The Linguist

The Linguist 59,3 - June/July 2020

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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FEATURES 18 The Linguist Vol/59 No/3 2020 What can the emerging field of pris role in society? Matthew Reynolds lo T ranslation breeds more translation. A novel, poem or play that travels into one foreign market will often spread to more. A news story, when picked up by a global news agency, will be reproduced in many languages. Films, TV shows, YouTube videos, Wikipedia entries and other kinds of media content are dubbed or translated not once, but again and again. A speech given in the European Parliament or United Nations is interpreted, both directly and via relay translation, into a multitude of tongues. This proliferation of translations may be especially quick – and especially visible – in modern times, but it is not only a contemporary phenomenon. Literary classics have become canonical by being interpreted and re-interpreted, translated and re-translated: think of the global multiplication of Homer and Shakespeare. Powerful religious texts, such as Buddhist sutras and the Bible, have gone through a similar process, establishing their influence through thousands of translations. What happens if we bring this plurality to the centre of our ideas about translation? If, rather than seeing translation according to the dictionary, as 'the action or process of turning from one language into another', we view it as an action or process that always tends to generate multiple versions in many varieties of language? And if we then broaden our perspective to try to hold in view this larger, multilingual and trans-temporal landscape within which any single act of translation has its place? This is what the prismatic approach to translation aims to do. Translation creates languages Here's one thing that the prismatic approach might help us to see differently. Common sense tells us that translation operates 'between languages', and much of the time that is a good enough description. But if you take a broader, prismatic view, you can see that translation also has a role in creating languages: it joins in the processes of standardisation and separation by which languages become established as different from one another. A stark example occurred in the Dayton Peace Accord of 1995 which, after the violent breakup of Yugoslavia, set the framework for peace between the newly separate nation states that were coming into existence. Like any international treaty, the Dayton Accord had to exist in several languages, one for each participating state. The trouble was that the distinctions between Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian were not always clear. Translators often had to decide what was going to count as Bosnian, for instance, in order to do the translation. 1 The same sort of thing has happened – and still does happen – in many different times and places. In New Zealand, in the early 19th century, Christian missionaries had to select from the varied forms of spoken Maori to construct a written medium into which the Bible could be translated. The scenario has been replicated by missionaries in hundreds of other locations. Administrators of multilingual states and empires have needed to define the languages of their subjects so that government – via translation – could be imposed. In fact, wherever processes of language standardisation are operative – whether in Turkey or Korea, France or the UK – translation is involved. The work that goes into establishing dictionaries and grammar books of one standard language also generates the bilingual dictionaries and textbooks that regulate equivalence between two or more standard languages. With online applications, such as Google Translate, some languages are selected for inclusion while others are not. The ones that are included will be ever better handled by the technology, and so increasingly establish themselves as the standard media for communication in the realm of automated language use. So translation does not just bridge pre-existing language differences. It also has a role in creating and organising the landscape of language variety across which it operates. Once you see this, I think you get a more vivid sense of the significance of a translator's THROUGH A LASTING LEGACY Anne, Emily and Charlotte Brontë, painted by their brother Branwell in c. 1834 (above)

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