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Changing the Terms

Sherry Simon
Paul St-Pierre

Part I. (Post)colonialism and the powers of translation

Chapter 8. Translations of Themselves: The Contours of Postcolonial Fiction

Maria Tymoczko

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1Although it is generally acknowledged that postcolonial literary works written in the colonizers’ language are a form of intercultural transfer (see Pym 1992) involving the transposition of aspects of the indigenous language, cultural patterns, beliefs and literary traditions, some critics go a step further and claim that postcolonial fictions are translations. For example, in his introduction to Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard, Michael Thelwell writes:

This novel is a cultural hybrid, the child of the clash of cultures… The stories in it are translations—more accurately, transliterations—of conventional folktales into the idiomatic “young English,” as Dylan Thomas called it, of the Nigerian masses. It is clear from the reading, and even more so when one listens to the author telling a story, exactly how difficult the translation process really is. This is not simply “young English” but new English, an English whose vocabulary is bent and twisted into the service of a different language’s nuances, syntax, and interior logic. The result is original and often startling. (1984,188)

2In this paper, I will address certain fundamental aspects of language and text that make postcolonial literary works seem—like Tutuola’s work to Thelwell—to be translations, even, paradoxically, translations of themselves (see Mehrez 1992, 129ff.; Kálmán 1986, case 5a). As “translations,” postcolonial texts are communicative agents with powerful resonances, having the capacity to mediate between languages and cultures in radical and empowering ways. These capacities in turn reflect back on interlingual translation itself, illuminating aspects of its own revolutionary potential and its powers of cultural transformation.

  • 1 My arguments presuppose that the postcolonial texts under discussion emerge from a cultural milieu (...)

3Elsewhere I have addressed the intersection of postcolonial literature and translation theory (Tymoczko 1998), analyzing a wide variety of formal and functional commonalities between postcolonial works and translations, and suggesting that the relatively more established field of translation theory has a great deal of insight to contribute to postcolonial theory.1 Although the enterprise of writing postcolonial literature is different from the enterprise of translating—a translation is usually constrained by a preexisting fixed text, for example—both involve similar representations and transpositions of language and culture, both types of writing show similar formal patterns. In straddling two cultures, postcolonial writers, like translators, mediate cultural difference by means of a common variety of techniques. On the textual level, for example, both postcolonial texts and translations often show deviations from the standard receiving language: perturbations in lexis (including imported lexical items, unusual collocations, non-standard frequency distributions, variant semantic fields and neologisms), unusual syntax and defamiliarized language, including unexpected metaphors and unusual turns of speech. Moreover, the unfamiliar cultural substrata in both types of writing give rise to a heavy information load, which both authors and translators relieve by inserting explanations or by supplying cultural information that would normally be presupposed or implicit in other literary works. Thus, postcolonial writing and translation are both more explicit than other types of literary writing (see Baker 1993). At the same time, the two types of texts can show radical selectivity of their source materials, a selectivity that generally has political or ideological motivation, as well as ideological consequences for the author/translator.

4Rather than adumbrate commonalities that I have already discussed at length, in this paper I will look at another shared property of the two forms of writing—the ability to evoke two languages simultaneously. This will enable me to explore still other intersections of postcolonial writing and the practice of translation, as well as ensuing theoretical implications. Following Abdelkebir Khatibi, Samia Mehrez (1992) argues that bilingual postcolonial writing is a form of “radical bilingualism” and that postcolonial works often only reveal their full meanings when translated into the other language(s) of their cultural context. I will extend Mehrez’s arguments and explore various mechanisms of radical bilingualism. Texts that evoke two languages simultaneously achieve linguistic multivalence and polysemous communication, typically while maintaining a monolingual surface. This polyphonous potential, which gives both translations and postcolonial texts much of their evocative appeal and their subversive power, often turns on specific vehicles of polyvalent writing, in particular lexical items that I will call conventional translation equivalents (CTEs). CTEs are used by postcolonial authors to mediate not only culture but language, as they grapple with linguistic interface and intercede between languages, as do translators also. CTEs provide a most productive means for writers to write in the multiple languages of their home-culture simultaneously.

The Double Language of James Joyce

  • 2 For other studies of Joyce as a postcolonial writer, see Cheng (1995); Deane (1985); Duffy (1994); (...)

5James Joyce, Ireland’s greatest fiction writer, provides very pertinent examples of this phenomenon. Joyce’s texts have been canonized in—positioned, in fact, at the centre of—modern literature in English. But they also serve, paradoxically, as epitomes of the questions at issue here, including the radical potential of bilingual writing and CTEs in the hands of a postcolonial writer. Only relatively recently have Joyce critics turned to postcolonial theory, recognizing Joyce as a postcolonial writer, despite the fact that Ireland was England’s first and longest-held colony, and despite the fact that Joyce explicitly identified himself with Irish culture, even in some ways acknowledging himself an Irish nationalist (see Joyce 1966, 2:187). Recognition of this aspect of Joyce’s writing was in part dependent on the development of a suitable theoretical discourse that could provide a framework for his position as writer, but the delay is also due to Joyce’s shaping of his own image. Perhaps to secure the patronage of international modernists, or to avoid being labelled as provincial, or to enhance his own inventive powers, Joyce obscured the Irishness of his literary works (see Tymoczko 1994, ch. 9). The analysis of Joyce as a postcolonial writer is typically conducted in terms of Joyce’s attitudes regarding politics, economics and ideology, rather than in terms of language and cultural hybridity, even though Joyce was primarily a literary man whose Irish allegiances are visible as much in his language and literary forms as in politics or ideology (see Tymoczko 1994).2 All of Joyce’s major works, except for Finnegans Wake, were written while Ireland was struggling under the political and cultural domination of England, and they reflect this struggle. Indeed, Ulysses appeared in February 1922, almost simultaneously with the emergence of the newly independent Irish state. Ireland’s struggle for independence is reflected not merely in the content of Joyce’s works but also in their formal properties: writing for both Irish and international audiences, Joyce pioneered various literary and linguistic techniques that foreshadow later postcolonial strategies.

6Joyce’s localism (see Tymoczko 1994, 153ff., 260ff.) and his interest in things Irish resulted in a multifaceted inscription of Irish and Irish ways of speaking English in his texts. Most pervasive are the rather direct uses of Irish: transposition of Irish phonology, inclusion of English words that are in fact borrowings from Irish into English, semantic fields that are skewed compared to those of standard English, Irish idiom and syntax typical of the English dialects spoken in Ireland and other Hiberno-English markers that can be traced back to Modern Irish Gaelic. These features of Joyce’s language have been well canvassed (see Wall 1986). They are verbal means exploited by any great realist attuned to language and are standard features of postcolonial writing, as well as of other realistic works whose subject involves the use of dialect or specialized registers. Here I will focus on the more occasional, but also more symbolic, uses of Irish in Joyce’s texts that emerge at points in his writing where an Irish-language subtext is activated to create significant nodes of meaning simultaneously in Ireland’s two languages.

  • 3 Nilsen indicates that Joyce would have learned etymologies such as the ones he encoded in the name (...)

7In some instances, linguistic polyvalence is achieved through the use of words borrowed or imported directly (though at times, covertly) from the other language or languages of the plural tradition of the postcolonial writer. In Dubliners, the words that Joyce imports from Irish are, surprisingly, proper names. These names are significant because in Irish, unlike English, names have semantic meanings. However, the semantic meanings of the Irish names in Dubliners are not accessible to the monolingual English-speaking reader, because their spelling is Anglicized, and the English-language reader presumes that proper names are semantically opaque (see Tymoczko 1999). Thus, the well-known English-language theme of “paralysis” in Dubliners (259ff., 316ff.) is doubled by a number of proper names with meanings relating to darkness, gloom and death, as well as to mythological figures associated with death (see Nilsen 1986). For instance, the name Browne (cf. Ir. donn, “brown” and Donn, the name of the Irish god of the dead), as well as the names Dunn, Dunne, Downe, Donnelly, Doyle, Duffy, Duggan and D’Arcy are all derived from Irish roots meaning “brown,” “dark” or “black.” In fact, the most important name of this series, whose meaning is known to all readers of Joyce, is that of Dublin itself; in Irish, Dublinn means “the black pool.” Nilsen concludes that “Joyce… was fully aware of the meanings of surnames and place-names that he used, and he chose them to strengthen this theme that the Dubliners of his day were wallowing about in a black pool from which they could not escape” (33).3 This thread of reference to Irish words associated with death and darkness in Dubliners functions as the earliest example of a Joycean dissociated metaphor (see O’Connor 1956) that depends on knowledge of the native language of Ireland, the language undermined and suppressed by English colonialism.

8By choosing proper names whose thematic significance derives from their semantic meanings in Irish, and is only perceptible in an Irish context, Joyce allies himself with his country’s precolonial culture and speaks to the Irish side of his multilingual culture. When perceived in an Irish historical and linguistic light (i.e., when translated into Irish or analyzed etymologically), these names function as an Irish-language thematic counterpart to the English-language thematics of the stories in Dubliners. I am speaking of English-language and Irish-language themes and thematics because, if the course of linguistics and semiotics from Peirce and Saussure, Sapir and Whorf onward is taken seriously by literary critics, then it must be recognized that literary meaning, like meaning in general, is language specific. One advantage of multilinguistic literary writing is the possibility of evoking multiple layers of thematic meaning simultaneously by invoking meanings in more than one language simultaneously. Thus, writers who use this technique—notably postcolonial writers—have a tremendous literary advantage over their monolingual peers. By incorporating Irish words and names with semantic meanings in Irish (meanings inaccessible to most monolingual English or international readers) into his English-language text, Joyce constructs a double language in Dubliners, a language that accesses both Irish and English meanings simultaneously.

9It is perhaps not surprising that to construct the Irish thematic thread in Dubliners, Joyce relied on names to carry the Irish meanings. Aside from his particular interest in and fondness for onomastics (see Tymoczko 1994, 159-66, 280-81), by basing his form of double writing on proper names, Joyce used words which in Irish culture have the least ambiguous and least disputable fields of reference in Irish Gaelic itself. That is, he chose those words that in a seemingly English text would unequivocally signal their Irish origins and their Irishness and, hence, their specifically Irish meanings to readers who knew Irish. At the same time, Joyce’s Irish meanings were hidden from monolingual English readers, available only to those in his culture who were initiates, so to speak, like the members of the Gaelic League who knew the Irish language of the colonized population, in however rudimentary a fashion. It is worth noting that although Joyce was critical of various facets of Irish cultural nationalism, and although he opposed the elimination of English as the primary language of Ireland, he did participate in the Irish-language movement for a time, studying Irish for a year or two before leaving Ireland at the age of twenty-two. Joyce came to Irish “late,” learning it not as a second language, but at best as a fifth or sixth language, after Latin, French, Italian and, perhaps, German and Dano-Norwegian. Moreover, never having lived in an Irish-speaking milieu, Joyce never had the chance to become fluent in Modern Irish, as he did with Italian, French and German. There is evidence, nonetheless, that he continued to be interested in the Irish language after he left Ireland, suggesting that his mastery of Irish increased throughout his lifetime, playing an ever-greater role in his literary works. Though Joyce’s mastery of Irish was rather rudimentary, it was nonetheless more extensive than that of many, even most, Gaelic League members, in part due to his facility at language learning (see Tymoczko 1994, 278ff. and sources cited).

The Language of the Other and Conventional Translation Equivalents

  • 4 Simon (1994) also discusses the power of plurilingual texts. She argues that they are deliberate c (...)

10Mehrez locates similar textual phenomena in twentieth-century North African postcolonial Francophone literary works. She gives examples from the works of Assia Djebar and Tahar Ben Jelloun which clearly allude to passages of the Koran when translated into Arabic, but these references remain opaque in the French-language texts. Mehrez concludes that “the language of the Other comes to encode messages which are not readily decoded by the monolingual reader whose referential world continues to exclude, ignore, and deny the existence of other referential worlds that are crucial to a more ‘global’ rather than ‘colonialist,’ ‘imperialist’ reading of the text” (1992, 122). Mehrez argues that the reading experience of such a text “can be no other but a perpetual translation” (122; see also 135) and, furthermore, such postcolonial works often expose their full meaning only when translated into the other language(s) of the author’s plural tradition.4 My earlier work on the formal similarities between postcolonial writing and translation suggests that for reasons as diverse as particularities of semantic fields, allusions, intertextuality and the semiotics of traditional metaphors, the meaning of a literary passage often needs to be considered in light of all the languages of a postcolonial author’s culture. Double levels of language are at times also implicit in translation, as in the case of transposed source-language names, which, like Joyce’s Irish names in Dubliners, can carry veiled, if not semantic or at the very least semiotic, meanings.

  • 5 I am calling such pairings “conventional translation equivalents” precisely to flag the asymmetrie (...)

11The incorporation of both Irish and English elements simultaneously in his texts is a pervasive, though submerged, feature of Joyce’s writing, made all the more startling when one considers that Joyce’s radical bilingualism has remained essentially unrecognized despite the intense critical scrutiny associated with the canonization of his work. That this important feature of Joyce’s writing should have gone so long unnoticed suggests, by extension, that it may be an as yet unrecognized commonality of much, if not all, postcolonial writing. Aside from covert intertextual allusions and covert importations of source-language words (as with transposed proper names), writing in two languages simultaneously is often achieved at the lexical level by means of conventional translation equivalents (CTEs), which can be defined as “words that have been established as counterparts between any two given languages as a result of cultural interface and common usage over a long period of time.”5 The use of CTEs is, as I have already mentioned, one of the most powerful techniques employed by Joyce and other postcolonial writers. It makes their works read like translations, and that in turn makes reading their narratives, in Mehrez’s words, “none other than a perpetual translation.”

12CTEs are familiar means in ordinary translation practice. They include automatized standard transpositions such as the translation of greetings: “hello” and not “good day” for “bonjour” (French), “pronto” (Italian) for “hello” when answering a telephone and so forth. These types of CTEs are drilled into beginning language students as part of the functional language they must master to operate in an acceptable sociolinguistic manner in a second language and culture. CTEs are also important in technical translation, and indeed mastering them is a large part of technical-translation training, for CTEs in a specialized field are usually seen as alternate signifiers for a single referential entity, such as a scientific concept, a technological apparatus, an industrial application, a legal principle or a medical condition, any of which may exist in a cultural context that crosses linguistic boundaries. CTEs usually operate in a transitive manner; that is, they serve as equivalents irrespective of the language serving as source or target language.

  • 6 See discussions in Catford (1965), chs. 3-6; Nida (1964), chs. 3-9; Bassnett (1991), ch. 1. The co (...)

13Normally in a bilingual or multilingual culture, as are most postcolonial cultures, there are series of equivalents, or pairings, that link or mediate common cultural concepts across existing linguistic boundaries. Between English and Irish, for example, there is “fairy mound” for síd, “hostel” for bruiden, “hag” for caillech, “satire” for áer, “taboo” for geis. In postcolonial contexts, such pairings more resemble the automatized equivalents instilled in beginning language students, than the pairings technical translators are required to master. This is because the English words above do not really mean the same thing as their Irish equivalents, nor do they have the same referents. Indeed, the English words have English meanings and English associations quite different from those of the Irish members of the pairs.6 The semiotics and semantic fields of any such pair of verbal counterparts which are conventionally treated as “equivalent” for the purpose of translation or communication in a multilinguistic culture are often—indeed usually—radically different.

14In the case of the words before us, the Irish síd etymologically means “peace,” and refers to the Irish otherworld, originally located in an alternate space-time continuum, and entered through a variety of portals, including the old neolithic burial mounds of Ireland. A bruiden is an otherworldly feasting hall, almost invariably, in the literature, a site of fights, deceptions and other difficulties. “Satire” is the universal translation of áer, but the meaning of the Irish word is much closer to the concept of magic, than to the concept of literary mockery associated with the English word, a meaning deriving from Classical traditions. Moreover, etymologically, the Irish word means “cutting, incising,” since áer was thought to have the ability to inflict physical debility or even death on its object (see Robinson 1912). Similarly, a geis, unlike a “taboo,” can be a positive injunction as well as a prohibition; and caillech does not carry the same meanings as “hag,” for it is the normal Irish word for “nun” as well. These differences notwithstanding, for a reader who knows Irish and who is also familiar with the conventional English equivalents of certain Irish words, the presence of any of these English words in a text translated from Irish will indicate the existence of the corresponding Irish word in the source text. Thus, to a bilingual reader familiar with both languages and cultures, the English part of such a pair will trigger a dual semiosis, semiosis associated with the ordinary sense of the English word, accompanied or modified by semiosis associated with the Irish word, and including, for example, awareness of the variant semantic fields of both words of the pair. For monolingual/monocultural readers, by contrast, the text will have a seemingly transparent monolingual surface.

  • 7 Note also that in Irish dialects of English the idiom “to go west” means in certain contexts “to d (...)

15Another example from Joyce will show how such CTEs function in postcolonial literary works. At the end of “The Dead,” Gabriel comes to the realization that “the time had come for him to set out on his journey westward” (Dubliners, 223). The “journey westward” has been interpreted in various ways: literally, as a journey west toward the Irish-speaking part of Ireland, where Irish customs and literature still survive; and symbolically, as, among others, a journey toward the setting sun and, hence, toward death. The latter reading is particularly suggestive inasmuch as in Irish mythology, the west is associated with the otherworld and specifically otherworldly islands, including the land of the dead, abode of Donn, the god of the dead. Therefore, the ending of “The Dead” is open and multivalent, not admitting of a single interpretation. But we might nonetheless ask why Joyce uses the term “westward” instead of “west.” One of the valences of the text hinges on the meaning of the Irish word for “westward,” and Joyce signals this word, siar, by using in his text “westward,” instead of the more natural locution “west,” as in “go West, young man” (see Ulysses, 17.4).7

  • 8 Joyce’s knowledge of the Irish word siar is established by his use of the word in Finnegans Wake ( (...)
  • 9 Joyce also suggests that Irish is Gabriel’s unconscious language, undermining Gabriel’s denial of (...)
  • 10 Joyce also visited western Ireland in 1909, shortly after finishing “The Dead.” See Ellmann (1982) (...)
  • 11 Note that “The Dead” was later added to the original manuscript sent to the publisher, Grant Richa (...)

16Irish directional words have some notable particularities compared to their English counterparts, not the least of which being that Irish directional words are predicated upon the body’s facing east, toward the rising sun. Thus, the word for east in Irish literally means “in front of,” south and north mean “on the right” and “on the left,” respectively, and west means literally “behind.” Position, as well as motion to or from any direction, involves a fusion of the directional word with an amalgamated preposition or particle: Irish uses “to the west” or “westward” rather the simple directional word or preposition itself (i.e., west or behind). So the Irish word siar, which one would use to indicate a journey to the west, does actually mean “westward,” and the English word westward serves as a CTE for the Irish term. In choosing the term westward, Joyce seems to be simultaneously signalling the Irish term siar as well as English meanings relevant to the text.8 What is the advantage of implicitly signalling or activating the Irish word siar at the end of “The Dead”? Because of the physical orientation presupposed in Irish directional words, siar means not only “westward,” but also “behind,” “backward” or, by extension, “toward the past,” that is, backward in a temporal, rather than a spatial sense. Therefore, when “The Dead” is read with an awareness of Irish Gaelic meanings, Gabriel’s decision to go westward can be read as his resolution to undertake a spiritual journey back to his personal past, and to his Irish linguistic and cultural heritage, as well as a spatial journey to the western, Irish-speaking part of Ireland, the Gaeltacht (see Owens 1992).9 The extended temporal meaning of the Irish word for westward would be understood by anyone familiar with the meanings of Irish directional words. By the time Dubliners was completed, Joyce himself, like Gabriel, had already undertaken an artistic journey “backward” to the Irish language and his Irish cultural heritage, as indicated by the chain of Irish words-cum-names encoded in Dubliners.10 The double sign on which “The Dead” ends serves to establish an Irish-language subtext at the end of Dubliners that casts a shadow backward over the entire collection, begging a rereading of the initial interpretation and qualifying the meaning of all that has gone before.11 The duality of this sign is unreadable by readers and critics who have no knowledge of Irish—and has indeed remained unrecognized in the criticism to date, partly because few Joyce scholars know Irish.

Double Writing

  • 12 O Hehir’s (1967) book-length lexicon of Irish words in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake gives an indication (...)

17The ending of “The Dead” shows that Joyce, as a writer from a dual tradition, positions himself between the two strands of his linguistic and literary tradition. Often the lexicon of his works carries meanings in both of his country’s languages, simultaneously. His texts involve a form of double writing related to Ireland’s history of colonization by the English, and its national culture. The texts are thus hybridized, dependent upon both languages of the author’s culture and carrying a double referential load that communicates differentially to its readers, depending on their ability to decipher the veiled linguistic code, and their familiarity with the indigenous culture underlying the postcolonial text. For a colonized people subjected to oppression, such covert communication is a powerful means of subversion and emancipation. This example from Joyce, as well as examples from the Francophone texts analyzed by Mehrez (1992), indicates why it is usually necessary to consider all the languages of the given author’s culture when reading a postcolonial literary text. In the case of Joyce, both the proper names in Dubliners and the word “westward” in “The Dead” take on their full meaning when translated into Irish; only if “westward” were translated into Irish as siar, then back-translated into English with a paraphrase of the Irish semantic field, thus transposing the spatio-temporal quality of the Irish word, could a monolingual colonialist English reader understand the full implication of Joyce’s thought at the end of Dubliners. Rather than merely being peppered with a few overt borrowings from Irish as signs of cultural otherness, Joyce’s texts are pregnant with CTEs that carry a double cultural load and that actively constmct the complex double meanings of his texts.12

18In ways such as these, CTEs are primary vehicles for inserting meanings from a colonized people’s native language into a text written in the colonizers’ language. The same technique is encountered in translations: the use of CTEs in the target-language (TL) text gives the illusion of surface transparency, because the CTEs are actual words in the TL, but at the same time, they import or transfer the source-language (SL) meanings associated with the SL words. This technique resembles what John Catford (1965, ch. 6) calls “transference,” rather than translation, and partly explains Mehrez’s contention that certain bilingual texts achieve a “migration from one system of signs to the other, … one symbolic world to another” (1992, 134). The presence of words established or even reserved as CTEs between two languages underlies the sense that postcolonial texts are translations of themselves or translations of texts never written in the other (usually native) language of a culture. Indeed, the presence of CTEs in a literary work suggests the existence of a pre-text in another language. Because of the long co-existence of English and Irish speakers in Ireland, and because of the long history of translation between the two languages, there was a large and well-established repertory of word pairs, viewed as “equivalents,” available to Joyce for the purpose of double writing. They enabled him to write into his international, modernist English texts a covert network of references to Irish literature and culture. Readings of Joyce’s texts that flag such CTEs will open promising new avenues of inquiry into Joyce’s politics and poetics, just as they might in the case of more recent postcolonial writers as well. This is, implicitly at least, the approach adopted by both Anthony Roche (1987-1988) and Cóilín Owens (1992), who used keywords to identify and analyze certain Irish themes in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I have found this approach useful in my own work on Ulysses as well.

  • 13 Oksaar (1978) discusses such communication between bilinguals, labelling the operation that draws (...)

19As in the case of other postcolonial writers, recognition of Joyce’s double language obviously depends upon familiarity with both languages of his dual tradition. A precondition of recognizing Joyce’s CTEs is, moreover, knowledge of the translation tradition between the two languages. For an initiated reader, a bilingual or bicultural reader, one half of a conventional equivalence pair used by a postcolonial writer will implicitly call forth the other half, so that the meaning of the text optimally includes both terms and both languages. For the bilingual and bicultural Joyce reader who knows both Irish and English, and both fields of reference behind a multilingual node, the entire range of meanings in both languages will be triggered simultaneously, and each set of meanings will be dependent upon the other. For such a reader, reading a postcolonial text is like having a conversation with another bilingual person: typically the two speakers do not speak solely in one or the other language (L1 or L2), but rather communicate in a language (Lx) that draws on the resources of both languages, and that effectively mixes the two languages.13

  • 14 See Bhabha (1985) for a fuller discussion of the radical challenge of the hybrid to hegemonic stru (...)

20Such a text is literally hybridized because it is written in the mixed language (Lx) of the bilingual/bicultural writer. The power of hybridization inheres in these texts, but hybridity, as Homi Bhabha, the cultural critic who initiated this discourse, cautions, “is not a third term that resolves the tension between two cultures” (1985, 156). Instead, as in the examples from Joyce discussed above, it creates “a crisis for any concept of authority based on a system of recognition,” allowing “other ‘denied’ knowledges [to] enter upon the dominant discourse and estrange the basis of its authority—its rales of recognition” (156). The challenge to hegemony by hybridity14 lies behind Mehrez’s argument that bilingual postcolonial writing can contest “all forms of domination, and all kinds of exclusion” (1992,123). Extending Abdelkebir Khatibi’s concept of “radical bilingualism,” Mehrez considers bilingual writing as a form of linguistic appropriation that makes the colonizers’ language “‘foreign’ to its own monolingual native speaker” (130); the subaltern subtext dominates the colonizers’ language and surface text. In such a text “native speakers… lose their way in their own language,” for the text contains a range of referents which the monolingual person cannot translate (124ff.). Mehrez analyzes this strategy as one which defies “imperialist monolingualism which continues to believe that it can read the world through its own dominant language” (137). Such texts are, therefore, examples of “resistant texts,” as defined by Sommer (1992); they circumscribe the privileged position and competence of the monocultural hegemonic reader.

Joyce and the Postcolonial Hybrid

21In most cases, the postcolonial writer whose texts incorporate radical bilingualism has the precolonial language as his/her mother tongue, and comes second to the colonizers’ language. As such, the bilingual or double writing strategy grows out of a lived experience of bilingualism and biculturalism. What is extraordinary and eloquent in the case of Joyce is that he came to Irish so late and mastered it so incompletely, yet his texts—from Dubliners to Finnegans Wake—exhibit an ever-growing commitment to Irish. Joyce’s commitment to Irish in his literary works must therefore be understood as fundamentally political: the use of Irish in his texts is an ideological choice attendant upon the representation of Irish life from the perspective of the colonized, rather than a natural linguistic reflex of his own liminal ways of thinking and speaking since birth. In this regard, Joyce is quite different from postcolonial writers whose entire experience of language is double, predicated upon linguistic multiplicity, in speaking and in writing, throughout their lives. Unlike Ngῦgĩ wa Thiong’o orthe Francophone writers Mehrez discusses, Joyce was not fully bilingual in his country’s two languages; he made a deliberate choice to write Irish into his work. It is all the more significant, then, that at critical points in his work Joyce constructs an alternate code, and reclaims a linguistic heritage that was, in a sense, lost both to himself and to his country. Joyce stands as a reminder that such bilingual writing—whatever the status of the writer’s linguistic competence—is fundamentally an ideological strategy and not merely a matter of linguistic expedience. Joyce emerges as a pioneer of this effective writerly technique so often exploited by postcolonial writers.

  • 15 “Difference” in translation, as well as strategies for highlighting difference, is also discussed (...)

22Increasingly, translation is seen not as a locus of equivalence, but as a locus of “difference,” a perspective represented, for example, by Jacques Derrida in “Des tours de Babel.”15 For this reason, I have called word pairs such as those discussed above conventional translation equivalents (CTEs). In investigations of such conventional pairs, it is essential to recognize the differences implicit in the conventional translations of such words, and to look at the differences of meaning across the boundaries of these conventional equivalences. Indeed, it is the simultaneous evocation of words with different semantic fields and different semiotic significance, rather than identity of reference and meaning, that leads to the effects discussed here. The Irish meanings evoked by Joyce’s choice of words, for example, are not simple restatements of the English: they complement and extend the English meanings and thematics and they construct an alternate frame of reference. In fact, Joyce depends on this locus of difference to achieve his complex contrapuntal significance. An understanding of translation as a site of difference leads us to appreciate how multilingual writing in a postcolonial text is a means of achieving dense and layered meanings, how it can convey multiple messages in coded and covert language aimed at specific audiences, and how it can mobilize the precolonial language to escape the hegemonic traps implicit in the language of the colonizing power—a language that may limit the terms of debate and set a boundary on confrontation. All these strengths emerge when a postcolonial work appears to be a translation of itself.

  • 16 These notions are not unrelated to Benjamin’s (1969) points about translation. See also Niranjana (...)

23In this paper, I have primarily stressed the applicability of translation theory to the understanding and analysis of postcolonial literature. But, I will conclude with the inverse: the value of postcolonial theory for understanding the phenomena of translation, as well as for analyzing specific translations. Increasingly sensitized to the impact of ideology on the production and reception of literature, scholars of postcolonial literature offer essential insights by defining the importance of covert communication and masking in situations of cultural oppression, and by exploring the mechanisms of multivalent language and polysemous communication, as well as their subversive power. Similarly, the impact of a double consciousness on bilingual or bicultural populations, and the strategies of cultural recuperation and resistance of groups in linguistic and cultural transition, are also becoming increasingly clear in postcolonial theory, as are the power implications of the norms of discourse and the canons of knowledge embedded in both colonialist and resistant texts (see Bhabha 1985; Sommer 1992). Postcolonial theorists, such as Bhabha, have explored the phenomenon of hybridity in detail. Since polyphony, polyvalence and dialogism in postcolonial texts have affinities in translation, postcolonial theory has some invaluable insights to offer Translation Studies.16

  • 17 Perhaps it is the similar functional orientation of the two types of texts that, under certain cir (...)

24Translations and postcolonial literary works are distinct, and I take the view that it is finally a metaphorical assertion to suggest that a postcolonial work is a translation, even a translation of itself. But, translation and postcolonial writing share commonalities, both formal and functional ones.17 By focussing on the specific workings of devices such as covert bilingualism (implicit in names, for example) and the use of CTEs, translation theorists will acquire a more adequate understanding of the similarities of postcolonial writing and translation, and the mechanisms through which they achieve their related effects. In the process, how to apply to descriptive studies of translation and to translation theory the dynamic concepts developed within postcolonial theory, including the concepts of resistance, double consciousness, cultural recuperation, masking and hybridity, will become more apparent, as will how to better see the revolutionary potential of translation—its transformative power—in mediating between cultures.


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1 My arguments presuppose that the postcolonial texts under discussion emerge from a cultural milieu that uses at least two languages or two significantly different varieties of one language.

2 For other studies of Joyce as a postcolonial writer, see Cheng (1995); Deane (1985); Duffy (1994); Eagleton, Jameson and Said (1990); Kiberd (1995); Lloyd (1993); and Nolan (1995).

3 Nilsen indicates that Joyce would have learned etymologies such as the ones he encoded in the names in Dubliners from the Gaelic League Irish classes he attended, as well as from the works of P.W. Joyce. See also Tymoczko (1994), 159ff., 291.

4 Simon (1994) also discusses the power of plurilingual texts. She argues that they are deliberate challenges to literary conventions, as well as national and cultural boundaries, possessing a dialogic force.

5 I am calling such pairings “conventional translation equivalents” precisely to flag the asymmetries between an utterance and its translation. The problem of equivalence in translation has been widely discussed in translation theory. See, among others, Catford (1965), chs. 3-6; Nida (1964), chs. 3-9; Bassnett (1991), ch. 1; Even-Zohar (1990), 75; Snell-Hornby (1988), 13-22.

6 See discussions in Catford (1965), chs. 3-6; Nida (1964), chs. 3-9; Bassnett (1991), ch. 1. The concept of equivalence is also discussed in Bassnett (1991), 23ff.; Even-Zohar (1990), 75; Holmes (1994), 53ff.; Lefevere (1992), ch. 1; Snell-Hornby (1988), 13-22; and Van den Broeck (1978), as well as in references cited in these sources. See also Bolinger (1977).

7 Note also that in Irish dialects of English the idiom “to go west” means in certain contexts “to die” (see O’Casey [1956], 281).

8 Joyce’s knowledge of the Irish word siar is established by his use of the word in Finnegans Wake (see O Hehir [1967], 86.15, 89.28, 582.25, 600.08).

9 Joyce also suggests that Irish is Gabriel’s unconscious language, undermining Gabriel’s denial of the language (see Dubliners, 189).

10 Joyce also visited western Ireland in 1909, shortly after finishing “The Dead.” See Ellmann (1982), 276ff., for an account of the trip.

11 Note that “The Dead” was later added to the original manuscript sent to the publisher, Grant Richards. The story signals a shift in Joyce’s view of Dublin and Ireland, and acts as a countersign to the other stories in Dubliners (see Ellmann [1982], 230ff., 245ff.).

12 O Hehir’s (1967) book-length lexicon of Irish words in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake gives an indication of the pervasive presence of Irish in that work, even though the covert presence of Irish signalled by CTEs is seldom noted in his study.

13 Oksaar (1978) discusses such communication between bilinguals, labelling the operation that draws on the resources of both languages simultaneously as “rational” strategies of communication. Thus, it would seem to be an optimal mode for a postcolonial writer to adopt.

14 See Bhabha (1985) for a fuller discussion of the radical challenge of the hybrid to hegemonic structures.

15 “Difference” in translation, as well as strategies for highlighting difference, is also discussed in Graham (1985); Venuti (1992; 1995); Gentzler (1993), ch. 6; Bassnett (1993), ch. 7.

16 These notions are not unrelated to Benjamin’s (1969) points about translation. See also Niranjana (1992) and Robinson (1997).

17 Perhaps it is the similar functional orientation of the two types of texts that, under certain circumstances, most inclines critics to join them together into one ad hoc category. This is a topic that needs further exploration. See Lakoff (1987), 45, on categories determined by goals.


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