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  • The Languages of Transnationalism:Translation, Training, and Transfer
  • Anne O’Connor (bio)

In the flows and connections that are central to transnational studies, language is a conduit that facilitates transfers; it allows for the movement of ideas and people across national and linguistic boundaries. In the case of transnational Irish Studies, foreign languages have been both bridges and barriers: bridges in that they allow access and interaction with non-Anglophone worlds, but also barriers because Irish Studies has generally shied away from non-English-language investigations. The degree to which transnational Irish Studies has remained Anglophone, even when purporting to be global in nature, is striking.1 Irish interactions with Australia, America, Canada, and Britain have, for obvious reasons, dominated Irish transnational studies, while connections with European and non-Anglophone countries have historically received little attention.2 In this article I wish to examine exchanges outside of the English-language domain in nineteenth-century Ireland in order to highlight important alternative dialogues that existed beyond the dominant English narrative. To illustrate these trends I will use two case studies of multilingual Irish transnationalism from the nineteenth century. The first focuses on translation activity, and the second investigates the study of modern foreign languages in this period. Both will serve to illustrate the [End Page 14] currents and circuits between Ireland and Europe that existed in the period and offer new perspectives on an Irish transnationalism that traverses not just national but also linguistic borders.3

Translation and Transfer

In the context of Irish Studies translation offers a paradigm for the study of transnational trends and can highlight the European movement of people, ideas, and texts across borders. Translations from European languages published in Ireland in the nineteenth century offer a powerful example of transnationalism at work in a non-Anglophone context while also providing a significant metric for transnational transfer.4 The publication of translations shows a desire to disseminate them, and it is therefore a most obvious indicator of the movement of ideas. Transnationalism regularly features in translation studies, as the existence of transnational trends in history, culture, and society cannot be ignored by those who study language movements across borders. Translation has long been viewed as a way to help understand hybrid cultures, transnational worlds, and globalized trends.5 Furthermore, as it responds to local needs while at the same time engaging with international trends, translation can help to overcome the binary between the national and the international as well as the tensions between them that scholars often perceive to exist. It is telling that the earliest known use of the term “transnational” was in an 1862 lecture on proximities and connections in languages by the German linguist Georg Curtius, while the first use of the term in English came in 1868 with a translation of the quotation from Curtius [End Page 15] that “every language is fundamentally something transnational” (Akira 1047). But while scholars have highlighted the role of translation in the interaction between cultures, this framework has not been given as much attention by historians, nor has it made a significant crossover to a more general audience (Rundle 232–34).

In recent years cultural-studies scholars have also embraced the transnational, leading to significant work on world literature and global cultures. Following the important impetus to this field provided by Pascale Casanova in The World Republic of Letters and by Franco Moretti in “Conjectures on World Literatures,” most national literatures have experienced a transnational turn (Jay 1–2). In a long tradition that stretches back to Goethe’s Weltliteratur, these developments have explored rich cultural veins that Jahan Ramazani in his book on transnational poetics describes as various ways of “vivifying circuits of poetic connection and dialogue across political and geographic borders and even hemispheres, of examining cross-cultural and cross-national exchanges, influences, and confluences” (xi). The field of cultural studies has long accepted the need to understand and investigate literatures that traverse national borders and authors who defy categorization under national literary categories.6 As literary scholarship has actively been debating the notion of world literature over the last thirty years, the place of translation in these global flows has been...


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