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Mind the Gap
 
Frank Peeters
 

One sunny day in May 1977 I experienced a cultural shock in my perception of academia when this guest-professor walked into the lecturing theatre. In came a man, fully dressed in leather, with sturdy boots, shaven head and an ear piercing. In the aftermath of May 1968 we, the students, had gotten used to seeing professors in jeans and t-shirts, calling them by their first names (on their request), offices staying unlocked (and subsequent office equipment ‘disappearing’ at an alarming pace), but what we saw here topped it all. Knowing that he lived in Amsterdam, it looked as if he came straight from the leather gay scene. Little did we know that in front of us stood one of the unquestioned founding fathers of translation studies, James ‘Jim’ Holmes (1924-1986). Holmes was not only a brilliant literary translator (the James S. Holmes Award for literary translation at Columbia University is named after him), but together with scholars like Itamar Even-Zohar, Gideon Toury, André Lefevere, Susan Bassnett and the like, he stood at the cradle of translatology. In 1972 Holmes published the essay “The Name and Nature of Translation Studies”, one of the founding documents of the emergent discipline of translation studies. In it he outlined a pioneering blueprint for what translation studies is still about. This “new branch of the human sciences would combine observation and explanation, description and prediction, fieldwork and theory. The discipline would systematically quarry, catalogue, document and explicate the phenomena of translation. Maybe it proved too rich for its own good. Or the climate changed. At any rate the explosive growth of interest in translation in recent decades has brought in its wake a proliferation of types andea in these two fields of crosscultural and intracultural negotiation that the East Journal of Translation wants to play a key-role. As was rightly said in the Chief Editor’s Note in the 2014 Special Issue : “East and West may not ‘meet’ in Kipling’s age of conquer and confrontation, but they do meet in the new era of translation. […] the journal will devote its first English issue to facilitating Western readers’ understanding of translation studies in China.” Having been in China for over ten times but not mastering Chinese, I cannot but fully endorse this aim. Numerous are the scholarly publications on Translation and Interpreting Studies in China but when not translated they are in a way inexistent for Western scholars who do not read Chinese and only very few of whom do. But, at the same time the same thing happens – albeit on a somewhat smaller scale, but yet too vast – the other way round. To my experience only a limited number of Chinese scholars have a proficient knowledge of one of the main Western academic tools of communication. English being the obvious number one, but also German, French and Spanish are – depending on the field of study - not to be neglected. By proficient I mean, mastering the language to such a degree that high-level academic texts can be fully and correctly understood. This may be easier within the so-called beta-sciences, dealing rather with facts and figures, the language part being rather supportive and explanatory than crucial. But when we talk of the human sciences, the alfa-sciences, things look quite differently. In the study of literature, linguistics, cultural sciences, sociology, history, philosophy and, of course, translation studies, language is not just a ‘tool’ to jump from one formula to the next, here, it is at the very heart of the matter. Reading ‘some’ English, French, or German will not suffice. Let me step outside our own field of study for a moment and take history as an example. Hayden White, the famous historiographer rightly points out in his seminal book The Content of the Form. Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (1987): “[…] his [the historian’s, fp] account remains something less than a proper history if he has failed to give to reality the form of a story. Where there is no narrative, there is no history.” (emphasis mine). The same goes for most of the human sciences, the essence is very often to be found in the coining of a phrase, looking for this one specific term, ‘inventing’ neologisms to express new insights etc. I think Chong Yau-yuk’s contribution on the critical reading of Martha P. Y. Cheung’s theoretical discourse on translation history, analyzing and reflecting on the “pushing-hands” approach is a fine case in point. Making clear to a non-Chinese reader the intricacies of this alternative research paradigm looks like a very challenging objective. Several articles deal in one way or another with bridging the gap between the East and the West. Do to this successfully, a proficient mastery of the other language, be it of Eastern or Western origin, is the primary requirement. However, I see a more important role in this ‘bridging the gap’ for the Chinese universities than for the non-Chinese. For, let us not fool ourselves: given the complexity of the Chinese language, it will depend on the Chinese translators to open up their research to a non-Chinese speaking audience. On the other hand, it is an illusion to think that the bulk of non-Chinese (Western) canonical publications in the human sciences will ever be translated into Chinese. This puts a big strain on Chinese scholars-translators: on the one hand they have to make their own work available to non-Chinese speakers, on the other, they have to make non-Chinese texts available to the Chinese. Given these facts, the task at hand for T&I programs is enormous. CIUTI is aware of this and will support wherever possible; the opening up of our organization to China which started in 2008 was the beginning of a new era for CIUTI and I can only hope that our Chinese colleagues have experienced this crosscultural encounter likewise. Only in our mutual effort to bridge the gap, we will be able to prove that Kipling was wrong.

 
 
     
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