period of translation history covered is broad; from the two millenia-old cosmopolis shaped by Sanskrit, to contemporary performance in Singapore.

The essays take translation studies in exciting new directions. The strongest linking thread is the questioning of ways interlingual transfer -- and language itself--is conceptualised in South and Southeast Asia. Rather than merely identifying instances of a practice readily familiar (from a Euro-American-centric perspective) as 'translation', the writers work hard, from the inside out as it were, to find local explanations of where languages begin and end, and how movement between them is both thought about and practised. This approach reveals a wealth of translation activity and often traditions of profound reflection about it. It leads to discussion about the juxtaposition of and movement between vernacular and cosmopolitan languages (Hunter's wonderful essay on Sanskrit and Old Javanese, and Tschacher on the rendering of Islamic texts in Arabic into Tamil); between languages of writing and speech; between high and low status languages; and between the sacred and secular. It raises questions such as: what is 'unintelligibility', where does it lie, and what is its purpose? It shows how language encounters stimulate the formulation of ideas about 'translation' (for instance Munshi's reflections on Malay); influence language practice (commentary on 'foreign' texts influencing the structure of the local language); and highlight both complex interrelationships between languages and scripts, and differences between manuscript and print culture.

This book also demonstrates how a focus on translation can be an entry point to the study of Asia, enriching our understanding of histories of contact, the complexities of thoroughly multilingual societies, and interrelationships between language, identity and power. Asia's multi-religious context, with long-established interaction between Moslem, Hindu, Buddhist and Christian traditions, is fertile ground for the study of ways adherents perceive languages of religion and sacred texts (Sanskrit, Pall, and Arabic, for instance) and how these languages, moved between different contexts, transfer ideas. Hunter's essay on the Sanskrit ecumene helps us (after Pollock) associate contemporary ideas of identity formation -- cosmopolitanism -- with centuries-old practice.

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