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Network’s Inaugural Colloquium – Proceedings


Translations in Transnational Contexts:

Ideas, Methods and Approaches

8 May 2013



Panel 1: Project Descriptions I: European Vernaculars

Dr. Erica Charters (Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine and Faculty of History) referred to the structures of knowledge in the context of medicine in a period of international warfare, noting the difference between the ‘state’ structure in France and the English mix of state and private enterprise. Warfare was simultaneously a situation of exchange and of disruption, and medical practitioners took advantage of its possibilities for medical advance. English texts reached French readers through translations; all major English texts were available within a few years of publication, direct from the authors. Translations tended to be very literal, and footnotes were employed.  The utility of translations was emphasized in French reviews of these works; it was considered something of a patriotic duty. With warfare occurring from America to India, there was sometimes less emphasis on French versus British identity than on European versus non-European identities.  The contact between the medical profession in the two countries and its reliance on translation was an important example of pragmatic scientific advance in difficult circumstances.

Stewart McCain (Worcester College, Faculty of History) described his research on the politics of language under Napoleon I, highlighting the policy of Francization operated against linguistic diversity and its limitations from the necessity of administering areas where the population spoke other languages and had no tradition of using French as the prestige written language. In these circumstances French text had to be translated into the other languages used. These included Basque, Breton, Flemish, German, Italian, Occitan and other Romance forms. Interim measures were adopted in some circumstances to permit the use of ‘local idioms’ until future deadlines set by the authorities.  The speaker noted the career opportunities that arose for translators and the commercial opportunities for bilingual printers, as a result of the language situation. Questions arose concerning the reliability of translators in some circumstances. 

Dr. Tom Kuhn (St. Hugh’s College, Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages) introduced the major research project on Brecht in English, in which aspects such as publishing politics, economics, and copyright all have an impact on what is meant by ‘translation’. The German texts of his works are the ones which have ‘archival’ status, so that versions in other languages face different editorial issues, particularly in the case of fragmentary texts such as some dramatic works. A series of problems arise, such as the status of English vocabulary (e.g., Brecht’s theory of  ‘alienation’) used in earlier translations over the past half century, some of which can be related to the Cold War, US/UK rivalries over Brecht as an ‘English’ author, and other complications. The wide-ranging output of Brecht in poems, plays, and theoretical writings, and his international cultural and political status, make the project one in which a variety of diplomatic considerations arise with which editors would not often have to deal.

Katarzyna Szymanska(St. Hugh’s College, Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages), speaking on Literary Metatranslations, outlined the background of existing theories on literary translation in terms of the kind of dualities expressed by previous scholars, dividing translations into substitution versus contiguity, representation or transformation, translators who seek to ‘be’ the source-language writer and those who seek to ‘follow’ that writer, in short, distinguishing translations that duplicate, reproduce, or imitate the original and those that seek to creatively write from the original. She traced the development of translation studies as a separate discipline, and introduced Metatranslation in which translation is a literary device that goes beyond a substitution or one-to-one relationship with the original.

Discussion was wide-ranging. The two presentations by historians attracted questions concerning the type of individual undertaking the translation, which in the case of Dr. Charters’ medical texts was usually a junior medical professional; the sources of funding of the translations, and the reaction of the authorities including whether the material was censored.  In the case of the Napoleonic authorities examined by Mr McCain, questions arose at the time on the degree of literalism in translations and what steps could be taken to ensure that translations of official texts were reliably ‘close’ to the originals. Translations were often used as an instrument of power, but the act of translation was also seen as a potentially subversive activity. Issues of consent to translation also arose.  There was a conflict between local demand for official texts in languages other than French and the policy emanating from Paris. Discussion of the two presentations on ‘literary’ aspects of translation included the problems of finding appropriate terms in cases in which Brecht was himself creating a neologism, and the issue of when translation ends and adaptation begins. The status and authority of translators was also debated; the ‘invisibility’ of translators was noted, as was the contribution of women performing that function.

Panel 2: Project Descriptions II: Non-European Vernaculars and Non-Literary Approaches

Laurie Allen (St. Catherine’s College, Faculty of History) described the Cape Bedford mission context of the texts he was examining; these were produced by indigenous converts and circulated in Germany to supporters of the missionary activity.  In some cases, the German version and the original are in parallel, but in others they constitute separate blocks of text; the expected word-order of German was often disrupted. There were problems other than the purely linguistic ones too: the status of a non-local Aboriginal writer (Joseph), the acceptability of a young female convert writing to an older pastor, the unmediated and outspoken 16-year old Emma failing to actually apologise for breaking a window… Family relationships and hierarchies often leaked into the language. How far subversion (preference for a hunter-gatherer existence) was expressed was a question for consideration.

Dr. Mallica Kumbera Landrus (Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology) discussed the Portuguese presence in Goa and the impact of the introduction and imposition of Christianity (e.g. forced conversion of indigenous groups, destruction of native religious structures; harsh inquisition), before turning to the architectural consequences of this situation.  A certain degree of syncretism between Hindu and Christian building form and style was illustrated by slides of surviving structures from the colonial period.

Dr. Danica Salazar (Hertford College, Faculty of English) briefly outlined the linguistic situation of The Philippines, with a population of 97 million among whom around one hundred languages and dialects were in use, with Filipino (Tagalog) and English as the present official languages.  The population was mostly bilingual or trilingual. The historical position of Spanish in the archipelago was outlined (75% of the vocabulary of Tagalog being Spanish-based), before the speaker turned to the case of Nínay: Costumbres filipinas, written in Spanish in 1885, this work was translated into English in 1907 and into Tagalog in 1908.

Discussion: The size of the Cape Bedford archive was noted, as was the survival of the indigenous language involved. In the case of Goa, there were no indigenous letters or texts recording local reactions from the period of the imposition of Christianity. The Jesuits learned the local languages in order to catechize; native dress was banned and the forms of names were changed. In the case of Nínay: Costumbres filipinas, the content of footnotes citing works in French and Spanish was queried, and the role and status of the English translator was a matter of interest.

Panel 3:  Project Descriptions III: Literary Approaches

Qian Liu (Queen’s College, Institute of Chinese Studies) observed that the translators of the texts under discussion could change plots, names of characters, and similar major matters, and might even appear as the authors themselves.  The range of European material translated and quoted was wide: Byron, Shelley, Burns, parts of Ibsen and Victor Hugo all appear in the work on one writer.  The result is a fusion of foreign literary material and Chinese traditional material and conventions.

Helen Slaney(St. Hilda’s College, Faculty of Classics) noted a variety of problems in the field of reception studies and translation, only some of which were inherent to the material and processes involved. Translation theory had been helpful in defining reception and consideration of modes of appropriation (Ovid in Shakespeare, Classical motifs in Fascist art and architecture, etc.); differences between reception studies and comparative literature as approaches are important despite the contiguity of the fields.

Dr. Jonathan Thacker (Merton College, Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages) proposed that drama has the particular characteristic that translation of a play dates very quickly indeed in comparison to other literary modes. He discussed various existing translation strategies and noted some quite free approaches (for example, changing endings which were thought to be insufficiently ‘happy’).  Unusual situations encountered in the field of drama translation include the RSC performing English versions of Golden Age (s.XVI-XVII) Spanish plays to Spanish-speaking audiences in Madrid with retranslation (but into modern Spanish) in surtitles. In the area of comparative studies a comparison of French and English translations of Spanish plays was an obvious and important step.

Discussion: The role of quotations in the Chinese texts was discussed, as was the issue of what constituted ‘appropriation’; the case of a work such as Racine’s Phèdre was considered in terms of its relation to ancient versions of the myth. It was pointed out that theatre was above all spoken language, which might bring with it some genre-specific problems not affecting other types of text.

Discussion of Future Network Arrangements

There was more support from both speakers and those attending for a future Network programme consisting of multi-speaker colloquia than for one based on single-speaker seminar meetings.  A proposal for the next event to address issues related to ‘Translation in Times of Disruption’ was well received. This will be a one-day conference to take place next year and for which we have already obtained some financial assistance from TORCH. Ideas for publications emanating from this event were also discussed. The organizers encouraged participants to actively contribute to the Network’s blog with posts and/or articles and to consider getting involved in its running and development.










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