Translations as Tools and Weapons

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Translating works from their native tongues proves to be a both problematic yet fruitful task. In the article “Translating Nahua Rhetoric: Sahagun’s Nahua Subjects in Colonial Mexico”, the author, Cristian Roa De La Carrera discusses using the “Nahua oral discourse [as it] …played a critical role in making a world of metaphors, concepts, and socially meaningful speech available to Christian missionaries” (69). The language used, while facilitating discussions between the Nahua people, also became a tool for these missionaries to appropriate “for their own ends” (69). Translation can be a tool facilitate the knowledge of a culture, but also a weapon for the translator to use as they see fit.

Translating works from their native tongues proves to be a both problematic yet fruitful task. In the article “Translating Nahua Rhetoric: Sahagun’s Nahua Subjects in Colonial Mexico”, the author, Cristian Roa De La Carrera discusses using the “Nahua oral discourse [as it] …played a critical role in making a world of metaphors, concepts, and socially meaningful speech available to Christian missionaries” (69). The language used, while facilitating discussions between the Nahua people, also became a tool for these missionaries to appropriate “for their own ends” (69). Translation can be a tool facilitate the knowledge of a culture, but also a weapon for the translator to use as they see fit.

Carrera goes on to discuss how the translators’ intention did not stay on par with the results of the actual translation. He states that “The effort invested in compiling collating, and translating indigenous speeches [which was] intended to facilitate…cultural translation to grasp indigenous language though, and practices” (69). However, this is not how the translation panned out. Other translations did have such educational intentions in mind. Carrera brings up two other translators that actively sought out to “systematically [replace] references to [Nahua] indigenous gods with the Christian god” and “educate the Nahua audience in the commandments, capital sins, theological virtues, and teachings from the scripture”. At times the very practices that translators were suspicious that the methods of they were using would be turned around on themselves and that the “indigenous people would revive the [original] practices missionaries [set out] to eradicate” (72). Not only was translating used against the indigenous culture that the missionaries were asking for assistance, but it was seen as a harmful way of the original culture could use against Christian missionaries.

Similar to how Carrera describes these harmful translations of indigenous culture and religion, David Chioni Moore explains how translation can further weaken a culture or even the original meaning of a text. Moore criticizes the English translation of Une Vie De Boy by John Reed in the article “An African Classic in Fourteen Translations: Ferdinand Oyono’s Une Vie De Boy on the World Literary Stage.” He not only elaborates how Reed’s translation totally misses the mark but is less a mistranslation than a misinterpretation” (107). The words in Reed’s translation completely take away from the anticolonial tones and themes of the novel, but focuses on sympathizing with the colonizer’s view. It places not only a Eurocentric theme on a novel written about Africa, but is a problematic misinterpretation of the text.

While translating aspects of a culture to others who were previously uneducated about it, translations can sometimes cause more harm than good. Moore’s argument may only discuss one text in particular, while Carrera describes a whole rhetorical system, translators can interrupt the interpretation of their work. Instead of conveying an educational or well-meaning version of a text, or working of a religion, translations can change the entire theme and use it as a tool for their own means. In the case of the Nahua language, culture and religion, the missionary translators took their original educational tools and used it as a way to spread Christianity and its practices.

Citations

Carrera, Cristián Roa De La. “Translating Nahua Rhetoric: Sahagún’s Nahua Subjects in Colonial Mexico.” Rhetorics of the Americas (2010): 69-87.

Moore, David Chioni. “An African Classic in Fourteen Translations: Ferdinand Oyono’s Une Vie De Boy on the World Literary Stage.” PMLA 128.1 (2013): 101-11.

 

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