Translating against the grain

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Translation and interpreting are always socially embedded practices. They present as practices of mediation, negotiating meaning between languages and discursive forms and cultures. Strategies involved are in a continuum from defamiliarisation to domestication: from deliberately translating so as to make the conceptual frame of the source text challenge received assumptions in the target language, to translating in ways which make the finished text indistinguishable from one originally conceived and socially framed in the target language. The choice of strategies always has a political dimension, whether conscious or unconscious, overt or hidden. This paper analyses the unusually full archival record of a nineteenth-century colonial trial as the nexus of a range of competing practices of translation and interpreting. Of particular interest is the ways in which translation practices in opposition to the rooted assumptions of the dominant culture—and so necessarily “against the grain”—serve to reveal the repressed polyphony of a nineteenth-century colonial society and open up new cultural and interactional possibilities.


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