The translator as mediator of cultures

The translator as mediator of cultures. Ed. by Humphrey Tonkin and Maria Esposito Frank. (Studies in world language problems 3.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2010. Pp. x, 201. ISBN 9789027228345. $135 (Hb).

Reviewed by Kelly Dugan, University of Georgia

Globalization is a hot topic today. As the societies of the world continue to interact ever more frequently, effective communication between different cultures becomes increasingly important. The eleven articles in this book offer great insight into this reality, exploring the challenges and responsibilities of translators as well as the complex nature of translation. Included among the topics addressed are the history of translation, the need for translation in South Africa, interpreters in the courtroom, and sign language interpretation and translation. In the preface, the editors state that their intention is not to solve the problems faced by translators but to describe them and offer different points of view.

The introduction, ‘Between temples and templates: History’s claims on the translator’ by Probal Dasgupta, emphasizes the importance of progress in translation theory. Dasgupta investigates how historically significant actions, such as the selection of texts for translation in ancient times, relate to the current global relationship of language and the role of the translator. The following articles form ten chapters divided into three sections. These sections, as indicated in the preface by the editors, are intended to represent the responsibilities of a translator: translation and reconciliation, translation and negotiation, and translation and the interpretation of texts.

Ch. 1, ‘A conversation about politics, translation, and multilingualism in South Africa’, is a fascinating record of dialogue between Antjie Krog, Rosalind C. Morris, and Humphrey Tonkin that offers a worthwhile perspective on the state of translation today. The discussion focuses on the continued domination of English as the prestige language in postapartheid South Africa. Ch. 2, ‘Interpreting at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY): Linguistic and cultural challenges’ by Nancy Schweda Nicholson, offers intriguing insight into multiple issues including the difficulty of intense courtroom situations that cause enormous pressure and stress on translators.

Ch. 3, ‘Translating and interpreting sign language: Mediating the DEAF-WORLD’ by Timothy Reagan, emphasizes the DEAF-WORLD as a distinct culture with a strong identity where sign language interpreters are an integral part of the society. Ch. 4, ‘Translators in a global community’ by Jonathan Pool, offers an innovative suggestion about the direction of translation. He proposes that translators ought to incorporate multiphase translations that separate the cultural from the linguistic.

Ch. 5, ‘The treason translation? Bilingualism, linguistic borders and identity’ by John Edwards, boldly investigates the perplexing issue of translation and the invasion of privacy. Ch. 6, ‘The poetics of experience: Toward a pragmatic understanding of experience, practice, and translation’ by Vincent Colapietro, provides psychological intrigue by exploring the tension between human experience and expression. This is just a sampling of the captivating issues and the unique perspectives that are offered in the text.

Humphrey Tonkin states that ‘when we think of translation as a mode of mediation, we’re also thinking of translation as a means of preserving linguistic distinctiveness’ (33). This comment is echoed throughout all of the chapters. The result is a cohesive text full of insightful perspectives that express the importance of balancing the preservation of every language and culture with the need for effective global communication.