The politics of translation in multilingual states

Authored by: Reine Meylaerts

The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Politics

Print publication date:  April  2018
Online publication date:  April  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138657564
eBook ISBN: 9781315621289
Adobe ISBN:


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In its widest sense, politics refers to the ‘total complex of relations between people living in society’ (Merriam-Webster), while multilingualism can be defined as ‘the co-presence of two or more languages (in a society, text or individual)’ (Grutman 2009: 182). According to these definitions, most past and present states (i.e. politically organized bodies of people) are multilingual: they host people who speak more than one language, or they host groups of people each speaking a different language and sometimes occupying a separate territory within the state. Studying the politics of translation in multilingual states would consequently cover the total complex of literary, religious, economic, political, social, and other translations and translation strategies in a society: their goals and effects, their impact on the relations between the people living in that society, and so much more. What one would gain in terms of scope in such a breathtaking enterprise, one would risk losing in terms of situated understanding. More limited (and precisely therefore more interesting and successful) undertakings, focusing on literary translation in a specific region (Baer 2011), or a city (Simon 2012), on religious, literary, judicial and other forms of translation in one country during a specific period (e.g. Chevrel 2012), have substantially enlarged our understanding of the politics of translation in the broadest sense.

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