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Monday, March 14, 2011


(Class Note: 16 December, 2010)

Translation Studies as an academic discipline is still largely uncertain in terms of dwelling on the epistemology in translation. And this is probably one of the main reasons why translation is looked at as a secondary activity – derivative and dependent on the idea of an ‘original’ text. Translation Studies as a domain of knowledge production, too, has had very little scholarship. Also, nearly all translation theories are ‘literary theories’ which do not include translation questions regarding the Sciences.

As a result, during the translation studies classes, many questions regarding the scope of translation studies were raised with regard to whether it is limited only to the domain of literary studies or could it also be extended to all disciplines that used translations. More specifically, the aspect of translations within the Sciences was of special interest to the class. Would the politics of translation still be relevant to the domain of the Sciences? Is the scrutiny of problems in translation (especially political problems) a habit of the Social Sciences and not concerned with the Sciences? Is translation in Science, then, merely an act that will transfer content from one language to another and bypass the translation-problems associated with languages? Does that mean that scientific content is universal, objective and always translatable?

Going by Kantian epistemology, it appears to be so. Kantian philosophy is systematic and can be studied as distinct areas. They can be broadly classified based on his three seminal works as the areas of ‘Science’, ‘Ethics’, and ‘Aesthetics’: Critique of Pure Reason (structure of reason, metaphysics; ‘The Sciences’); Critique of Practical Reason (ethics; ‘The Social Sciences’); and Critique of Judgment (art, beauty, taste; ‘Aesthetics’). The discrete boundaries seem to avoid coinciding with one another. The Sciences will study matter (physics), changing matter (chemistry), matter that has life (botany), and matter that has life as well as consciousness (zoology). The Social sciences will be concerned with ethics; ‘how’ one must think, how one ‘can’ think. Aesthetics would look at how to experience pleasure and beauty of the arts without any value judgments. For Kant, philosophy doesn’t fit into any of these domains. Rather, philosophy will help reflect on these domains; hence, we have Philosophy of Science, Philosophy of Social Sciences etc.

Traditionally, translation studies could be located within the domain of Aesthetics. The questions seemed to be roughly along the lines of whether the pleasure one got from the source text could be achieved in the same way in the translated text. Much of the theoretical discussions seem to be in the Aesthetic domain, which is not really about meaning but about aesthetic experience guised as meaning. However, there are the ethical questions that looks at the politics involved in translation, concerned with the domain of the Social Sciences. These kinds of questions seem not to encroach into the domain of the Sciences. This suggests that translation questions need to be different in the Kantian epistemology with regard to the Sciences as compared to those asked within Aesthetics and the Social Sciences. It also suggests that science translation should be easier since it is a descriptive domain. But if that is true, then why can’t science translation be universal?

It was in this context of reflecting on translation studies that the following questions/debates were raised in class:

*Should we translate science at all?
Well, Yes, because then theory/knowledge becomes accessible to that speech community, thereby allowing for further theory/knowledge production.

*Problems in science translation are different because it is a discipline entrained in experiment. So if the translation is wrong, the result will not be achieved or it may produce different results.

*Translating formulae seems to be problematic. Mathematical symbols and the number system have to become universalized in which case the target language may have to accommodate or even invent a different phonetic system to accommodate the formulae. For example, how would one translate E=mc2?

*Translation as a branch of linguistics can only be looked at in terms of a descriptive discipline (like Science) and cannot account for the questions of, say, ‘power’ coming from postcolonial studies because then, it goes into the domain of the social sciences which take up such questions.

Finally, it was strongly suggested that a study of translation theory be extended beyond the boundaries of literary translation debates and be compared with translation debates that exist within the other domains – especially that of the Sciences. One immediate proposal was to study work done by physicist and philosopher Sundar Sarukkai, such as “Translation and Science”. Perhaps crossing boundaries and venturing into different disciplines in this manner would be the key to unlocking the epistemological possibilities of translation studies.


Anil Pinto said...

Good work, divya. Good to see you back on the blog!

Divya said...

Ha ha ha...Thanks Mr. Pinto. Seems like I have a lot of catching up to do. Honestly looking forward to it. :)