March 19,1998

Bandia works on translation's long and varied history

by Phil Moscovitch

When it comes to translation studies, Études françaises professor Paul Bandia takes a global view.

Bandia is working on the first book of a planned multi-volume series on the history of translation in the non-Western world. Volume 1 focuses on sub-Saharan Africa.

Until now, Bandia says, the history of translation has been largely concerned with translation in the West. "This is not an exclusionary project," he explained. "I'm trying to complement what has been done on Western translators." He hopes his work will help lead to "a more comprehensive history and theory of translation."

From translations of the Bible to administrative translation in multi-lingual countries, to the interchange between explorers and locals, the art of translation in southern Africa has had a long and varied history.

Bandia expects the ambitious book, which he is now in the early stages of writing, to cover the period from just before the first Arab invasions of sub-Saharan Africa (c. 800 AD) to the present. He has unearthed some fascinating stories of translators and translation. There is Juan Latino, for instance. An African slave, Latino became a Spanish admiral's translator who travelled to Europe and received a classical education. Latino eventually won his freedom and became a professor of Latin at the University of Granada. In his extensive translations, Bandia said, "he would adapt the characteristics of African oral narratives while writing in classical Latin."

Latino's groundbreaking style created a whole new way of writing, and set a precedent that would later be followed by 20th-century African fiction writers like Chinua Achebe and Nobel Prize-winner Wole Soyinka.

Contact with Europeans has resulted in what Bandia called "hybrid languages" (like West African pidgin), spoken by people across vast stretches of the continent. He said they incorporate words from English, French, German and Portuguese: "almost every European language that went through there. But they took on African syntax."

Missionaries soon realized that translating the Bible into these hybrid languages gave them access to an enormous number of people, a population that it would otherwise have taken them years to reach through translation into dozens and dozens of local languages.

Translation raises all kinds of political issues, especially in multilingual societies. Bandia said the old South Africa, for instance, ignored the black majority by adopting only English and Afrikaans as official languages. Today, the country has 11 official languages, into which government documents should be translated. "Translation activity is booming in South Africa,"he said.

When it comes to writing literature, some African writers and intellectuals feel that African authors should shun the languages of the countries that colonized them. Bandia takes the opposite view. "We need to assume the authority of these languages which have become world languages and which are a part of African reality," he said. Especially English. "English is now as African as it is Australian. English has become a native language in Africa."

Bandia, whose French and English are equally flawless, grew up perfectly bilingual in Cameroon, a country with more than 200 languages.

Educated in England and France, he came to Canada in 1983 and earned a doctorate from the Université de Montréal. He taught several years at Concordia before heading to the Académie française des Antilles in Martinique, then returned here to take up a position in Études françaises in September 1997.

MA in Translation to be launched

Études françaises will launch a new MA program in Translation Studies (maitrise en traductologie) in September 1999.

Chair of Études françaises Lucie Lequin said the program, which she believes is the only one of its kind in Quebec, will be a boon to translation program graduates and to professional translators who want to broaden their knowledge.

Its focus is on "the history and theory of translation and on the relationships among culture, language and translation," she said.

Students will have a choice of two thesis options. They will be able to write either a theoretical thesis or a literary translation accompanied by critical commentary. The Department had hoped to launch the program this coming fall, but only recently received final permission from the Ministry of Education. "By that time it was too late to get everything ready," Lequin said. "It's important to do a good, national publicity campaign before launching it, and six months is not enough."

The Department hopes to admit 18 students to the program in its first year.

- Phil Moscovitch

Copyright 1998 Thursday Report
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