Translation has been an object of humanistic inquiry going at least as far back as the third century bce, when the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek. Walter Benjamin's famous essay “The Task of the Translator,” originally published in 1923, praises the interlinear translation of the Bible as the ideal form of translation because it unites freedom and literalness. Freedom and literalness as the twin poles of translation are tied to the definition of translation as the transfer of meaning between two languages, a concept that long dominated the field of translation studies. This notion of translation presupposes a model of language as a transparent vessel of meaning, and a neutral space wherein all languages are similar. Benjamin's praise of interlineal translation, which graphically displays the gap between the two languages calls transparency and even translatability into question. Postcolonial studies challenges the assumption about a neutral space for translation, arguing instead that universalizing neutrality masks the imposition of power of a dominant culture over a weaker one, ignoring the gaps and heterogeneity not only between cultures and languages but also within a single culture. As Talal Asad argued in 1986, “there are asymmetrical tendencies and pressures in the languages of dominated and dominant societies.” The problem of rendering a statement in one language into another becomes more difficult if the relations of power between the two languages are uneven. In this context, the something that is invariably lost in translation is more than just a nuance of meaning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationLaw and the Humanities
Subtitle of host publicationAn Introduction
EditorsAustin Sarat, Matthew Anderson, Cathrine O Frank
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9780511657535
ISBN (Print)9780521899055
StatePublished - 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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