The space of translation

William F. Hanks


This paper explores the space of translation spanning cross-cultural description and the verbal act of rendering in one language what is expressed in another. We make a three-way distinction between translation as a method of revealing difference and similarity, cultural interpretation, which is related but distinct, and endogenous translation that takes place within a single language or culture. Intracultural translation plays a constitutive role in the social life of any human group, and not only in mediating between different groups and languages. This is evident in all varieties of reported speech, paraphrase, commentary, and exegesis. These share with translation two features that distinguish it from other kinds of interpretation: a translation both refers to and paraphrases its source text. It is the target language into which one translates that ultimately constrains the process. An adequate target language must be functionally capable of self-interpetation through metalanguage. Cross-linguistic translation presupposes intralinguistic translation. Historical examples of languages changing through intertranslation abound in (post)colonial contexts in which authoritative texts in a dominant language are translated into a subordinated language. This process inevitably alters the semantics and pragmatics of the subordinate language. The direction, scope, and depth of change are historically variable. Examples are adduced from modern and colonial Yucatec Maya and Spanish.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau4.2.002