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  • Translating cultures: Perspectives on translation and anthropology ed. by Paula G. Rubel and Abraham Rosman
  • Lorin Card
Translating cultures: Perspectives on translation and anthropology. Ed. by Paula G. Rubel and Abraham Rosman. Oxford: Berg, 2003. Pp. 289. ISBN 1859737455. $26.

The articles presented in this book were first delivered and discussed as papers at a conference on translation and anthropology held at Barnard College, Columbia University, on November 10–12, 1998. In their twenty-two-page introduction to this collection, Rubel and Rosman discuss the theme of their work, which focuses on the role of translation, defined as ‘cross-cultural understanding’ (1), and in the anthropological enterprise, defined as work undertaken in order ‘to understand and comprehend a culture or cultures other than one’s own’ (1). They raise relevant questions regarding translation and anthropology, as they briefly summarize the evolution and current state of translation studies (quoting Lawrence Venuti and others), and describe developments in the area of anthropology since its inception as a formal discipline.

The articles presented in this collection are divided into two sections: Part 1, ‘General problems of translation’, and Part 2, ‘Specific applications’. The articles that constitute Part 1 discuss mainly theoretical constructs and include: ‘Lyotard and Wittgenstein and the question of translation’, in which Aram A. Yengoyan examines the performance of both linguistic and cultural translation, an integral part of our quest to understand another culture and/or language; ‘Translation and belief ascription: Fundamental barriers’, in which Todd Jones analyzes the difficulties inherent in translating others’ belief systems or mental states underlying their actions or words; and ‘Translation, transduction, transformation: Skating “Glossando” on thin semiotic ice’, in which Michael Silverstein discusses the translation of cultural material as inherently transforming that material in the passage from source culture to target culture.

Part 2, which focuses more on specific cases of translation in anthropology, includes eight articles. In ‘The unspeakable in pursuit of the ineffable: Representations of untranslatability in ethnographic discourse’, Michael Herzfeld addresses the problem of translation as rendering intentionality in the field of ethnography. In ‘Translating folk theories of translation’, Deborah Kapchan examines storytelling in classical Arabic and Morrocan dialectal Arabic. ‘Second language, national language, modern language, and post-colonial voice: On Indonesian’, by Webb Keane, describes the power struggle between the legitimacy of a national language and its translation into English. In ‘Notes on transliteration’, Brinkley Messick examines the translation/transcription of Arabic in English. ‘The ethnographer as pontifex’, by Benson Saler, describes the role of the translator as a bridge between two cultures and examines the question of the translation from Greek to Latin of the concept of the Holy Trinity. In ‘Text translation as a prelude for soul translation’, Alan F. Segal analyzes biblical translation, apocalypticism, and heavenly journeys made by apostles of the early church. In ‘Structural impediments to translation in art’, Wyatt Mcgaffey examines the treatment of cultural, interactive African artifacts that are viewed as static objects of art in American culture. And finally, in ‘Are kinship terminologies and kinship concepts translatable?’, Abraham Rosman and Paula G. Rubel examine the translatability of words signifying various family relations from native languages to English.

This book is a solid scholarly achievement. It is a very interesting and worthwhile addition to scholarship for anthropologists and translators, and indeed for anyone interested in how translation impacts anthropology. [End Page 787]

Lorin Card
Okanagan University College


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