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Breaking Down The Walls of Babel: Dialogues in Translation

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Saturday 8th May 2021

Confirmed Keynote Speakers:

Emeritus Professor Clive Scott, FBA (UEA)

Professor Kathryn Batchelor (UCL)

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This event will be held online. Registered participants will be sent the joining details nearer the time.

Call for Papers

Breaking Down The Walls of Babel will be held virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We will keep you updated as developments take place.

Translation Studies is a comparatively young scholarly discipline, often formally dated back to James Holmes 1972 essay “The Name and Nature of Translation Studies”, and the place and role of translation in the university, particularly in the English-speaking world, is a matter of ongoing debate and negotiation. Is translation part of the Modern Languages curriculum? Or does translation belong to Applied Linguistics or Literary Studies? Is it merely a vocational pathway or can it also be a mode of thought within the humanities? Why are so many departments sceptical towards it? The difficult position of translation in academia seems somehow related to its interdisciplinary nature.

Translation theory and practice are in fact inherently concerned with different fields of enquiry (literature, linguistics, modern languages, politics, cultural studies, anthropology, philosophy). Not only is translation inherently multifaceted, it also seems to occupy a special position in relation to other fields. The humanities in general, the social sciences (including law and philosophy), media studies, and the natural sciences all necessarily engage with and communicate through translation, even if they do not always do this explicitly. Translation is also embedded in art and, in the context of globalization, increasingly encountered in everyday life. Interestingly, French translation theorist Antoine Berman wrote about the particular status of translation in relation to his own academic context at the Collège international de philosophie in Paris, but what he had to say is much more widely applicable:

"Of all the programmes at the Collège international de philosophie, the ‘translation’ programme has a particular status. This particular status resides first of all in the fact that all of the other programmes […], irrespective of theme, are concerned with translation: wherever and whenever we look, our intellectual work encounters the ‘problem’ of the translation of certain texts. But the importance of translation for the Collège is more genuinely located in the fact that these various epistemologies or enquiries all encounter the question of translation (whether these are epistemologies that take an institutional form like philosophy, psychoanalysis, the sciences, law, literature and literary criticism, or the intersciences that exist only within the Collège)"[1]

While the interdisciplinary nature of translation and its necessary importance in other fields may potentially lead to an enriching dialogue between different areas of study, lamentably there is often a lack of communication between different fields of enquiry. Scholars and practitioners engaged with translation are often isolated in and by their areas of research and communication is often hindered by institutional structures. The aim of this conference is to offer a space where translation can take centre stage, and to further a dialogue between disciplines that engage with translation which may lead to the reciprocal enrichment of Translation Studies and other fields.

[1] Berman, Antoine. 2018. The Age of Translation: A Commentary on Walter Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator”. Translated by Chantal Wright. New York: Routledge, p. 19.


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Arianna Autieri

Lúcia Collischonn