5. The treason of translation?

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It is perfectly obvious that using a translator or interpreter has practical benefits; it is perhaps less obvious that psychological disadvantages may present themselves. The translator is one whose linguistic competence gives entry to (at least) two language communities, and there may be apprehension. As George Steiner has pointed out, &#8220;there is in every act of translation &#8211; and specially where it succeeds &#8211; a touch of treason. Hoarded dreams, patents of life are being taken across the frontier.&#8221; The old Italian proverb is blunter: <i>traduttori traditori</i>. This reflects the familiar idea that concealment is as much a feature of language as is communication. Privacy, the construction of fictionalised myths, legends and stories, and outright dissimulation are at once important and threatened by translation and translators; one contemporary theme here is the &#8220;appropriation&#8221; of native stories by outsiders, for in many cultures, particularly those with powerful and rich oral traditions, stories <i>belong</i> to the group or, indeed, to some designated story-teller. There is, then, a potential tension between the necessity of translation and its invasive qualities. This chapter suggests some points relevant to this tension &#8211; with particular regard to ethnic-group boundaries and the politics of group identity.


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