Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Postcolonial Theories of Translation

I’m off to Japan now to attend the conference of the International Research Society for Children’s Literature, where I’ll present on the role of power in translating dialects in children’s literature. My research on this topic has been influenced by postcolonial theories of translation, and it’s been fascinating to see how postcolonial theories relate to children’s literature and to translation in general.

For those of you who might want to learn more about this topic, I recommend these books: Translation and Power, edited by Maria Tymoczko and Edwin Gentzler, and Translation and Empire: Postcolonial Theories Explained by Douglas Robinson. They give detailed background to the topic.

A quote from the first book sums up the role of translation in colonization: Translations are “one of the primary literary tools that larger social institutions–educational systems, arts councils, publishing firms, and even governments–had at their disposal to “manipulate” a given society in order to “construct” the kind of “culture” desired” (Tymoczko and Gentzler, xiii).

In other words, those in power can decide which texts to translate and how to translate them in order to further their own goals and influence those over whom they have power. What I will talk about in Kyoto refers to how adults might use this power when it comes to writing and translating for children.


Erika Dreifus said...

Have a wonderful trip, Brett!

Eric Dickens said...

What I find intriguing about postcolonial theories is that they often tackle the former British Empire, where the English language sometimes remains to this day a lingua franca, as in India, where it is used as a kind of national Esperanto.

Furthermore, the theory often studies novels as the main empirical data.

Firstly, novels are but a fraction of the postcolonial use of a language.

Secondly what about empires, such the Russian, then Soviet, empire where former colonies are eager to dump the Russian language as swiftly as possible, as opposed to nurture the colonial tongue, as with English.

I fear that much postcolonial theory is really a study of English Literature under another guise. This, ironically, makes it a neo-colonial enterprise, and an ethnocentric one centred only around the English language (plus, nowadays, a little French).

B.J. Epstein said...

Thank you for your critical look at postcolonial theories, Eric. I think you have a point, but of course it tends to be theorists from the UK and its former colonies, or from former French colonies, that do this work, so that is what is available to us to read. Where are the theorists from the former USSR? Perhaps they are doing this sort of work, but it is not getting translated. Or maybe they just want to move on from that time in their history. Or they define their time as part of the Soviet Union differently (i.e. not as being colonized or as members of an empire) than do those who were part of the British Empire.
For me, I find the larger ideas behind these theories interesting. I do not research works from countries that were once owned by France or the UK (unless you count the former colony the United States!), but I think the questions of power and translation are quite relevant, especially in my work with children's literature.

Best wishes,

Alex El Intérprete said...

Hola, Soy intérprete de lengua de señas colombiana, realmente me ha parecido facinante tu blog.. hace mucho estaba buscado uno con la rigurosidad que tiene el tuyo, realmente se me facilita más leer en ingles que escribirlo o hablarlo, no le he dedicado el tipo que se merece, pero ten por seguro que estaré siguiendo de cerca tu blog. Felicitaciones