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Translation and the Academy

Catherine Porter, the new president of MLA, just announced that the theme for next year’s “Presidential Forum” at the MLA convention is “The Tasks of Translation in the Twenty-First Century.”

To recognize the importance of translation in the modern world, it suffices to reflect on the number of different languages we human beings speak and on the need for transmitting knowledge across linguistic boundaries. Moreover, the drive to translate extends well beyond the conventional understanding of rendering a message produced in one language by means of another language. As its Latin root translatio (transfer, carryover, displacement) suggests, translation’s basic function is to move meanings from one context (often but by no means exclusively linguistic) to another. In everyday usage, translation can denote such vital concepts as decoding, paraphrase, interpretation, and explanation; its purpose and scope are those of communication itself.

For the Modern Language Association, the issues raised by translation are more immediate, for they are focused by our institutional commitments to studying and teaching language and literature. The general question our organization constantly confronts in a largely monolingual environment is the relation of English to foreign languages.

Should make for a pretty interesting MLA . . .



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