WAAT #08: The Silences in Language That Translation Struggles to Capture


Decoding what a text doesn’t say explicitly can be a political act and a cultural intervention.

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Last week, I interviewed the scholar, Ashoka University professor, writer, and translator, Rita Kothari, for Desi Books. It was a rich, enlightening discussion and not just because we translate from the same language (Gujarati.) I found her points about how we struggle to decode certain sociocultural and political issues through translation and how we’re unable to capture what the silences mean to be most interesting. Have a listen.

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And, if you’re translating from or into any South Asian language, you might be interested in this online, free event. It’s happening this weekend and part of a new initiative and organization founded by Rita Kothari and Arunava Sinha, who’s also a prolific, award-winning translator at Ashoka University.

Oh, here are a few interesting links from this week:

Catapult’s latest newsletter focusing on language and translation

Pardeep Toor’s Longreads reading list on losing your native tongue

New to my work? Check out my books and publications.

Asymptote Journal is looking for works written in response to the current Ukraine war

The Sheikh Hamad Award is looking for 2022 nominations for Arabic <> English and Arabic <> Turkish translations

The 7th Japanese Literature Publishing Project (JLPP) International Translation Competition is looking for translations in the target languages of French and English

So, over to you. What do you think about Rita Kothari’s point about how we decode (or try to) certain sociocultural and political issues when we translate from one language to another? Have you, as a translator, struggled with this? Have you, as a reader, come across this in a translation where you thought the translator did or didn’t quite accomplish it? I’d love to know more. You can either reply to this note or share at my social media accounts below and I’ll happily respond and share it on.

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Jenny Bhatt is an author, a literary translator, and a book critic. Currently, she is a Ph.D. student of literature at the University of Texas at Dallas. She has taught creative writing at Writing Workshops Dallas and the PEN America Emerging Voices Fellowship Program. Sign up for her free newsletters, We Are All Translators and/or Historical Fiction Craft Notes. Jenny lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, Texas.

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