The Translating Mind
It is one of my firmest convictions that what most distinguishes human beings from the other primates is their ability to translate: Homo sapiens is the translating animal par excellence. Scientific research is now beginning to show that dolphins probably come closest to possessing the translating mind. So much, then, for the main title of this book.
As regards translation as a game, if you don’t enjoy translating, you should probably steer well clear of language studies in general and of any profession involving translation. This book is mainly about the fundamental importance of translation in language learning and use, and the pleasure associated with it, whether it be in children learning to master their native language or in students of any age acquiring a foreign language. Without wishing in any way to deny or underestimate the hard grind and often hideous pressure to which the professional translator is subjected day in day out, the emphasis in these pages is on the enjoyment or jouissance to be had from translating and from learning about translation.
Various areas will be explored in this book without any claim to presenting a systematic overview of translation as a game. The aim rather is to provide the reader, and particularly the language student, with a series of insights into the nature and significance of translation in a multidisciplinary context embracing philosophy, anthropology, sociocultural studies, child development, the cognitive sciences and neurosciences, genetics, ontogeny, and phylogeny, i.a.
This broadening of the epistemic horizons in the field of translation, focusing largely on its more playful aspects, leads to a sharper appreciation of semantic indeterminacy and to a reappraisal of the semantic analysis that lies at the heart of what is variously termed the ‘task’, ‘art’, ‘craft’ or ‘process’ of translation (the ‘gift’ of translation would be an apt expression phylogenetically, but might embroil one in fruitless discussions regarding the biblical ‘gift of tongues’ or, even worse, the Book of Mormon).
Readers will find that a number of major and highly productive aspects of translation studies are well-nigh totally ignored or neglected in this book. These include literary translation and discourse analysis, both of which have yielded rich veins of research, exploited now to such an extent almost as to resemble open-cast mining.
The book also contains a chapter on pedagogical translation and another on the teaching of translation for special or professional purposes, again with an emphasis on playfulness. For the best part of a century, translation as an instrument for second-language learning has tended to be relegated to the doghouse and sacrificed on the all-embracing altars of direct method and, more recently, so-called communicative language teaching. I shall attempt, somewhat impishly, to put a flea in the ear of all those who swear by this blinkered policy. Postmodernists like Lyotard, for whom language games are of basic methodological importance, have warned us – quite rightly – that technological progress in the form of the development of teaching and translating machines is beginning to sound the death knell for human teachers and translators. Despite this awareness, these pages are meant for those amongst us who are prepared to ‘defy augury’ and ‘die with harness on our back’.