Translating Cultures: Perspectives on Translation and Anthropology

Translating Cultures: Perspectives on Translation and Anthropology

Translating Cultures: Perspectives on Translation and Anthropology

Translating Cultures: Perspectives on Translation and Anthropology

Synopsis

The task of the anthropologist is to take ideas, concepts and beliefs from one culture and translate them into first another language, and then into the language of anthropology. This process is both fascinating and complex. Not only does it raise questions about the limitations of language, but it also challenges the ability of the anthropologist to communicate culture accurately. In recent years, postmodern theories have tended to call into question the legitimacy of translation altogether. This book acknowledges the problems involved, but shows definitively that 'translating cultures' can successfully be achieved.The way we talk, write, read and interpret are all part of a translation process. Many of us are not aware of translation in our everyday lives, but for those living outside their native culture, surrounded by cultural difference, the ability to translate experiences and thoughts becomes a major issue. Drawing on case studies and theories from a wide range of disciplines -including anthropology, philosophy, linguistics, art history, folk theory, and religious studies - this book systematically interrogates the meaning, complexities and importance of translation in anthropology and answers a wide range of provocative questions, such as:¿ Can we unravel the true meaning of the Christian doctrine of trinity when there have been so many translations?¿ What impact do colonial and postcolonial power structures have on our understanding of other cultures?¿ How can we use art as a means of transgressing the limitations of linguistic translation?Translating Cultures: Perspectives on Translation and Anthropology is the first book fully to address translation in anthropology. It combines textual and ethnographic analysis to produce a benchmark publication that will be of great importance to anthropologists, philosophers, linguists, historians, and cultural theorists alike.

Excerpt

The central aim of the anthropological enterprise has always been to understand and comprehend a culture or cultures other than one' own. This inevitably involves either the translation of words, ideas and meanings from one culture to another, or the translation to a set of analytical concepts. Translation is central to “writing about culture”. However, curiously, the role that translation has played in anthropology has not been systematically addressed by practitioners, even though translation has been so central to data-gathering procedures, and to the search for meanings and understandings, which is the goal of anthropology. One of the reasons for this has been the ongoing internal dialogue about the nature of the discipline. There are those who feel that anthropology is a social science, with the emphasis on science, whose methodology, which usually involves analytical concepts, sampling and quantification, must be spelled out in detail. On the other side are those who emphasize the humanistic face of the field, and who feel that the way to do fieldwork cannot be taught. Still others, who focus on achieving understanding of another culture, think it can only be achieved by “total immersion” and empathy.

Since its inception as a discipline and even in the “prehistory” of anthropology, translation has played a singularly important role. In its broadest sense, translation means cross-cultural understanding. The European explorers and travelers to Asia and later the New World were always being confronted with the problem of understanding the people whom they were encountering. Gesture and sign language, used in the first instance, were soon replaced by lingua francas and pidgins, and individuals who learned these lingua francas and pidgins became the translators and interpreters. These pioneers in cross-cultural communication not only brought back the words of the newly encountered people but also became the translators and communicators of all kinds of information about these people, and the interpreters of their very differing ways of life, for European intellectuals, and the European public at large. They were also the individuals who were the basis for the conceptions which the Others had of Europeans.

With the development of anthropology as a formal academic discipline in the mid-nineteenth century, and later as a social science, translation of course . . .

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