Academic journal article NAWA: Journal of Language and Communication

Multilingualism and Self-Translation: Are We Different Because We Speak Different Languages?

Academic journal article NAWA: Journal of Language and Communication

Multilingualism and Self-Translation: Are We Different Because We Speak Different Languages?

Article excerpt

Nowadays multilingualism is a fact, at least in most countries in the world, and many people speak more than two or three languages without difficulty. That was not always the case. The 19th century was the era of monolingual cultures, colonialism, and of the languages of empires that subjugated the 'minor' languages. It was also the century of the native speaker myth. Individuals able to speak more than one language were considered impure speakers, liable to make all kind of mistakes while speaking in the languages they knew. Their speech was deemed to be full of interferences due to their bilingualism and marred by broken rules of grammar. Nevertheless, the 20th century and especially the 21st are the centuries of multilingual culture, of bilinguals and polyglots. These are the centuries of a greater variety of exchanges and the transgression of different frontiers. As a result, the consideration of the native speaker has appreciably changed, as is the case with the bilingual individual. Nowadays, the fact that people speak more than one or two languages is regarded as normal and advantageous to them, an advantage to be envied. There are increasingly more bilingual descendants of couples of different nationalities and languages, families living in a country other than their homeland and increasingly there are more exchanges between countries: academic exchanges, exchanges for other professional reasons or through personal choice, etc. Namibia is a good example of this situation.

An important example in literature of the aforementioned multilingualism is the existence of what I call, following Stephen Kellman's terminology (2003), "translingual or multilingual writers". We may And them on every inhabited continent. They are abundant in Spain, perhaps due to the existence of the three co-official languages with Castilian Spanish (Catalan, Galician and Basque), as well as in France, where translingual writers are numerous, thanks to the country's condition of "carrefour de cultures" (crossroad of cultures). This sort of writer exists not only in Europe but farther afield: we may consider India, for example, and many other countries in which more than one language is spoken, as well as in many African countries. The situation in neighboring South Africa, for instance, is one of the most representative on earth: there are 11 official languages and 9 non-official but national languages, and translingual writers are numerous.

Some multilingual authors also belong to the category of self-translators. Given that they are able to write in more than one language, certain of them are willing to translate their works into a different language, i.e., they write their works in one language and (normally) afterwards translate them into another language. It sometimes occurs that the two versions of the same text are produced at the same time.

Self-translation is a subject or a practice that has traditionally been neglected by all other subjects related to it (literature, translation, linguistics), even though there is documentary evidence of it since the 1st century and it was a very popular practice, specially in Europe, during Middle Ages and Renaissance between Latin and the national languages of the respective countries. Nevertheless one might suggest that it is only during the second half of last century (from 1950-1960) that selftranslation gained the importance of critical attention, and during the last ten years a proliferation of articles and studies on this subject has come to light. Self-translation is actually nowadays fashionable, something that we can probably connect with the aforementioned modern day consideration of speakers of more than one language.

Among the best known self-translators we may note the Irish Samuel Beckett (who initiated the interest in self-translation in the 60's), working in French and English, the Russian Vladimir Nabokov who worked in Russian and English, the FrenchAmerican Julien Green who wrote in English and French, the Indian Rabindranath Tagore who worked in Bengali and English, the Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiong'o who writes in English and Gikuyu or the South Africans Andre Brink and Breyten

Breytenbach who work in Afrikaans and English or Mazisi Kunene who wrote in Zulu and English. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.