The Concept of Translation

Summary: A post-colonial look at Translation

By: | Audience: All | Category: General Articles | Topic: Functions & Text

First Published: 6th Feb. 2009

The Concept of Translation


The word translation is Latin which means "carry or "bear across". In its literal meaning it is identical with that of metaphor which is a Greek word meaning "to carry" or bear across".


A Clone/ Deterritorialization/ Duplicitity

A colony begins as a translation, a copy of the original located elsewhere (a colonial clone): New England -New Spain - New York - New Amsterdam. Thus it is a political issue of deterritorialization of new land and duplication of the old land by means of mimicry.


A Lie/Betrayal/Act of Treachery

It is a metaphorical displacement of a text from one language to another. Literal meaning is expressed figuratively which is not empirically true. To create a metaphor is to engineer a lie: you are an angel. Thus it is a social issue. Notice the aphorism: tradutore, traditore (translator/traitor)


Change of Identity and Creolization

Translating a text involves transforming its material identity. It is a kind of cultural, linguistic and geographical transfer, transformation or change of positive and negative kinds. Translation is not a one-way road. It is a space of cultural interaction and a space of re-empowerment. It is thus a social and psychological issue.



Languages like classes and nations exist in a hierarchy i.e. the superimposition into the subordinate. The superimposition of an apparatus into which all aspects of the original culture have to be reconstructed, operate as processes of translational dematerialization such as naming and renaming geographical features. It is a question of power and a form of domination. No act of translation takes place in an entirely neutral space of absolute equality. Speaking English or French somewhere establishes different hierarchies than speaking Arabic. Speaking English translates you from a second-class individual to a first-class. Hence we are translated men and women. This is the culture of lying by translating into the dominant culture. However, the inferior copy may become more powerful than the original (US and Britain).


Literalization/ Desacralization

Graphical Representation of a text thus transforming oral cultures into the webs and snares of writing. The proliferation of writing would be only accessible to a privileged few. Thus Translation becomes part of the process of domination and achieving control. Violence on language, culture and people being translated.


Adapted and expanded by Jamshid Ibrahim Postcolonialism, Chapter 7- Translation, by Robert J.C. Young



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