Luise von Flotow

I was particularly interested at the section on elitist translation. What is the purpose of making the “already difficult source material even more obscure”- would this not alter the intended message and audience, thus changing the ‘identity politics’, ‘positionality’, and ‘historicity’ of the text?

However Godard “responds to the ‘separatism and classificatory demarcation’ that she claims is a corollary to Gillam’s text, where anglophone social activism is contrasted to francophone ‘epistemological and cultural revolution’. Translation, for Godard, strives to traverse precisely these types of boundaries.”

This seems to be the opposite of my first thoughts. How do you see this type of translation?

Angèle Kingué

Angèle Kingué began by starting the reading in the text in the original French. She said that it is only in our mother tongues that we can truly be ourselves. Ngugi argues that English is not an african language. In this case, would Ngugi not consider French to be an African language as well?  If not, does that alter the meaning/value of Kingué’s work since she does not write in an African language?

Angèle Kingué states that we are what we speak- ideas in manner of expression, subtly we try to convey the essence of what we try to capture with words. How is her writing perceived differently because it is written in the language of the colonizer? We have studied how languages differ in what they must say, so how is this the case for Kingué when writing in French? How is this affected when then translated into English?

Finally, we have discussed how there are many dialects of a language. When Kingué writes does she use an African dialect or the French taught in France? How does this affect how the writing is received to native and to foreign audiences? What then is the implication on the economics of translating the work?


Tymoczko describes post-colonial and minority literature as  “converg[ing] on the shared limit defined by cultural interface” with the target language (p. 22). Through the act of translating, he argues that “judgement is inescapable in the process; ‘objectivity’ is impossible. And just as there can be no final translation, there can be no final interpretation of a culture through a literary mode. There is no last word” (p. 24). How is translating into a minority culture different in this than translating out of the minority language? Further, how does the position and cultural identity of the translator effect this inherent judgement of the mind?

Spivak and Appiah

Appiah states that “if what language you speak determines what thoughts or intentions you have, translation … will always be impossible” (p. 334). Does our language influence our thoughts? For example, if two things are only described by one word in language A but given two separate words in language B, then can a speaker of language A fail to recognize or correctly distinguish between the two yet speaker of language B would think of them as distinct from each other? Essentially, does our vocabulary determine how we conceptualize and our world? If so, how does our thinking change throughout development and in learning multiple languages? Is ‘pure language’ then that which denotes an idea/thought/feeling that is shared among all humans, regardless of language?

Damrosch- World Literature

How does world literature affect the hierarchy of languages? When we translate ancient Egyptian poems like in the reading, are we then privileging and raising up the Egyptian hieroglyphic language or the Egyptian ideas and culture? If by translating we lose much of the writing structure, inherent ambiguity, and specificity then are we really translating for the source text of for the ideas expressed? Is ‘pure language’ then that which can be understood fully by all cultures?

Venuti, Retranslations

Retranslations “confront anew and more urgently the translator’s ethical responsibility to prevent the translating language and culture from effacing the linguistic and cultural differences of the source text” (p. 16). Retranslations offer new interpretations and reflect the current culture. How then does the “invisibility of the translator” that we discussed earlier differ between translations and retranslations- is it the same or different, how so?

Further the reader would react differently to a translation versus retranslation depending on their knowledge and previous experiences/culture. Texts are retranslated for many different reasons such as for greater accuracy or to capitalize on the marketability of the source text. How does this affect the “afterlife” of the text, as we discussed last class.


Benjamin discusses the translator’s task as “[finding] the intention toward the language into which the work is to be translated, on the basis of which an echo of the original is awakened in it” (p.79). He thinks that the word rather than the sentence is translation’s original element. He explains the difference between the “spontaneous, primary, complete” original and the translation is that the latter is “derivative, final, ideal” (pg. 80). How can this difference be avoided? Is this not impossible to recreate spontaneity when copying a text into another language? If this is what Benjamin argues, what value can he place in the translation- how does it become transparent? If there is a limit to translation, should it be restricted to only certain texts, and if so how would that be determined?


The title of Derrida’s essay “What is a ‘relevant’ translation?” first brings me back to Jakobson’s concept of the difference between what a language must express and what it may express. If you are translating from old Russian to English and come across the single noun meaning two brothers, is it “relevant” to write “two brothers” in English? Derrida mentions that we should “respect the verbal quantity as a quantity of words, each of which is an irreducible body, the indivisible unity of an acoustic form incorporating or signifying the indivisible unity of a meaning or concept (p. 370).” This relates to his comparison of translation to economics and law. Translation requires strict guidelines of value and the payment of “debt” to reach equivalence. Derrida also mentions homophones- how is this applied to them? When you hear the word “bark” it could mean the sound of a dog or the outer layer of a tree trunk and both of these signifieds are embedded in the word. How can there be equivalence when the same signifier does not represent these two signifieds?


Jakobson references a test from the Moscow Psychological Institute (1915) that shows how Russians are influenced by the gender of the nouns and this alters their mental representation of the word. In the study, they personified the days of the week according to the gender assigned to the word; they consistently represented Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday as males, and Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday as females, without realizing they were assigning this due to the gender of the word in the Russian language. However, in other languages, different words are assigned to be masculine or feminine. If this study was to be performed again with bilinguals of languages with contradicting genders, how would the results differ? Would a bilingual always preference one language above the other, or would it be a random mixture of the two? In general, this study shows that assigning genders to nouns affect our mental representation of the object or idea, yet to what extent? Further, how do speakers of languages that do not do this think about these objects or ideas differently than a speaker of a language that does?