I spoke at the Language, Translation and Migration conference at Warwick University on the 24th May 2018. The title was “Educating ‘Bilingual’ Chldren in Spain and Denmark: Childhood Bilingualism as Opportunity or Constraint.” The paper is available on academia.edu. A recording of my presentation can be listened to here.
The abstract is as follows:
This paper examines how the word ‘bilingual’ has acquired vastly divergent politicised meanings in contemporary Spanish and Danish discourses on childhood education, social mobility, migration and integration. In the former, it tends to denote competence in a foreign language. In the latter it refers to relative lack of competence in the national language. The two conceptions of ‘bilingualism as opportunity or constraint are thus positive and negative, in an evaluative and descriptive sense. In Spain, ‘bilingualism’ is a marker of success and upward social mobility, in Denmark it is an obstacle to the same. Language comes to stand for class and ethnicity, as well as integration into (in Spain) a transnational elite and (in Denmark) the national community. In Spain, ‘bilingualism’ is constituted as a personal and public good to be developed through education, hence the recent proliferation of ‘bilingual’ schools. In Denmark, it is an ill to be eradicated through the education system. Spanish parents and politicians want their children to become ‘bilingual’, above all, in English, which represents global power, progress, modernity, and recovery from imperial decline. In Denmark, fluency in English is widespread and not associated with ‘bilingualism’. The mostly Middle Eastern, South Asian and African languages that pose the ‘bilingualism’ problem in Denmark are linked with backwardness, poverty and ignorance. With the strong historical link between ethnic nationalism and the Danish/Scandinavian welfare state model, failing to address the problem posed by ‘bilingualism’ threatens the survival of the state as a community of shared values embodied in a strongly monolingual conception of the nation. In both cases, the supposed objectives are unlikely to be met and are not ultimately grounded on language and bilingualism as such. The different meanings ‘bilingualism’has acquired in the two countries have their historical origins in the nature of their particular early-modern composite monarchical states, the rise and demise of their colonial empires, and their respective 20th century experiences of modernising authoritarianism and welfare capitalism.
I spoke at the 6th Mutual Images workshop on “Mediatised Images of Japan in Europe” at Cardiff University on the 1st May. The working title of the paper is “Bullshit journalism and Japan: English-language news media, Japanese higher education policy, and Frankfurt’s theory of ‘bullshit’”. It takes a look at a symptomatic case of English-language “bullshit journalism”: The improbable reports in the last half of September 2015 insinuating that the humanities and social sciences would virtually be abolished in Japan. It will be written up and submitted for publication soon. In the meantime, the draft is available on www.academia.edu. Click on the image or follow this link to listen to a podcast of the presentation in Cardiff.
The abstract is as follows:
The last sentence in Andersen’s fairytale There is no doubt about it reads: “It got into the papers, it was printed; and there is no doubt about it, one little feather may easily grow into five hens.” In September 2015 a process very similar to the rumour-mill in Andersen’s satire swept across the internet. An inaccurate – and on inspection highly implausible – report was picked up and amplified by several British and US news organisations. Thus an improbable claim about the Japanese government’s decision to effectively abolish the social sciences and humanities quickly became established as a morally reprehensible truth. Once the “facts” of the matter were reported by authoritative English-language media organisations, the outrage spread to other languages, and an online petition was launched to make the government “reconsider” a decision it had not taken. In light of the “misunderstandings” that had circulated in the foreign press, the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology eventually felt compelled to issue a statement, in English, to clarify that it had no intention of closing social science and humanities faculties.
What transpired in these transactions between Times Higher Education, Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal, Time, the Guardian and other news outlets is of more than passing anecdotal interest. Consideration of the case offers insights into the dominant role of the English-using media in constituting Asia as an object of Western knowledge and of the part played in this by what Harry Frankfurt (2005) theorised as the sociolinguistic phenomenon of ‘bullshit’. The Times Higher Education article and the ones that followed were all examples of the ‘bullshit’ that arguably increasingly proliferates in both journalistic and academic discourse, especially when ‘circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about’ (Frankfurt 2005: 63).
The presentation will take the case of the purported existential threat to the social science and humanities in Japan to discuss wider arguments about the role of ‘bullshit’ in journalistic and academic knowledge production and dissemination about the non-Western world. ‘Bullshit’ is ‘produced without concern with the truth’, but ‘it need not be false. The bullshitter is faking things. But this does not mean that he necessarily gets them wrong’ (Frankfurt 2005: 47-48).
My article on Japanese-English philosophical translation is now out in Tetsugaku: International Journal of the Philosophical Association of Japan.
Abstract: The influential and prolific philosopher and translator of philosophy James Heisig has argued for “desacralizing” translation into Japanese, and against “perfect translation” and for “thick translation” in Japanese to English translation. Heisig prioritizes broad appeal and readability over accuracy, bringing the translated philosopher into the reader’s space and facilitating an encounter on the latter’s terms rather than treating the author as a “sacred cow”. This article discusses Heisig’s programmatic statements on translation strategy in the context of the global dominance of English, the effects of declining language capabilities and unequal distribution of translation capabilities among Anglograph philosophers, the tendentially conservative and “domesticating” Anglospheric regime of translation, and the “foreignizing” alternatives found in Japanese translation history and in Schleiermacher, Nietzsche, Benjamin, and contemporary translation theorists. It suggests that learning from professional practices in the translation industry could help translating philosophers strike a suitable balance between domestication and foreignization.
Click on the image above or follow this link to read the article on the journal’s website.
Questions and comments on it are welcome via the contact form.
An interesting work of intellectual history by NII Yōko 新居 洋子 of the University of Tokyo has just been published by Nagoya University Press. Its title is The Jesuits and the Universal Empire: The Translation of Civilisation by Missionaries in China. イエズス会士と普遍の帝国 – 在華宣教師による文明の翻訳. In my translation, Dr. Nii’s presentation of her book on the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia website reads:
“There was an exchange of ideas between China and Europe from the 16th to 18th centuries. In this period, it was Jesuit missionaries working in China who took on the role of translators between the two sides. This book focuses on the latter half of the 18th century, which was the last stage of the Jesuit mission in China and the time when Sinology began to be established as a formal field of study in Europe. It does so by examining the Jesuit Jean Joseph Amiot, who served the Qianlong Emperor. Amiot took on the challenge of translating the enormous Chinese civilisation, not only from his own observations but by consulting the length and breadth of a variety of both European and Chinese intellectual sources. The Chine that emerges from his translations was in itself a product constructed from 18th century intellectual interaction between East and West.”
Missionary scholarship, especially by members of the Society of Jesus, has been tremendously important in the historical reception of East Asian thought in the West. To this day, Christian missionaries are among the most influential transmitters and interpreters of East Asian thought and research on Japanese philosophy, for instance, is more often than not .carried out in religious studies departments and in church-affiliated universities rather than in philosophy departments. And as this book shows, the first sustained intellectual engagement and attempts to think by drawing on both the East Asian and European traditions were by missionaries like Amiot. For better and worse, this historical legacy continues to influence the way Western scholars approach East Asia and its intellectual traditions. Studying the origins of what today travels under the name of comparative philosophy, as Dr Nii has done with this book, is therefore important and she has to be congratulated on her achievement.
For more details, including a table of contents, please visit University of Nagoya Press.
How to Serve a Sacred Cow: Reflections on Japanese-English Philosophical Translation in an “Anglobalising” World
International Japanese Studies Symposium. Trinity College Dublin, 2nd December 2017
James Heisig has argued for “desacralizing” translation, against “perfect translation” and for “thick translation”. He advocates “a radical liberalization of the standards of philosophical translation” where translators of philosophical texts are “set free to err on the side of creativity and rhetorical elegance”. Heisig prioritizes broad appeal and readability over accuracy, bringing the translated philosopher into the reader’s space and facilitating an encounter on the latter’s terms by slaughtering “the sacred cow of fidelity to the original text”. In this presentation, I discuss Heisig’s programmatic statements on translation strategy in the context of the global dominance of English, declining language capabilities and unequal distribution of translation capabilities among Anglophone philosophers, the tendentially conservative and “domesticating” Anglospheric regime of translation, and the “foreignizing” alternatives found in Japanese translation history, in Schleiermacher, Nietzsche, Benjamin, and more recent translation theorists. I suggest that learning from professional practices in the translation industry could help translating philosophers strike a suitable balance between domestication and foreignization and that the latter is the ethically and intellectually sounder strategy. If some degree of butchery is inevitable, the question becomes one of how to serve the meat – as a thickly cut, well-done steak or as thinly sliced beef sashimi.