Travel and translation

Michael Cronin

Table of contents

Modernity is characterised by the exponential growth in travel and movement of people around the globe. Tourism is fast becoming the world’s most important item of trade. The phenomenon of globalisation has become the focus of intense interest as commentators assess the impact of the increasingly rapid circulation of goods, signs and people on the self-perception, and the social, economic and cultural practices of human beings. Theories of travel have become increasingly popular in contemporary appraisals of the evolution of modernity (Urry 2007). All this movement is taking place between speaking subjects, on a planet that is currently home to approximately 6,700 languages. Critical writing on travel and tourism has, however, until recent times, largely neglected this fundamental aspect of travelling, which is the relationship of the traveller to language. The neglect is all the more telling in that one of the most commonplace experiences of the traveller is the sudden humiliation of language loss as things go disastrously wrong and familiar words reveal themselves to be worse than useless. Indifference to questions of language and translation leads inevitably to a serious misrepresentation of both the experience of travel and the construction of narrative accounts of these experiences. In particular, the myth of language transparency, the relationship of language and power and the question of the possibility of representation on the basis of universals are highlighted as core questions in the investigation of the role of translation in travel (Rubel & Rosman 2003).

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