Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Identity and Equity
Secondary Theme: Resistance
We experience the world through language, which is traversed by diverse forces throughout the history. Our voices are shaped and positioned by notions that name, categorize, and hierarchize our utterances as well as our very selves. Practices around language give us a window to understand workings of relations of power and our positions in them. This session explores such workings by focusing on two interconnected notions: “incompetence” and “translation.”
Our perceptions of “incompetence” and actions that follow to eradicate, live with, and make excuses about it are based on shifting understanding of what constitutes “competence” for whom for what purpose and for what effect. This notion of ‘incompetence” is intertwined with the notion of “translation” and what it produces beyond the translated text—the notion of language as bounded units, the notion that equivalence exists between such “languages,” the existence of “correct” version of the language, etc. We ask questions: what does it meant to “fail” to translate? Is incompetence in language measured in one’s ability to translate one language to another? What does this all connected to the construction of language borders, hence language as bounded units? How does that relate to the borders between speakers of these languages?
We begin the session with Hanawa’s paper, which reminds us of the construction of notions of “language,” “translation,” and “diversity” in specific historical context and relations of power. She does so by analyzing audibility in translated texts of writers who are positioned in varied ways to available modes of enunciation, situating her analyses in the current debates on contested authorities of language and Ghassan Hage’s notion of “hospitality.”
Sato’s paper shifts gears to perceptions of translation by language learners. He illustrates online class project where Japanese language learners in the US communicate with Japanese speakers in Japan where what constitutes “good communication” is contested around the use of online translation tools and “language mixing.” While Sato’s paper discusses skepticism toward particular ways of translating and “language mixing” as perpetuation of language borders and resistance to “native speaker” authority, Doerr’s paper shows how border construction plays out in indigenous politics in Aotearoa/New Zealand where Anglicization (i.e., translation into English) of indigenous Maori words is resisted and the mixing of Maori and English by former Maori-English bilingual students is viewed as “failed resistance.”
In contrast, “incompetence” can be viewed as productive depending on the setup of learning, as Kumagai and Takahasi report. They examine how Japanese language learners’ inability to translate and interpret signs found on google map of Tokyo streets led to illuminating and challenging taken-for-granted worldviews Japanese language teachers held, opening up ways to resist prescriptive norms of language teaching. In a different context, that of tourism, Suzuki’s paper examines processes of Mariana Island tour guides’ translating their complex colonial past to diverse tourists as acts of resistance to the common notion of collective memory framed in commercial enterprise.
Together, these papers show how shifting notions of incompetence and translation complicate the contours of resistance in our daily life.