The United States is home to hundreds of languages, yet only 3 percent of all books published annually in the US are translated into English from another language. This rate is much higher in other countries (e.g. 13 percent in Germany). In other words, we write and the world reads, but we don’t read the world.
There lie in this curious statistic crucial questions of power, equity, and diversity. English is the tool with which we make sense of the world, one that is shaped by unequal power dynamics. How can we understand and mitigate the cultural illiteracy caused by the imperial domination of English?
This is where translation can be a powerful tool! An academic study of translation can enable us to unpack unequal power dynamics that are baked into all discourses of knowledge, making it a vital tool for understanding and critiquing our world.
→ Knowledge of a second language would be ideal but is not required. Good humor, empathy, and intellectual curiosity are however assumed.
Why is this course good for your life?
Through a critical understanding of the cultural and historical roles that translation has played in the creation and dissemination of knowledge, we can better investigate the idea of linguistic and cultural difference. We will learn how not to treat linguistic and cultural difference as a given, and ask: what are the social systems of power that produce the idea of difference and who stands to benefit from the flagging of certain cultures as fundamentally different from our own? This course may be focused on one particular subject (translation), but ultimately, we will use the process of humanistic inquiry to promote the values of pluralism and equity. Those values lie at the heart of a growing movement that aims to rebuild our societies based on justice, compassion, and accountability.
Key Learning Outcomes
As US Americans, we live in a cultural ecosystem that poses as monolingual and treats translation at best as an afterthought. Translation is however ubiquitous! It is imperative to develop the cultural competence, linguistic proficiency, and critical literacy required to appreciate and fully understand the many roles it plays in our worlds today.
Translation is not a transparent, automatic, and unproblematic transfer of information from one language into another; it involves acts of interpretation that are never divorced from questions of power and ethics. In order to examine this process, we need to cultivate badass analytical skills.
Translation is a culturally and linguistically challenging and ethically-charged endeavor. Its difficulty makes it more —and not less— vital for our world today. In order to better understand what is at stake when we translate (and when we speak of translation), we need to create a language that affords more nuance and complexity. We will pursue this aim through academic writing.