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UCL events news and reviews


Translation in History lecture series: Roman Jakobson and the translation of poetic language

By ucyow3c, on 11 January 2016

pencil-iconWritten by Tania Castro Rodea (UCL Translation Studies)

Roman Jakobson

On Thursday 26 November, we welcomed Professor Jean Boase-Beier (University of East Anglia) to UCL as part of the Translation in History lecture series. Her talk, ‘Roman Jakobson and the Translation of Poetic Language’, focused on the key ideas of this influential linguist and some of their implications for translation.

Professor Boase-Beier emphasised that Jakobson did not propose any particular way of translating; he did not give a set of instructions. But what he did say is of use because it can help us “think around translation, think about practice, and what consequences that has.” Boase-Beier also pointed out that, among Jakobson’s articles that are important for translation, some do not even mention translation, and so it is advisable to be aware of the wider context of his thinking, to know how he developed his ideas, particularly if we want to understand what already well-known quotes really mean.

In this regard, Boase-Beier posits that many people do not understand the most famous statement of Jakobson, that “the poetic function projects the principle of equivalence from the axis of selection into the axis of combination.” To explain this statement, she used an example where the words cat, kitten and feline were offered as options. When we select, she said, we choose from words that designate similar things. But once the word ‘cat’ is selected, this is transferred to the axis of combination, where the choice is not based on things, but on the word selected and its similarities with other words. We say “the cat sat on the mat,” not because the cat has similarities with the mat, but because of the similarities between the words: they rhyme.


Hopkins’ Bovary: the temptation of originality

By ucyow3c, on 3 November 2015

pencil-iconWritten by Deborah Dawkin, Phd student

A translator’s creativity and originality can sometimes represent a threat to the integrity of a literary text, argued Professor Lance Hewson (University of Geneva) in the first lecture of the Translation in History Series 2015–16 on 8 October 2015. Professor Hewson is the author of the recently published An Approach to Translation Criticism (Benjamins, 2011), in which he re-evaluates the possibilities of translation criticism. This Translation in History lecture focused on the 1946 translation of Madame Bovary by Gerard Hopkins.

Hewson suggested that while it is easy to “to rubbish” a translation, translation criticism should engage with the translation and try to understand the choices made by the translator and their effect at the time. To do this, he suggested, we need a clear interpretive framework.

© Mary Hinkley/UCL

© Mary Hinkley/UCL

Hewson’s framework is indeed thorough, comparing the translated text with other translations as well as the original text, both on a macro- and micro-level. The emphasis of his work is on identifying how changes (shifts) made in translation affect the reader’s experience and open up or close off potential interpretations.


Translation in History Lecture Series: The politics of rewriting Haitian translation

By ucyow3c, on 19 March 2015


Written by Joanne Tapper, Translation Theory and Practice MA student

Tower of Babel illustration

What can we learn from practical investigations of the relationship between postcolonial translation theory and postcolonial writing?

Translation can never be purely aesthetic and will always remain complicated by ideological problems, argued Professor Andrew Leak (UCL French), as he gave the final lecture of this term’s Translation in History Lecture Series. Consequently, both translation theory and postcolonial studies are inherently political, embedded as they are within cultural systems.

He went on to quote from translation theorist Maria Tymaczko’s interrogation of the relationship between postcolonial translation and postcolonial writing, and framed the beginning of his lecture within the context of André Lefevere’s work, who stresses the political and ideological natures of rewriting: “rewriters adapt, manipulate the originals they work with to some extent, usually to make them fit in with the dominant, or one of the dominant ideological and poetological currents of the time.”

However, a kind of rewriting, not considered by Lefevere – but one that this lecture looked at in detail – was that of authors rewriting their own work. In order to do this, Professor Leak looked at the case study of a work rewritten for an international and metropolitan readership – Gary Victor’s A l’angle des rues parallèles, first published in Haiti in 2000 and republished in France in 2003.


Translation in History Lecture Series: Bible translation and South Asian Christianity

By ucyow3c, on 10 March 2015

pencil-icon Written by Marta Crickmar, Translation Studies PhD student

Image from Religious Transactions in Colonial South India, authored by Dr Hephzibah Israel

Image from Religious Transactions in Colonial South
, authored by Dr Hephzibah Israel (Credit: Palgrave)

A fast-paced tale of faraway lands, impossible choices and political intrigues might bring to mind the plot of an enthralling TV drama but, in fact, one could find it all (and more) in a lecture given by Dr Hephzibah Israel from University of Edinburgh as a part of the UCL Translation in History Lecture Series.

As a specialist in literary and sacred translations within the South Asian context, Dr Israel was just the person for the job of introducing us to the captivating history of Bible translation in 19th century India. It must be said that the topic of the lecture, as interesting as it was in itself, was made all the more compelling by the speaker’s engaging and energetic presentation.

The talk started with a brief historical overview of the Protestant Bible’s translation in India. We learned that the first two translations of the New Testament into Tamil were produced in the 18th century by German missionaries – Bartholomeus Ziegenbalg and Johannes Fabricius. However, it was not until the 19th century that the Bible was translated into other Indian languages and that Indian translators started to be included more formally in the translation process.

The British and Foreign Bible Society (or the Bible Society), formed in 1804 to ensure ‘proper’ translation and wide circulation of the Bible, played a very important role in the history of Bible translation in India. All attempts to translate the Bible had to be authorised by this powerful organisation whose political actions and editorial decisions were often controversial both in India and 19th century Britain.