Translation Serves as a Political Catalyst since It Negotiates Power Relations

Cape Times (South Africa), October 5, 2015 | Go to article overview

Translation Serves as a Political Catalyst since It Negotiates Power Relations


BYLINE: Gava Kassiem

International Translation Day is celebrated every year on September 30 on the feast of St Jerome, the Bible translator who is considered the patron saint of translators.

Some theorists refer to the translation field as an "interdiscipline" since the activity highlights the interrelatedness of aspects such as language, culture, ideology, identity, power and patronage. Widespread research has demonstrated distinct links with a broad spectrum of disciplines. Added to this is the fact that translations are never the same as their originals and can also never be the same.

Language and culture are dynamic and open systems. Nida (1994) explains that, "Language reflects the culture, provides access to the culture, and in many respects constitutes a model of the culture". One must bear in mind that language facilitates communication but is also present in the conceptual world of mankind. The conceptual world is more complex than the system of linguistic signs. Linguistic categories arise from these conceptual categories, which not only assist with communication but also help us to understand the world.

In contrast Cronin (2003) holds the view that "language is not only a bearer of the cultural knowledge and wisdom, the worldview and the way of life of a particular community but that there is substantial and significant overlapping between areas of linguistic and biological diversity on the planet". Since humans can acquire a finite number of languages, translation affords them access to varieties of understanding.

The increase in translation activity is a direct result of global hybridity, and the world has literally shrunk because of it. Language has also been a significant indicator of contestation globally. Some consider it an instrument of power while others view it as a marker by which we construct or deconstruct the "other".

Linguistic identity refers to the value attached to a language, for example Afrikaans could be considered a "small language" vis-a-vis IsiZulu and English. Consequently, some languages are considered as powerful and others as less powerful or even powerless, which implies that when we accommodate linguistically, we construct a new identity.

Theorist Anthony Pym argues that languages are barriers or walls to communication and it is the translator's function to "communicate over or across or under or through the walls" and that "the world needs people who are able to straddle walls..."

To facilitate communication between master and servant, each will have to make some attempt at learning the language of the other and the initial wall will eventually disappear. Pym maintains that if this process is handled correctly, translation/translators would be able to improve the relations between cultures and would overcome the walls that have been created.

Translators should be "lubricants of exchange" or "brokers between disparate languages and cultures". Authorised or official discourses attempt to verify a universal identity. Consequently, official discourse has the authority to construct shared recognised representations. Cultural projects undertaken, particularly in the development of a domestic language and literature, have repeatedly demonstrated that cultural identities align with specific groups, classes and nations. …

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