“Translation and Interpretation ”
The large majority of works read in both Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilizations are translated from different languages to English. Although we interpret these texts in our respective seminar discussions, we fail to note that interpretation has already taken place in the form of translation. The translators that work on these texts have the important job of deciding how to interpret words from one language and to select their best counterparts in English, in order to best depict what the author initially intended for specific audiences. Translators, therefore, take every word placed before them and make individual choices, while simultaneously taking history and culture of the author into account, as they attempt to find the best equivalents.
In my core reflection, Translation and Interpretation, I chose quotes from three texts off the Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilizations’ syllabus that discuss the idea of people, their station, and how they are perceived. These were An Apologetic History, Essays, and The Communist Manifesto. All authors, de las Casas, Montaigne, Engels, and Marx, deal with the same subject matter, despite their differences in language. They wrote on what they found to be the reality of the people that were around them--for de las Casas and Montaigne those were people of far away lands, that were now in contact with Europeans. Indeed, these two authors write about these people without knowing their native tongue, adding another layer of interpretation that takes us further from the reality of those on whom they write. The two authors portray what they believe is correct about these people and ask their audience, those reading at the time of publishing and us today, to accept their opinions. Marx and Engels also analyze groups of people albeit those at home rather than abroad. Their analysis concludes in their observation of society splintering--an opinion that they developed from reading those authors that came before them, undoubtedly like de las Casas and Montaigne. In summary, all three texts make their own claims on humans and their condition. However, the words that they select for this purpose are highly pertinent and are worthy of further analysis for their translation.
I translated the texts in two methods: with pictures and with words. The pictures I chose to represent the quotes were taken on 35mm film and act as a visual interpretation. Each have to do with nature, thereby juxtaposing itself against the state of society discussed in the texts. The initial groups of people discussed in Apologetic History and Of Cannibals are portrayed to be more in tune with nature, as opposed to progressive and industrialized Europe. The New World peoples nonetheless have formed their own society and demonstrate to the authors their humanity. Marx and Engels pose a much more grim view in The Communist Manifesto, noting that society has reached its point of consciousness to such a level that it has ruptured itself in the process; perhaps to an unretrievable degree. To represent this, I chose a visual depiction of trees in night time, to contrast humanity with a darker side.
The verbal translation required much work because the majority of the words used in these texts have multiple meanings in English. I demonstrate this in my art by listing the possible definitions and circling the one I think best reflects what the author intended. Of course, this is a subjective opinion and is heavily reliant on the context and words around it.
I hope my project Translation and Interpretation can cause viewers to reflect on the layers of interpretation that go into our readings of these major texts. Perhaps now we can appreciate the translators alongside the authors themselves.
About the Scholar: Christina Hill
Christina Hill is a graduating senior in the Columbia College Class of 2019. She is majoring in History and concentrating in Slavic Studies. During her time at Columbia, she has been able to enrich her study of foreign languages through literature and philosophy. She intends to pursue a career in international affairs and plans to learn more on the intersection of language and cognition.