views updated Jun 11 2018


What may summarily be called translation has been practiced in many parts of the world for centuries and even millennia. The rendering of Buddhist texts into literary Chinese and the Latinization of the Bible in the first millennium are two instances of celebrated achievements in the long history of translation. There are countless cases where translations are known to have played a decisive role in the development of literary cultures, pedagogical institutions, ecclesiastic reformations, and the global spread of the nation-state and capitalism, particularly since the Renaissance and the European conquest of the Americas. Yet, until the 1970s or 1980s, translation did not attract much academic attention and consequently had not been studied systematically, though such diverse writers as John Dryden (16311700), Motoori Norinaga (17301801), and Walter Benjamin (18921940) offered insightful speculations on their own practice of translation.

In the early twenty-first century a number of scholars became aware of both the conceptual complexity and the politico-ethical significance of translation. Simultaneously, they came to realize that translations not only in the fields of literature and religion must be problematized but also those in the spheres of commercial advertisement, popular entertainment, public administration, international diplomacy, scientific research and publication, judiciary procedure, immigration, education, and family livelihood.

The conceptual complexity of the term translation and the difficulty in any attempt to define it make it necessary to historicize the particular ways translation has been understood and practiced in modern societies. The politico-ethical significance of translation is always complicit with the construction, transformation, or disruption of power relations. Translation involves moral imperatives on the part of both the addresser and the addressee and can always be viewed, to a greater or lesser degree, as a political maneuver of social antagonism. In addition, the representation of translation produces sociopolitical effects and serves as a technology by which individuals imagine their relation to the national or ethnic community.

The particular way translation is represented is conditioned by the essentially "modern" schema of co-figuration most typically, the communication model according to which translation is represented as a transfer of signification between two clearly demarcated unities of ethnic or national languagesby means of which one comprehends natural language as an ethno-linguistic unity. In other words, the commonsensical notion of translation is delimited by the schematism of the world (that is, by the act of representing the world according to the schema of co-figuration). Conversely, the modern image of the world as "inter-national" (that is, as consisting of basic units called nations ) is prescribed by a representation of translation as a communicative and international transfer of a message between a pair of ethno-linguistic unities.

The Concept of Translation and Its Complexity

The network of connotations associated with the term translation leads to notions of transferring, conveying, or moving from one place to another, of linking one word, phrase, or text to another. These connotations are shared among the words for translation in many modern languages: fanyi in Chinese, translation in English, traduction in French, honyaku in Japanese, Übersetzung in German, and so forth. It may therefore appear justified to postulate the following definition: "Translation is a transfer of the message from one language to another." Even before one specifies what sort of transfer this may be, it is hard to refrain from asking about the message. Is not the message in this definition a product or consequence of the transfer called translation rather than an entity that precedes the action of transfer, something that remains invariant in the process of translation? Is the message supposedly transferred in this process determinable in and of itself before it has been operated on? And what is the status of the language from which or into which the message is transferred? Is it justifiable to assume that the source language in which the original text makes sense is different and distinct from the target language into which the translator renders the text as faithfully as possible?

Are these languages countable? In other words, is it possible to isolate and juxtapose them as individual units, such as apples, for example, and unlike water? By what measures is it possible to distinguish one from the other and endow each with a unity? But for the sake of facilitating the representation of translation, however, is it not necessary to posit the organic unity of language rather than see it as a random assemblage of words, phrases, and utterances if one is to speak of translation in accordance with the definition?

Accordingly, the presumed invariance of the message transmitted through translation is confirmed only retroactively, after it has been translated. What kind of definition is it, then, that includes the term in need of explanation in the definition itself? Is it not a circular definition? Similarly, the unity of the source language and of the target language is also a supposition in whose absence the definition would make little sense. What might translation be if it were supposed that a language is not countable or that one language cannot be easily distinguished from another?

It is difficult to evade this problem when attempting to comprehend the terms meaning and language. At the least, it may be said that, logically, translation is not derivative or secondary to meaning or language; it is just as fundamental or foundational in any attempt to elucidate those concepts. Translation suggests contact with the incomprehensible, the unknowable, or the unfamiliarthat is, with the foreignand there is no awareness of language until the foreign is encountered. The problematic of translation is concerned in the first place with the allocation of the foreign.

If the foreign is unambiguously incomprehensible, unknowable, and unfamiliar, then translation simply cannot be done. If, conversely, the foreign is comprehensible, knowable, and familiar, translation is unnecessary. Thus, the status of the foreign is ambiguous in translation. The foreign is incomprehensible and comprehensible, unknowable and knowable, unfamiliar and familiar at the same time. This foundational ambiguity of translation is derived from the position occupied by the translator. The translator is summoned only when two kinds of audiences are postulated with regard to the source text, one for whom the text is comprehensible at least to some degree, and the other for whom it is incomprehensible. The translator's work consists in dealing with difference between the two audiences. The translator encroaches on both and stands in the midst of this difference. In other words, for the first audience the source language is comprehensible while for the second it is incomprehensible. It is important to note that the term language in this instance is figurative: it need not refer to the natural language of an ethnic or national communityGerman or Tagalog, for example. It is equally possible to have two kinds of audiences when the source text is a technical document or an avant-garde work of art. In such cases language may well refer to a vocabulary or set of expressions associated with a professional field or disciplinefor example, law; it may imply a style of graphic inscription or an unusual setting in which an artwork is displayed. This loose use of the term language invariably renders the task of determining the meaning of the term translation difficult, because all the acts of projecting, exchanging, linking, matching, and mapping could then be considered kinds of translation, even if not a single word is involved. Here the discernability of the linguistic and the nonlinguistic is at stake.

Roman Jakobson's famous taxonomy of translation attempts to restrict the instability inherent in the figurative use of the word language. Jakobson divides translation into three classes: "1) Intralingual translation or rewording is an interpretation of verbal signs by means of other signs of the same language. 2) Interlingual translation or translation proper is an interpretation of verbal signs by means of some other language. 3) Intersemiotic translation or transmutation is an interpretation of verbal signs by means of signs of nonverbal sign systems" (p. 261). According to the Jakobsonian taxonomy, one who translates "legal language" into common parlance would be performing an intralingual translation, while one who offers a commentary on an obscure artwork would be engaged in an intersemiotic translation. Neither can be said to be a translator strictly speaking. Only someone who translates a text from one language to another would be doing translation proper.

Jakobson's taxonomy neither elucidates nor responds to the supposition concerning the countability and organic unity of the source and target languages. It does not empirically validate the supposition; it merely repeats and confirms it. Nevertheless, it discloses that "translation proper" depends on a supposed discernibility between the interlingual and the intralingual, between a translation from one language to another and a rewording within the same language. It thereby prescribes and demarcates the locus of difference between two presumably ethnic or national language communities by virtue of the fact that Jakobson presupposes that translation proper can take place only between two unequivocally circumscribed languages. It therefore eradicates the various differences within such a linguistic community and locates the foreign exclusively outside the unity of a language.

No doubt this conception of translation is a schematization of the globally shared and abstractly idealized common-sensical vision of the international world as basic unitsnationssegmented by national borders into territories. It is not simply Jakobson's idiosyncratic view. In this schematization, "translation proper" not only claims to be a description or representation of what happens in the process of translation; that description also prescribes and directs how to represent and apprehend what one does when one translates. In this respect, "translation proper" is a discursive construct: it is part of what may be called the regime of translation, an institutionalized assemblage of protocols, rules of conduct, canons of accuracy, and ways of viewing. The discursive regime of translation is poietic, or productive, in that it foregrounds what speech acts theorists call the "perlocutionary" effect. Just as a perlocutionary act of persuading might well happen in a speech act of arguing but persuasion does not always result from argument, "translation proper" need not be postulated whenever one acts to translate. Yet, in the regime of translation, it is as if there were a casual relationship between the co-figurative schematization of translation and the process of translation. Collapsing the process of translation onto its co-figurative schematization, the representation of translation repeatedly discerns the domestic language co-figurativelyone unity is figured out, represented, and comprehended as a spatial figure, in contrast to anotheras if the two unities were already present in actuality.

As long as one remains captive to the regime of translation, one can construe the ambiguity inherent in the translator's positionality only as the dual position a translator occupies between a native language and a foreign tongue. Hence the presumption persists that one either speaks one's mother tongue or a foreigner's. The translator's task would be to discern the differences between the two languages. And the difference one deals with in translation is always determined as that between two linguistic communities. Despite countless potential differences within one linguistic community, the regime of translation obliges one to speak from within a binary opposition, either to the same or to the other. Thus, in the regime of translation the translator becomes invisible. This attitude in which one is constantly solicited to identify oneself may be called "monolingual address," whereby the addresser adopts the position representative of a putatively homogeneous language community and enunciates to addressees who are also representative of a homogeneous language community. The term monolingual address, however, does not imply a social situation in which both the addresser and the addressee in a conversation belong to the same language; they believe they belong to different languages yet can still address each other monolingually.

Translator: The Subject in Transit

Is it possible to understand the act of translation outside monolingual address? To respond to this question, it may be helpful to consider the translator's position of address. When engaged in the task of translation, can she perform a speech act such as making a promise? Is the translator responsible for what she says while translating? Because of the translator's unavoidably ambiguous position, the answer too is ambiguous. Yes, she can make a promise, but only on behalf of someone else. She "herself" cannot make a promise. The translator is responsible for her translation but she cannot be held responsible for the pledges expressed in it, because she is not allowed to say what she means; she is required to say what she says without meaning it. In essence, the translator is someone who cannot say "I." Here the problem of the invariant message returns as the question of meaning, of what the translator "means" to say.

In relation to the source text, the translator seems to occupy the position of the addressee. She listens or reads what the original addresser enunciates. At the same time, however, there is no supposition that the addresser is speaking or writing to her. The addressee of the enunciation is not located where the translator is; in translation, the addressee is always located elsewhere. Here again the translator's positionality is inherently ambiguous: she is both an addressee and not an addressee. She cannot be the "you" to whom the addresser refers.

A similar disjunction can be observed in the enunciation of the target textthat is, in the translation. In relation to the audience of the target text, the translator seems to occupy the position of the addresser. The translator speaks or writes to the audience. But it is seemingly not the translator herself who speaks or writes to the addressee. The I uttered by the translator does not designate the translator herself but rather the subject of the original enunciation. And if the translator does indicate the subject of the translated enunciation by saying I in a "translator's note," for exampleshe will then have to designate the original addresser as he or she.

In other words, in translation, the subject of the enunciation and the subject of the enunciatedthe speaking I and the I that is signifiedare not expected to coincide. The translator's desire is at least displaced, if not entirely dissipated, in the translated enunciation, if by desire one understands that what is signified by I in "my" utterance, ought to coincide with the supposedly concrete and uniquebut imaginedexistence of "me" (the desire expressed as "I want to be myself"). This is why the translator cannot be designated straightforwardly either as I or you : she disrupts the attempt to appropriate the relation of addresser and addressee as a personal relation between the first person and the second person. According to Émile Benveniste, only those directly addressing and those directly addressed can be called persons, whereas he, she, and they cannot be so designated (Benveniste, p. 224). Hence, the addresser, the translator, and the addressee cannot be persons simultaneously. The translator cannot be the first or second person, or even the third "person" undisruptively. Ineluctably, translation introduces an instability into the putatively personal relations among the agents of speech, writing, listening, and reading. The translator is internally split and multiple, devoid of a stable position. At best, she is a subject in transit.

In the first place, this is because the translator cannot be an "individual" in the sense of individuum, the undividable unit. In the second, it is because she is a singular that marks an elusive point of discontinuity in the social, even though translation is the practice of creating continuity from discontinuity. Translation is a poietic social practice that institutes a relation at the site of incommensurability. This is why the discontinuity inherent in translation would be completely repressed if one were to determine translation as the communication of information; the ambiguity inherent in the translator's positionality would have to be entirely overlooked as translation is grasped as the transfer of information.

The internal split within the translator demonstrates how the subject constitutes itself. In a sense, this internal split is homologous to what is known as the "fractured I." The temporality of "I speak" necessarily introduces an irreparable distance between the speaking I and the I signified, between the subject of the enunciation and the subject of the enunciated. The subject in the sense that I am here and now speaking designates the subject of the enunciation, but it does not signify it because every signifier of the subject of the enunciation may be lacking in the enunciated or the statement. In the case of translation, however, an ambiguity in the translator's personality marks the instability of the we as subject rather than the I, since the translator cannot be a unified and coherent personality in translation. This suggests a different attitude of address, namely, "heterolingual address" (Sakai, pp. ixii)that is, a situation in which one addresses oneself as a foreigner to another foreigner. Held captive in the regime of translation, however, the translator is supposed to assume the role of the transcendent arbitrator, not only between the addresser and the addressee but also between their linguistic communities. As monolingual address, translation, as a process of creating continuity in discontinuity, is often replaced by the representation of translation in which translation is schematized according to the co-figurative communication model.

Modernity and the Schema of Co-Figuration: A Genealogy of the Modern

Consider how translation is displaced by its representation and how collective subjectivity, such as national and ethnic subjectivity, is constituted in the representation of translation. Through the translator's labor, the incommensurable differences that call for the translator's service in the first place are negotiated. In other words, the work of translation is a practice by which the initial discontinuity between the addresser and the addressee is made continuous. In this respect translation is like other social practices; translation makes something representable out of an unrepresentable difference. Only retrospectively, therefore, can one recognize the initial incommensurability as a gap, crevice, or border between fully constituted entities, spheres, or domains. But when so represented, it is no longer an incommensurability. It is mapped onto a striated space, which may be segmented by national borders and other markers of collective (national, ethnic, racial, or "cultural") identification.

Incommensurable difference is more like a feeling prior to the explanation of how incommensurability occurred, and cannot be represented as a specific difference (in schemas of genera and species, for example) between two terms or entities. What makes it possible to represent the initial difference between one language unity and another as already determined is the work of translation itself. Hence the untranslatable, or what appears to be so, cannot exist prior to the enunciation of translation. It is translation that gives birth to the untranslatable. The untranslatable is as much a testimony to the sociality of the translator, whose elusive positionality reveals the presence of an aggregate community of foreigners between the addresser and the addressee, as the translatable itself. We fail to communicate because we are in common with one another. Community itself does not mean we share common ground. On the contrary, we are in community precisely because we are exposed to a forum where our differences and failure in communication can be manifest. Nevertheless, the translator's essential sociality with respect to the untranslatable is disregarded in monolingual address, and with the repression of this insight, monolingual address equates translation with the representation of translation.

When the temporality of translation by which the translator's disjunctive positionality manifests itself is erased, translation is displaced by the representation of translation. Because the disruptive and dynamic processes of translation are leveled out, the representation of translation makes possible the representation of ethnic or national subjects and, despite the presence of the translator, who is always ambiguous and disjunctive, translation as representation posits one language unity against another and one "cultural" unity against another. In this sense, the representation of translation transforms difference in repetition (Deleuze) into a specific difference between two particularities and serves to constitute the putative unities of national languages, thereby reinscribing the initial difference and incommensurability as a specific, or commensurate and conceptual, difference between two particular languages within the continuity of languages. As a result of this displacement, translation is represented as a form of communication between two fully circumscribed, different but comparable, language communities in which social antagonism and the various loci of difference are expunged.

The particular representation of translation as communication between two particular languages is no doubt a historical construct. Given the politico-social significance of translation, it is no accident that, historically, the regime of translation became widely accepted in many regions of the world, after the feudal order and its passive vassal subject gave way to the disciplinary order of the active citizen subject in the modern nation-state, to an order consisting of disciplinary regiments that Michel Foucault describes brilliantly. The regime of translation serves to reify national sovereignty. As Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have argued, it makes "the relation of sovereignty into a thing (often by naturalizing it) and thus weed out every residue of social antagonism. The nation is a kind of ideological shortcut that attempts to free the concepts of sovereignty and modernity from the antagonism and crisis that define them" (Hardt and Negri, p. 95, italics in the original).

Kant thought of the schema as a "third thing" heterogeneous to either sensibility or understanding, in which an intuition (in sensibility) is subsumed under a concept (in understanding), and attributed it to the general faculty of imagination, a faculty to give a concept its figure or Bild. He called this operation of schema schematism. Following the Kantian schematism, the poietic technology embedded in the regime of translation that renders translation representable may be called "the schema of co-figuration." Since the practice of translation remains radically heterogeneous to the representation of translation, translation cannot always be represented as a communication between two clearly delineated ethno-linguistic unities. Rather, it was this particular representation of translation that gave rise to the possibility of figuring out the unity of ethnic or national language together with another language unity. Thanks to this co-figurative schematism, there emerges an ethno-linguistic unity as if it were a sensuous and unified thing hidden and dormant behind the surface of extensive variety. In other words, the schema of co-figuration is a technology by means of which an ethno-linguistic community is rendered representable, thereby constituting itself as a sub-stratum upon which national sovereignty can be built. "People" is nothing but an idealization of this substratum.

This self-constitution of the nation does not proceed unitarily, but on the contrary, its figure constitutes itself only by making visible the figure of an other with which it engages in a relationship of translation. Precisely because the two nations are represented as equivalent and alike, however, it is possible to determine them as conceptually different, and their difference is construed as a specific difference (daiphora ) between separate identities. Nevertheless, cultural difference, which calls for the work of a translator, is not a conceptual difference but an incommensurability. The relationship of the two terms as equivalent and alike gives rise to the possibility of extracting an infinite number of distinctions between the two. Just as in the co-figuration of "the West and the Rest" by which the West represents itself, constituting itself by positing everything else as "the Rest," conceptual difference allows one term to be evaluated as superior to the other. This co-figurative comparison enables typical binary oppositionssuch as the presence of scientific rationality versus its absence, the future-oriented spirit of progress versus the tradition-bound sense of social obligation, and internalization of religious faith and its accompanying secularism versus the inseparableness of the private and the publicto characterize the West and the Rest.

The "modern" is marked by the introduction of the schema of co-figuration, without which it is difficult to imagine a nation or ethnicity as a homogeneous sphere. The economy of the foreignthat is, how the foreign must be allocated in the production of the domestic and non-universal languagehas played a decisive role in the poietic and poeticidentification of national languages (Berman). Most conspicuously in eighteenth-century movements such as Romanticism in western Europe and Kokugaku (National Studies) in Japan, intellectual and literary maneuvers to invent, mythically and poetically, a national language were closely associated with a spiritual construction of a new identity that later naturalized national sovereignty. This sub-stratum for the legitimization of national and popular sovereignty was put forward as a "natural" language specific to the "people," supposedly spoken by them in their everyday lives. Literary historians generally call this historical development "the emergence of the vernacular." With the irruption of the sphere of nearnessextensive obsessions with things of everydayness and experimental immediacyin which the ordinary and the colloquial were celebrated, the status of "universal" languages such as Latin, literary Chinese, and Sanskrit was drastically and decisively altered. In their stead, languages emerged whose markers were ethnic and nationalEnglish, German, Japanese, Spanish and so forthand the ancient canons were translated into these languages. For this reason, Martin Luther's German translation of the Bible and Motoori's Japanese phonetic translation of the Kojiki (Records of ancient matters) can be said to mark crucial steps in modernity. This emphasis on ordinary and colloquial languages was correlated with the reconception of translation and the schema of co-figuration.

Historically, how one represents translation does not only prescribe how we collectively imagine national communities and ethnic identities and how we relate individually to national sovereignty. It is also complicit with the discourse of the West and the Rest through which the colonial power relationship is continually fantasized and reproduced.

See also Interpretation ; Language and Linguistics ; Language, Linguistics, and Literacy ; Other, The, European Views of ; Representation .


Benjamin, Walter. "The Task of The Translator." Translated by Harry Zohn, with a note by Steven Rendall. In The Translation Studies Reader, edited by Lawrence Venuti, 1524. London: Routledge, 2000.

Benveniste, Émile. Problems in General Linguistics. Translated by Mary Elizabeth Meck. Coral Gables: University of Miami Press, 1971.

Berman, Antoine. The Experience of the Foreign: Culture and Translation in Romantic Germany. Translated by S. Heyvaert. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992.

Deleuze, Gilles. Difference and Repetition. Translated by Paul Patton. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish. Translated by Aln Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books, 1979.

Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. Empire. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Jakobson, Roman. "On Linguistic Aspects of Translation." In his Selected Writings. Vol. 2, 26066. The Hague: Mouton, 1971.

Laca, Jacques. Écritis. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1977.

Motoori, Norinaga. The Kojiki-den. Book 1. Translated by Ann Wehmeyer. Ithaca, N.Y.: East Asia Program, Cornell University, 1997.

Sakai, Naoki. Translation and Subjectivity: On "Japan" and Cultural Nationalism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.

. Voices of the Past: The Status of Language in Eighteenth-century Japanese Discourse. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1992.

Venuti, Lawrence. The Translator's Invisibility: A History of Translation. London: Routledge, 1995.

Naoki Sakai


views updated May 21 2018


Scholars working under the sponsorship of Muslim patrons undertook the translation of works on Greek philosophy and scientific learning and transmitted them to the West. An early and particularly fertile center for translation was Jundi-Shapur in Khuzistan, southeast of Baghdad. There the Bukhtishu˓, a family of physicians at the court of the caliph, became energetic translators of Greek works on medical matters. Hunayn ibn Ishaq (808–873), based in Baghdad, translated the medical as well as ethical and philosophical works of Galen, which were preserved in Arabic long after the originals were lost. Arabic translations preserved the works of other Greek writers, such as Euclid, Rufus of Ephesus, Nicolaus of Damascus, Porphyry, and Proclus. Hunayn bequeathed his translation legacy to his son, Ishaq ibn Hunayn (d. 910). Hunayn and his school created a genuine home in the Arabic language for a rich repertoire of new ideas and concepts. Most of the major translators were Christian, with the possible exception of a Jewish scholar named Marsajawayh, who translated from the Syriac, and Thabit b. Qurrah (c. 834–901), a Sabian from Harran.

Translation was almost entirely devoted to scientific, medical, and philosophical works. Philosophical texts were paraphrased and included commentaries for Arabic students. Simplified adaptations of the works of Plato and Aristotle were known in Arabic. Another area of great intellectual interest was Neo-Platonism, particularly the works of the Egyptian Plotinus (c. 200–269 c.e.), and of his disciple Porphyry (233–301).

Yet it would be wrong to overemphasize the impact of Greek ideas on Islam's religious life and culture. Only a small circle of educated elites was shaped by the influence of Greek intellectual ideas. The Qur˒an survived the critical Greek encounter to endure as the great devotional and missionary text of the religion, conveying the sounds and tones of the original sacred Arabic of Scripture to multitudes of adherents down the centuries and scattered well beyond the Arab heartlands.

Mission and Translation

In the course of its worldwide expansion and cross-cultural transmission, Islam has maintained a remarkable consistency in promoting the nontranslatable status of the Qur˒an. That may account in part for the relative unity of faith and practice among Muslims who are otherwise characterized by an extraordinary diversity of race, language, culture, and social status. Without an institutional central authority to enforce doctrine and to adjudicate the affairs of believers, Islam has nevertheless continued to enjoy a degree of solidarity that is belied by its organizational decentralization. It happens that only a minority of the world's one billion Muslims is Arab in language and culture, yet for all Muslims the Holy Qur˒an in the original Arabic is divine oracle. Rather than impede the spread of Islam, this fact has been the basis of the appeal of the religion in societies even beyond the Arab heartland. The language of scripture has been a major force in establishing boundaries and shaping identity for new communities in Islam.

The Qur˒an bears witness to its own unique and manifest status as Arabic speech (12: 1–3; 16: 105; 41: 41–42), a celestial discourse designed for repeated recitation "whereat shiver the skins of those who fear their Lord; then their skins and their hearts soften to the remembrance of God" (39: 23). The Qur˒an as the "essence of divine speech" is sublime and wise guidance for the faithful, and is preserved in its Arabicness with God as such (43: 3).

The transmission of Islam has been accompanied by adaptations in local practice and understanding, and, accordingly, the Qur˒an has been appropriated to reflect new situations, whether as divine oracle, rule book, breviary, vade mecum, periapt, or as universal template. There being no rival versions of the Qur˒an, Muslims possess in their scripture a single and unvarying standard of faith and devotion, and a tangible symbol of the oneness of the umma (community of believers). Through Islam's worldwide expansion the Arabic of scripture became, according to H. A. R. Gibb, "a world language and the common literary medium of all Muslim peoples" (1974, p. 37).

Although proficiency in the language of Scripture is the preserve of a small circle of specialists, nevertheless the task of learning the holy book by rote memorization is the sacred duty of all Muslims, scholar and sundry alike, because only that way may Muslims observe the obligatory five daily periods of worship known as salat. Even though there are translations of the Qur˒an, they are invalid for salat for which the sacred Arabic has been instituted as a prerequisite, a rule that gives translations no canonical merit in the central religious rites.

A potent connection exists between the Arabic script and Islam's sacrosanct view of language. One tradition speaks of the human face as God's image, of language as the mark of humanity, and the twenty-eight letters of the Arabic script as containing the essence of that contained in language: the mysteries of God, humanity, and eternity. Echoes of such reverence for the sacred Arabic can be found in mosque calligraphy composed of Qur˒anic verses and the names of God, the Prophet, the shahada (profession of faith), and the early caliphs. Calligraphic art has spread widely, and with it an iconographic reverence for the sacred script. Muslim devotions involve rhythmic chanting (tartil) of the Qur˒an.

The widespread iconographic reverence for the language and script of the Qur˒an led travelers in the far regions of the Islamic world to comment on the prominence given to study of the Qur˒an and to its use in canonical worship. Thus did Ibn Battuta recount how Muslim Africans were punctilious in mosque attendance and zealous in learning the Qur˒an, testifying that parents "put their children in chains if they show any backwardness in memorizing it, and they are not set free until they have it by heart." Dr. Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832–1912), a pan-African visionary of West Indian origin, made a close study of Islam and Muslim life, noting that even at the margins of the Muslim world the untranslated Qur˒an held a particularly high position. He said he saw evidence of the Holy Book exerting a powerful influence on nonliterate populations, providing a ground of unity for the disparate tribes and a sentiment of loyalty that promoted a sense of common identity. The words of the sacred book, he testified, were held in the greatest reverence and esteem. Although for many Muslim Africans the words of the Arabic Qur˒an were little understood, they possessed still great beauty and music, a subtle and indefinable charm "incomprehensible to those not acquainted with the language in which the Koran was written."

Translation, Reform, and Revolution

The tradition of orthopraxy that a uniform Qur˒an promoted, and that was important where caliphal authority was weak or unknown, was difficult to maintain among acephalous Muslim populations such as existed in North Africa. For more than three centuries after the introduction of Islam, the Berbers there remained poorly instructed in the faith and remained, therefore, susceptible to splintering and heresy. To remedy such defects, the Almoravid movement, launched in 1056, sought to assemble the dispersed Berber tribes under Islamic rule in forms that were frankly outlandish: the Qur˒an and the sunna, for example, were discounted as too demanding for the simple and ignorant, their place now taken by a culture of strict discipline on the masses and unquestioning obedience to the leader. Religious illiteracy became even more conspicuous from the high expectations raised by Almoravid power.

The illiteracy aggravated the moral delinquency belonging with the fictitious nature of power, and that finally provoked a reaction. An idea had been growing steadily that it was necessary to extend to the Berber tribesmen the unifying dividends that the Ash˓arite revolution had achieved in the eastern provinces of the caliphate. By making use of reason to defend revelation, Ash˓arism repositioned Muslim intellectual life after its encounter with Greek ideas by stressing God's omnipotence (qadar) and by rejecting the naturalist inferences of anthropomorphism (tajsim).

Transferred to North Africa, these Ash˓arite ideas would have a major impact on religion, state, and society. In the circumstances of political fragmentation and religious syncretism that characterized North Africa in the eleventh century, a movement of reaction and revolution erupted to channel pent up forces through a political outlet under a charismatic leader. This leader was Ibn Tumart (d. 1130), founder of the militant Almohad (al-muwahhidun) counterrevolution against the lackadaisical Almoravids.

Ibn Tumart assumed power and had the Qur˒an translated into his native Berber; he ordered the call to prayers (adhan) to be given in Berber; the Friday sermon (khutba) likewise was delivered in his mother tongue; and he required the clerics, the ulema, to know and function in that language. He arranged for his own theological writings to be circulated in Berber as well as Arabic. Such translation activity stimulated sentiments of local nationalism, though it conflicted with Ibn Tumart's own aims of integrating Berber Islam into the unified Ash˓arite and Ghazalian tradition that he so much admired. Undertaking his ambitious translation enterprise as a facet of the changes he wished to see introduced in Muslim North Africa, Ibn Tumart ended by producing a variation so colorful and so rare as to amount to a serious rupture with Qur˒an and sunna.

The nationalist impulse of language reform and religious renewal converged again much later, during the Ottoman Empire. By the late nineteenth century this linguistic nationalism was gaining a foothold within and without. Students from the empire returned from their studies in European universities with a heightened sense of national identity. Works on Turkish language and grammar, some the result of European Orientalist scholarship, were coming into general circulation. Works in European languages, particularly French, were translated into Turkish. Hungarian and Polish refugees, many of whom converted to Islam, wrote in French and Turkish. Russian Turks brought a strong sense of national identity, infusing the Turkish language with a sense of historical destiny. These impulses coalesced into the Turkish Society, founded in Istanbul in 1908. The society was dedicated to objectives that were scholarly as well as cultural, including the advancement of language and literature. As part of its aggressive program of secularization, the new political authorities set about reforming religious life and practice. In 1929 Arabic and Persian were abolished as subjects of instruction in schools to facilitate the teaching and spread of Turkish. A reorganization of religious schools and mosques was undertaken, with the requirement that the language of worship be Turkish, and that all prayers and sermons be in the national language, and not Arabic. Measures were adopted to translate the Qur˒an and the hadith into Turkish, with money voted for the scheme in 1932. In that year for the first time the adhan resounded from minarets in Turkish.

Beginning in 1928 with the adoption of a new Latin alphabet to replace Arabic, a vigorous, if at times overenthusiastic, language reform program was undertaken. The Turkish language was purged of its Arabic and Persian borrowings and grammatical features to bring it closer to national aspirations. Although some of the excesses of this linguistic purge were later reversed, the language reforms achieved the goal of closing a crucial gap between written and spoken Turkish, giving birth to a new sense of national identity. The attempts to carry the translation efforts into the mosque failed because of clerical opposition. A similar fate befell attempts in India to translate the Islamic canonical rites into Hindi, in that case also for reasons of trying to bring Islam into line with the national sentiment.

Translation and Cross-Cultural Consolidation

These large-scale national reforms aimed at shifting people's devotion to the sacred script and language are testimony to the enduring influence of the Qur˒an on the habits and customs of Muslim peoples. Yet a different impulse has worked in translation to fashion in people a sense of identity and to provide boundary markers. This is the case, for example, with Swahili in East Africa and Hausa and Fulfulde in West Africa. Swahili verse and prose literature have functioned to impress on the fabric of popular life images of Islam drawn from the Arabic classics: accounts of the Prophet in popular praise songs; studies of the origins of the Islamic state; stories of the caliphs and the Prophet's companions; devotional literature tied to the religious calendar; exegetical works expounding the Qur˒an; and manuals designed for exchange and study in shops, markets, and private homes. Swahili has thus worked in favor of Islam's penetration into coastal and transient populations of East Africa.

Hausa verse and prose have had a comparable effect on the Hausa people of Nigeria and beyond. Early in the nineteenth century an era of revolution and reform produced an environment conducive to the large-scale use of written Hausa in Arabic script. That in turn inspired a corresponding pan-Islamic sensibility among scholars. Writers in Hausa appealed to the Arabic classics, including the literature produced during the Abbasid caliphate, to reform local practice and to implement the religious canon. The reformers drew upon the Qur˒an, the hadith, the history, and the legal and biographical traditions to create structures and institutions in their part of the Muslim world, and the gains they made became a permanent part of the life of the people.

For its part, Fulfulde enjoyed a long and distinguished role as the language of instruction, catechism, and exegesis in Qur˒an school and beyond. The educational syllabus was based on a four-stage process: introducing the Arabic alphabet (jangugol), writing (windugol), Scriptural exegesis in Fulfulde (firugol), and higher studies (fennu; Ar., ˓ilm awfaq). Religious catechism was conducted in Fulfulde. All this linguistic activity laced Fulbe national feeling with a heightened sense of Islamic exceptionalism. Beginning with the reforms of Karamokho Alfa of Futa Jallon in 1727, and ˓Uthman dan Fodio of northern Nigeria in 1804, the Fulbe became energetic sponsors of reform in West African Islam and the self-acclaimed defenders of Sunni orthodoxy. Under Fulbe hegemony, the language issue acquired a central status: the accommodationists among the local Muslim clerics were decried as ˓ulama˒ al-su˓, the "venal clerics," and charged with allowing scriptural standards to slip and political corruption to spread. Literacy in Arabic, however limited, became a criterion of reform and renewal. Such limited literacy represented precious intellectual capital in marginal Muslim societies, and the Fulbe reformers deployed it to great effect. Literate clerics, accordingly, became the vanguard of change in state and society.

It is not the case, however, that all literate clerics adopted the path of militancy from their privileged position as masters of Arabic. An outstanding example are the Jakhanke Muslim clerics of Senegambia who, as a matter of principle, have, from medieval times, rejected jihad as well as political co-option, and have instead adopted the methods of peaceful persuasion in their role as educational specialists. They have introduced the Arabic of scripture and tradition in their schools by means of local languages, adapting the grammatical concepts and special vocabulary of the Qur˒an to local usage. They created in West Africa a culture of religious and political moderation in spite of a bruising era of confrontation under an anticlerical French colonial administration. At the hands of the pacific clerics, translation assured the renewal of Islam and its continuing vitality as a pillar of civil society without the compromise of armed intervention or state enforcement.

See alsoArabic Language ; Ibn Battuta ; Persian Language and Literature ; Qur˒an ; Science, Islam and.


Battuta, Ibn. Travels in Asia and Africa, 1325–1354. Edited and translated by H. A. R. Gibb. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983.

Gibb, H. A. R. Arabic Literature: An Introduction. London: Oxford University Press, 1974.

Grunebaum, G. E. von. Classical Islam, A History 600–1228. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1970.

Hayes, John R., ed. The Genius of Arab Civilization: Source ofRenaissance. 1976. Reprint. Oxford, U.K.: Phaidon, 1978.

Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of Modern Turkey. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1968.

Nasr, S. H. Islamic Science: An Illustrated Study. London: World of Islam Festival Publishing Company Ltd., 1976.

O'Leary, De Lacy. How Greek Science Passed to the Arabs. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1948.

Rosenthal, Franz. The Classical Heritage in Islam. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975.

Sanneh, Lamin. The Crown and the Turban: Muslims and WestAfrican Pluralism. Denver, Colo.: Westview Press, 1997.

Ullmann, Manfred. Islamic Medicine. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1978.

Walzer, Richard. Greek into Arabic: Essays in Islamic Philosophy. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1962.

Lamin Sanneh


views updated May 11 2018


Translation is the cellular process in which the genetic information carried by the DNA is decoded, using an RNA intermediate, into proteins. This process is also known as protein synthesis.

Deciphering the Genetic Code

There are two steps in the path from genes to proteins. In the first step, called transcription , the region of the double-stranded DNA corresponding to a specific gene is copied into an RNA molecule, called messenger RNA (mRNA), by an enzyme called RNA polymerase. In the second step, called translation, the mRNA directs the assembly of amino acids in a specific sequence to form a chain of amino acids called a polypeptide . This process is accomplished by ribosomes , special amino acid-bearing RNA molecules called transfer RNAs (tRNAs), and other translation factors. The newly synthesized polypeptides form proteins, which have functional and structural roles in cells. All proteins are synthesized by this process.

The precise order of amino acids assembled during translation is determined by the order of nucleotides in the mRNA. These nucleotides are a direct copy of the linear sequence of the nucleotides in one of the two complementary DNA strands, which have been transcribed using a code in which every three bases of the RNA specify an amino acid. DNA and RNA molecules both have directionality, which is indicated by reference to either the 5 ("five prime") end or the 3 ("three prime") end.

The code is always read in the 5 to 3 direction, using adjacent, non-overlapping three-base units called codons. Since there are four different nucleotides (also called bases) in RNA (abbreviated A, C, G, and U), there are sixty-four (43) different codons, and each codon specifies a particular amino acid. There are only twenty different amino acids, however, so many of the amino acids can be specified by more than one codon, a circumstance that is known as degeneracy. The list of mRNA codons specific for a given amino acid is called the genetic code . The start signal, or initiation codon, for translating the mRNA is usually specified by an AUG, which codes for the amino acid methionine. Three codons (UAA, UGA, and UAG) do not specify an amino acid. Instead, these codons serve as stop signals to indicate that the end of the gene has been reached. During the translation process, they signal that no further amino acids are to be assembled.

The process of translation is carried out by ribosomes, which bind the mRNA and conduct a catalytic activity, called peptide bond formation, for joining the amino acids. The amino acids are carried to the ribosome by the tRNAs. Each tRNA has a specific amino acid attached to it and contains a nucleotide triplet called an anticodon. The anticodon recognizes a specific codon on the mRNA by pairing with it, using base-pairing rules like those used by DNA: A pairs with U and G pairs with C. For example, a tRNA with a UUU anticodon recognizes the AAA codon. The amino acid lysine is attached to this tRNA, so every time the ribosome "reads" an AAA codon, the lysine-bearing tRNA is brought in, base pairs via its anticodon to the codon, and delivers a lysine to the growing protein chain.

Mutations arise when one or more bases in the DNA is changed. When the mutated DNA is transcribed, the resulting mRNA will carry the same mutation. Then, when the mRNA is translated, the amino acid sequence of the resulting protein will be different from the original, or wild-type , sequence because the codons affected by the mutation will recruit the wrong amino acids. The resulting mutant protein may have neutral, harmful, or even beneficial effects on the individual. These changes are the basis for evolution.

Stages of Translation

The process of translation can be broken down into three stages. The first stage is initiation. In this step, a special "initiator" tRNA carrying the amino acid methionine binds to a special site on the small subunit of the ribosome (the ribosome is composed of two subunits, the small subunit and the large subunit). The mRNA is also loaded on, and positioned so that the initiation codon (usually AUG) is base paired with the anticodon of the initiator tRNA. The large subunit then binds to the small subunit. The resulting complex of ribosome, mRNA, and methionine-bearing initiator tRNA is called an initiation complex. Formation of this complex also requires a number of helper proteins called initiation factors.

The second stage is called chain elongation. During this stage, additional amino acids are progressively added. The methionine-bearing initiator tRNA sits on a site of the ribosome called the P (peptidyl) site. A new tRNA, bearing the next amino acid is base paired via its anticodon to the next codon of the mRNA, using a site called the A (acceptor) site. This new amino acid is then attached to the amino acid carried by the P site tRNA, forming a peptide bond. This enzymatic step is carried out by the ribosome, at a site called the peptidyl-transferase center.

The tRNA that has so far been attached to the amino acid in the P site is then released through the E (exit) site, and the new tRNA, now carrying both its own amino acid and the methionine moves into the P site. The mRNA also slides three bases to bring the next codon into position at the A site. A third tRNA, again carrying a specific amino acid and recognizing the third codon of the mRNA, moves into the A site, and the cycle is repeated. As these steps are continued, the mRNA slides along the ribosome, three bases at a time, and the peptide (amino acid) chain continues to grow. As with initiation, elongation requires helper proteins, called elongation factors. Energy is also required for peptide bond formation.

The final stage of translation is termination. The signal to stop adding amino acids to the polypeptide is a stop codon (UAA, UAG, or UGA), for which there is no partner tRNA. Rather, special proteins called release factors bind to the A site of the ribosome and trigger an enzymatic reaction by the ribosome. This reaction causes the ribosome to release the polypeptide and mRNA, ending the elongation process.

At a given time, more than one ribosome may be translating a single mRNA molecule. The resulting clusters of ribosomes, which resemble beads on a string, are called polysomes.

Recognition of Initiation Codons

Not all AUG codons serve as the site of initiation. Most AUGs are intended to code for methionines within the polypeptide chain. Therefore, in addition to the methionine-bearing initiator tRNA, another set of methionine-specific tRNAs are used for these internal AUG codons. The ribosome must be able to distinguish between these two kinds of AUG codons. In bacteria, additional information contained within the mRNA sequence immediately before the intended initiating AUG, called a Shine-Dalgarno sequence, helps the ribosome to recognize where it should start translating. Any AUG sequences on the 5 side of the initiation codon are ignored. In eukaryotic cells, a different strategy is used to recognize the initiating AUG codon. The mRNA contains a special structure at its 5 end, which helps the ribosome to attach and then to scan down the RNA molecule until it reaches the first AUG triplet. In bacteria and eukaryotes, AUG codons encountered during translation after initiation are recognized by a non-initiator methionine-bearing tRNA.

see also Genetic Code; Mutation; Nucleotide; Proteins; Reading Frame; Ribosome; RNA; Transcription.

Janice Zengel


Lewin, Benjamin. Genes VII. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.


views updated May 29 2018


Translation made both ancient and modern works available to a much wider audience during the Renaissance. Although many humanists* stressed the need to read ancient Greek and Roman works in their original languages, translations opened up these texts to the large number of readers who did not know those languages. Scholars translated many volumes from Greek to Latin and from both Greek and Latin into vernacular* tongues. At the same time, translations from one vernacular language to another brought books to readers in different parts of Europe.

From Greek to Latin. Few Europeans knew ancient Greek before 1397. In that year, the Greek scholar Manuel Chrysoloras arrived in Italy. Other learned Greeks followed, especially after 1453, when the city of Constantinople, a center of Greek culture, fell to the Ottoman Turks*. These scholars helped spread knowledge of the language and literature of ancient Greece.

Italian humanists learned to read Greek texts and began to translate them into Latin. They also produced improved versions of texts translated during the Middle Ages. Renaissance scholars pointed out many mistakes in medieval* versions of ancient works. Most of these were word-for-word translations, which simply replaced each word in one language with its nearest equivalent in the other. Humanists aimed to translate the true meaning of the text, even if it meant changing the wording.

During the 1400s, some of the most important efforts in the field of translation involved works of philosophy. The Italian humanist Leonardo Bruni, a leading translator of the early 1400s, created Latin versions of many Greek texts, including works by the philosopher Plato. In the late 1400s another Italian scholar, Marsilio Ficino, produced the first translation of Plato's complete works. His translation made all of Plato's writings available for the first time in western Europe. Humanists also produced new translations of works by Plato's student Aristotle, but these texts did not completely replace medieval Latin translations.

Several Renaissance scholars translated the writing of Galen, a Greek physician from the a.d. 100s whose ideas formed the core of Renaissance medicine. A new, ten-volume Latin edition of Galen's works appeared in 1541. First published in Venice, it included several pieces that had never appeared in Latin before.

Various literary scholars produced Latin versions of the works of the ancient Greek poet Homer. In the 1430s Lorenzo Valla translated part of Homer's epic* the Iliad. About 40 years later, Angelo Poliziano translated the entire poem, dedicating his edition to the Florentine statesman Lorenzo de' Medici. In Germany, the poet Helius Eobanus Hessus produced a verse translation of the Iliad in 1540.

From Latin and Greek to the Vernacular. Renaissance readers who did not know Latin or Greek also wanted information about ancient cultures. To meet this demand, vernacular translations of ancient works began to appear in the 1500s. Some writers made careers out of translating Latin and Greek classics into local languages. Ancient works on such topics as ethics* and rhetoric* often appeared in the vernacular, but professional works about science and law rarely did.

New Renaissance works in Latin might be translated into vernacular languages if they attracted enough attention. One example was Utopia (1516), a Latin work of social criticism by the English author Thomas More. Scholars also translated the Latin Praise of Folly (1511), by the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus. This work attacked human foolishness and corruption in the church and urged readers to live according to the example of Christ.

In Britain, learning to translate ancient works from Latin and Greek was an important part of a humanist education. Publishers issued English versions of many works of history, biography, and moral philosophy. William Shakespeare used English editions of Lives, by the Greek biographer Plutarch, and Metamorphoses, by the Roman poet Ovid, as sources for his plays. In the early 1600s the scholar George Chapman translated both of Homer's epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, into English.

Vernacular Works. Renaissance writers translated some popular works from one vernacular language to another. One example was The Book of the Courtier (1528), a book about courtly life by Baldassare Castiglione of Italy. Written in Italian, it later appeared in English, French, Spanish, and Latin. At about the same time, the Spanish scholar Antonio de Guevara published The Golden Book of Marcus Aurelius, a partly fictional biography of an ancient Roman emperor. Translated into Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, and Latin, the book became a European best-seller.

Scholars translated some works because they viewed them as literary classics. In 1591 Sir John Harington published an English version of Ludovico Ariosto's epic Orlando Furioso. Nine years later Edward Fairfax produced an English edition of another Italian work, Torquato Tasso's epic Jerusalem Delivered. Fairfax gave his version a new title, Godfrey of Bulloigne. Changes of this sort were fairly common. In fact, many Renaissance translators freely added, removed, or rearranged material while preparing an edition in another language.

(See alsoClassical Scholarship; Greek Émigrés; Humanism; Ideas, Spread of; Latin Language and Literature; Literature; Poetry; Printing and Publishing. )

* humanist

Renaissance expert in the humanities (the languages, literature, history, and speech and writing techniques of ancient Greece and Rome)

* vernacular

native language or dialect of a region or country

* Ottoman Turks

Turkish followers of Islam who founded the Ottoman Empire in the 1300s; the empire eventually included large areas of eastern Europe, the Middle East, and northern Africa

* medieval

referring to the Middle Ages, a period that began around a.d. 400 and ended around 1400 in Italy and 1500 in the rest of Europe

* epic

long poem about the adventures of a hero

* ethics

branch of philosophy concerned with questions of right and wrong

* rhetoric

art of speaking or writing effectively


views updated Jun 08 2018


There are a large number of occurrences of the verb übersetzen ("to translate") and the nounÜbersetzung ("translation") in Freud's work, indicative of his interest in translation, although the terms had no specific conceptual value for him within the field of psychoanalysis. However, non-German readers should bear in mind the proximity in German ofÜbersetzung and Übertragung ("transference"). What psychoanalysts refer to as "transference" is, in German, also a translation, a carrying over.

Freud's interest in translation was manifest early in his career: while doing his military service he translated an essay by John Stuart Mill and, on his return from his stay at the Salpêtrière, impressed by Charcot's clinical method, he translated two of the Charcot's main works, as well as two works by Bernheim, which he felt were essential for a scientific understanding of hysteria and the use of therapeutic methods in hypnosis. For Freud the experience of translation was contemporary with his discovery of psychoanalysis as a therapeutic practice. Ernest Jones emphasized Freud's gifts as a translator (Pollak Cornillot, 1990). It should come as no surprise, therefore, to find that translation infiltrated his thought as a metaphor for a large number of psychic processes.

In his earliest writings and with the appearance of the concept of repression, translation, in its primary sense of "to bring over," became a way of picturing the transformation of those psychic contents reaching consciousness, repression being thus defined (Freud to Fliess, December 6, 1896) as a "defect of translation," an absence of conscious expression. The work of dream interpretation likewise resembles a translation of the language of the unconscious into the language of consciousness, of the remembered dream content into its hidden sense: "Interpreting a dream consists in translating the manifest content of the dream into the latent dream-thoughts, in undoing the distortion which the dream-thoughts have had to submit to from the censorship of the resistance" (1907a, p. 59). But at the same time Freud cautioned against the tendency to overestimate the importance of symbols and reduce the work of dream translation to the mere decoding of symbols, and to ignore the ideas that present themselves to the mind of the dreamer during analysis. Finding the hidden meaning was more complex than the simple transliteration of the signs of the unconscious system into the signs of the conscious one. Elsewhere (1918b [1914]), Freud uses the term translation more generically, to designate the psychoanalyst's interpretation of a psychic phenomenon: for example, the fear of being eaten by the wolf "is translated" into the fear of being raped by the father. More recently André Green (1997/2000) has rediscovered the richness of the "hypothesis of translation" present throughout Freud's work.

MichÈle Pollak Cornillot

See also: Biblioteca Nueva de Madrid (Freud, S., Obras completas ); France; Interpretation; Opere (writings of Sigmund Freud); Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud ; Symbol.


Freud, Sigmund. (1907a). Delusions and dreams in Jensen's "Gradiva." SE, 9: 1-95.

. (1918b [1914]). From the history of an infantile neurosis. SE, 17: 1-122.

Green, André. (2000). The chains of eros: The sexual in psychoanalysis (Luke Thurston, Trans.). London: Rebus. (Original work published 1997)

Mahony, Patrick. (1980). Toward the understanding of translation in psychoanalysis. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 28, 461-473.

Mijolla, Alain de. (1991). L'édition en français des "Œuvres" de Freud avant 1940. Autour de quelques documents nouveaux. Revue internationale d 'histoire de la psychanalyse, 4, 209-270.

Pollak Cornillot, Michèle. (1990). Freud traducteur. Introductionà la traduction des œuvres de Freud. Doctoral dissertation, Université René-Descartes, Paris.

Further Reading

Amati-Mehler, Jacqueline, et al. (1993). The babel of the unconscious. Mother tongue and foreign languages in the psychoanalytic dimension. Madison, CT: International Universities Press.


views updated May 11 2018


Translation is the process in which genetic information, carried by messenger RNA (mRNA), directs the synthesis of proteins from amino acids, whereby the primary structure of the protein is determined by the nucleotide sequence in the mRNA. Although there are some important differences between translation in bacteria and translation in eukaryotic cells the overall process is similar. Essentially, the same type of translational control mechanisms that exist in eukaryotic cells do not exist in bacteria.

A molecule known as the ribosome is the site of the protein synthesis . The ribosome is protein bound to a second species of RNA known as ribosomal RNA (rRNA). Several ribosomes may attach to a single mRNA molecule, so that many polypeptide chains are synthesized from the same mRNA. The ribosome binds to a very specific region of the mRNA called the promoter region. The promoter is upstream of the sequence that will be translated into protein.

The nucleotide sequence on the mRNA is translated into the amino acid sequence of a protein by adaptor molecules composed of a third type of RNA known as transfer RNAs (tRNAs). There are many different species of tRNAs, with each species binding a particular type of amino acid. In protein synthesis, the nucleotide sequence on the mRNA does not specify an amino acid directly, rather, it specifies a particular species of tRNA. Complementary tRNAs match up on the strand of mRNA every three bases and add an amino acid onto the lengthening protein chain. The three base sequence on the mRNA are known as "codons," while the complementary sequence on the tRNA are the "anti-codons."

The ribosomal RNA has two subunits, a large subunit and a small subunit. When the small subunit encounters the mRNA, the process of translation to protein begins. There are two sites in the large subunit, an "A" site, and a "P" site. The start signal for translation is the codon ATG that codes for methionine. A tRNA charged with methionine binds to the translation start signal. After the first tRNA bearing the amino acid appears in the "A" site, the ribosome shifts so that the tRNA is now in the "P" site. A new tRNA molecule corresponding to the codon of the mRNA enters the "A" site. A peptide bond is formed between the amino acid brought in by the second tRNA and the amino acid carried by the first tRNA. The first tRNA is now released and the ribosome again shifts. The second tRNA bearing two amino acids is now in the "P" site, and a third tRNA can now bind to the "A" site. The process of the tRNA binding to the mRNA aligns the amino acids in a specific order. This long chain of amino acids constitutes a protein. Therefore, the sequence of nucleotides on the mRNA molecule directs the order of the amino acids in a given protein. The process of adding amino acids to the growing chain occurs along the length of the mRNA until the ribosome comes to a sequence of bases that is known as a "stop codon." When that happens, no tRNA binds to the empty "A" site. This is the signal for the ribosome to release the polypeptide chain and the mRNA.

Bacterial ribosomes are smaller than eukaryotic ribosomes. In some cases, bacterial ribosomes contain less than have the total protein found in eukaryotic ribosomes. Bacteria also respond to fewer initiation factors than do eukaryotic cells.

After being released from the tRNA, some proteins may undergo post-translational modifications. They may be cleaved by a proteolytic (protein cutting) enzyme at a specific site. Alternatively, they may have some of their amino acids biochemically modified. After such modifications, the polypeptide forms into its native shape and starts acting as a functional protein in the cell.

There are four different nucleotides, A, U, G and T. If they are taken three at a time (to specify a codon, and thus, indirectly specify an amino acid), 64 codons could be specified. However, there are only 20 different amino acids. Therefore, several triplets code for the same amino acid; for example UAU and UAC both code for the amino acid tyrosine. In addition, some codons do not code for amino acids, but code for polypeptide chain initiation and termination. Thegenetic code is non-overlapping, i.e., the nucleotide in one codon is never part of the adjacent codon. The code also seems to be universal in all living organisms.

See also Cell cycle (prokaryotic), genetic regulation of; Chromosomes, prokaryotic; Cytoplasm, prokaryotic; Genetic regulation of prokaryotic cells; Molecular biology and molecular genetics; Protein synthesis; Proteins and enzymes; Ribonucleic acid (RNA)


views updated May 14 2018

TRANSLATION The restatement of the forms of one LANGUAGE in another: the chief means of exchanging information between different language communities. Translation is a fundamental yet often overlooked element in life and has played a decisive part in the development of languages like English, especially by promoting the flow of ideas and the spread of the literary forms in which they have been expressed: for example, Homeric poetry from ancient Greece and the Bible translated from Hebrew and Greek. As the Canadian historian of translation Louis Kelly has observed, ‘Western Europe owes its civilization to translators’ (1979). Five distinctions are commonly made when discussing translation, none of which represent absolute positions, but rather end-points in an appropriate continuum:

1. Translating and interpreting.

Written translation can be distinguished from oral translation or interpreting, which came first, as for example in military and diplomatic exchanges. However, because of its relative permanence and lasting influence on the transmission of culture and technology, written translation has traditionally been considered more important. Professional interpreting takes two forms: simultaneous interpreting (at international conferences, etc.) and consecutive interpreting (in court, at diplomatic gatherings, in business transactions, etc.).

2. Word-for-word and free translation.

Languages do not match neatly in the way they form messages. Depending on the level at which translation equivalence can be established (word with word, phrase with phrase, word with phrase, etc.) translations can be more literal (that is, one-to-one at the level of words), or free (restatement of the message regardless of formal correspondence).

3. Literary and technical translation.

Depending on the type of discourse translated, a distinction is often made between literary translation (of aesthetic, imaginative, fictional texts) and technical translation (of workaday, pragmatic, nonfictional texts). However, boundary lines between them are sometimes difficult to draw, as in the translation of the Bible (which is currently available in over 2,000 languages): for example, the drama of the Book of Job and the listing of laws in Leviticus.

4. Professional and pedagogical translation.

A distinction can be made between translation as a vocation or trade (working for a client) and translation as an exercise in the process of language learning (working for a teacher). It has been argued that traditional grammar—translation tasks in school do not constitute a suitable training for translating as such.

5. Human and machine translation.

The high cost of professional translating and interpreting has encouraged institutional investment in experiments with largescale electronic translation and dictionary systems. However, fully automatic translation of high quality still seems still to be a long way off.

Translation and publishing

Much of the world's publishing depends on translation, although the centrality of the translator's role is often only minimally indicated in the credits of particular works. Thousands of translators and interpreters around the world continue to perform essential tasks in often less-than-ideal conditions. By the early 1970s, close to half of the world's book production was made up of translations, the chief source languages being English, French, Russian, German, Spanish, and Italian, the chief target languages German, Russian, Spanish, English, Japanese, and French. Because of worldwide demand for translation of all kinds, the 20c has been referred to as ‘the age of translation’.


views updated Jun 11 2018

trans·late / transˈlāt; tranz-/ • v. [tr.] 1. express the sense of (words or text) in another language: the German original has been translated into English. ∎  [intr.] be expressed or be capable of being expressed in another language: shiatsu literally translates as “finger pressure.” ∎  (translate something into/translate into) convert or be converted into (another form or medium): [tr.] few of Shakespeare's other works have been translated into ballets. 2. move from one place or condition to another: she had been translated from familiar surroundings to a foreign court. ∎  formal move (a bishop) to another see or pastoral charge. ∎  formal remove (a saint's relics) to another place. ∎  poetic/lit. convey (someone, typically still alive) to heaven. ∎  Biol. convert (a sequence of nucleotides in messenger RNA) to an amino-acid sequence in a protein or polypeptide during synthesis.3. Physics cause (a body) to move so that all its parts travel in the same direction, without rotation or change of shape. ∎  Math. transform (a geometric figure) in an analogous way.DERIVATIVES: trans·lat·a·bil·i·ty / ˌtransˌlātəˈbilətē; ˌtranz-/ n.trans·lat·a·ble adj.


views updated May 18 2018

trans·la·tion / transˈlāshən; tranz-/ • n. 1. the process of translating words or text from one language into another: Constantine's translation of Arabic texts into Latin. ∎  a written or spoken rendering of the meaning of a word, speech, book, or other text, in another language: a German translation of Oscar Wilde's play a term for which there is no adequate English translation. ∎  the conversion of something from one form or medium into another: the translation of research findings into clinical practice. ∎  Biol. the process by which a sequence of nucleotide triplets in a messenger RNA molecule gives rise to a specific sequence of amino acids during synthesis of a polypeptide or protein.2. formal or technical the process of moving something from one place to another: the translation of the relics of St. Thomas of Canterbury. ∎  Math. movement of a body from one point of space to another such that every point of the body moves in the same direction and over the same distance, without any rotation, reflection, or change in size.DERIVATIVES: trans·la·tion·al / -shənl/ adj.trans·la·tion·al·ly / -shənl-ē/ adv.


views updated Jun 27 2018

translation The process in living cells in which the genetic information encoded in messenger RNA (mRNA) in the form of a sequence of nucleotide triplets (codons) is translated into a sequence of amino acids in a polypeptide chain during protein synthesis (see illustration). Translation takes place on ribosomes in the cell cytoplasm (see initiation factor). The ribosomes move along the mRNA `reading' each codon in turn. Molecules of transfer RNA (tRNA), each bearing a particular amino acid, are brought to their correct positions along the mRNA molecule: base pairing occurs between the bases of the codons and the complementary base triplets of tRNA (see anticodon). In this way amino acids are assembled in the correct sequence to form the polypeptide chain (see elongation). Translation is terminated by the release factor.

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