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The World as a Multilingual Environment

In our increasingly multilingual and globalised world there are many people who write, think and speak in more than one language but whom would not see themselves as translators (professional or non-professional).
© Cardiff University

In our increasingly multilingual and globalised world there are many people who write, think and speak in more than one language but whom would not see themselves as translators (professional or non-professional).

Multilingual Communities

Although the terminology used to discuss translation leads us to divide the world along linguistic and national lines, between source and target cultures, source and target language speakers, the reality of contemporary society (and of most societies historically-speaking too) is that languages often co-exist within the same geographical space and the same community.

Our Multilingual World

For example, large parts of contemporary Italy are characterised by situations of bi- or multilingualism, where standard Italian is accompanied by different regional varieties and dialects some of which are grammatically and lexically more distant from standard Italian than French or Spanish (both the Sardinian and the Friulano dialects are recognised as separate languages in the same way that Catalan and Basque are).

In a post-colonial context, such as contemporary India, being multilingual, and navigating life through multiple languages is as much a fact of life as it is a manifestation of political history. Most contemporary Indians would speak English, Hindi or Tamil and one or more regional languages. They would often mix some of them in one sentence, which is called code-switching.

Translated Men

The prize-winning novelist Salman Rushdie describes post-colonial subjects and migrants as ‘translated men’, individuals who are forced (or perhaps blessed – depending on your perspective) to live a life ‘in-between’ in the constant negotiation between different languages, conceptualisations of the world and cultural traditions.

Being a migrant, an exile, a traveler, makes you aware not only of the multiplicity of linguistic landscapes that surround us but also of the often very concrete examples of the impossibility of translation, when words/concepts and feelings exist in one of your languages and not the other. As Slovak-American translation scholar (and second-generation migrant) Maria Tymoczko aptly puts it:

‘Growing up in a multilingual environment taught me that languages have their own palpable meanings, their own conditions of appropriateness, their own cultural underpinnings, and their own rankings in political hierarchies. I spoke an English saturated with Slovak words and concepts that had no English equivalents’ (Tymoczko, 2007: 3)
© Cardiff University
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