Before and Beyond: Translation Theory in India

The Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia, hosted an extension lecture on translation theory in India by Professor Rita Kothari from Ashoka University, Haryana, on 31st January, 2019. A Gujarati and English language author and translator hailing from Gujarat, Kothari has several books to her credit on Partition and its effects on people. She has translated several Gujarati works into English. Some of her major publications include Translating India: The Cultural Politics of English (2003), The Burden of Refuge: The Sindhi Hindus of Gujarat (2007), Unbordered Memories : Partition Stories from Sindh (2009), and Memories and Movements (2016). The talk opened with a welcome address by Professor Nishat Zaidi, Head, Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia and was chaired by Professor Sumanyu Satpathy who gave a brief introduction to the speaker and the topic under discussion.

Professor Kothari began the discussion with some fundamental issues which form both the background and the base of translation studies such as the difference between code-switching and translation or the difference between bilingualism and translation for that matter. From thereon, she moved to some of the pertinent questions of the practice of translation in India such as the issue that scholars in India, even though adept in translation, have failed to perceive the discipline from a vantage point so as to be able to theorize it. Professor Kothari elaborated on her theses through her paper entitled “More or Less Translation” which began with stating the fact that translation is perhaps the only way through which a culturally and linguistically diverse society like India manages communication and aimed at theorizing translation as it is in the present in India while keeping in view its historical and contemporary understandings. Professor Kothari traced the discipline of translation through and against different contexts such as what ‘translation’ meant in pre-modern India and how, in the pre-modern moment, there existed a range of linguistic negotiations to destabilise a theory of an absence of translation and dwelt on perceptions of linguistic difference to show how.

Having first stated the premise that there is very little in Indian scholarship before the nineteenth century in terms of the ‘theory’ of translation, Professor Kothari, through her paper, subsequently demonstrated how there was an institutionalisation of translation during the colonial era. She further argued that ‘translation’ as a term and as a concept of text-to-text/written transference of meaning is a nineteenth century phenomenon dating back to the colonial period. Furthermore, in the postcolonial scenario where there has been considerable evidence regarding the use of translation in the development of regional and national identities, Professor Kothari also examined the complex relationship between English and the ‘modern Indian languages’ which has resulted in several new creolised idioms. She also drew from translation theorists such as Lawrence Venuti and his theories of the domestication and foreignization of translation, stating how this category of the ‘foreign’ itself needs to be questioned, especially when one translates from one Indian language to another.

Professor Kothari further asserted that translation theories have to come from within South Asian societies, where the idea of a language and the conception of a language is different. We need to understand theories of language which cannot be separated from theories of translation. She also referred to her translation of Ila Mehta’s Vaad from Gujarati into English as Fence in order to emphasize on the standardization of both dialects and languages. Professor Kothari concluded her talk by asking fundamental questions such as what do we even mean by translation and by stressing on the fact that scholars of the discipline of translation need to have a more conceptual framework about the same and also that the question about not having a translation theory needs to be addressed.

The lecture was followed by an interactive session wherein some insightful questions were asked and inputs given. The session was attended by undergraduate and postgraduate students, research scholars and faculty member of English as well as other departments. It came to a close with a vote of thanks by Professor Sumanyu Satpathy.

-Asra Mamnoon, M.Phil English, Jamia Millia Islamia

Poster by Shah Ali Faisal

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