Te Tuhirau i Rehu i Ringa: Translating Sacred and Sensitive Texts: An Indigenous Perspective

This thesis centers on translator cognition. Through a series of interviews and think-aloud protocols (Chapters 3 – 5), it explores the ways in which a sample of translators (both Māori and non-Māori) negotiate the complex issues involved in translating between a local, indigenous language (Māori) and an international one (English) and, in particular, how they approach the definition and translation of texts that could be regarded as being ‘sacred’ and/or ‘sensitive’. In their definitions of ‘sacred’ texts and ‘sensitive’ texts, all of the participants exhibited a peculiarly postmodern positioning, focussing primarily on perspective rather than on any absolute concept of truth or reality. With the exception of the Māori participants’ traditional definition of, and approach to texts deemed to be ‘tapu’ (see Chapter 3), all of the participants expressed beliefs about the translation process which were largely structurally-orientated. They emphasized the importance of respecting the cultural context out of which texts emerged and of attempting, in translation, to reflect the meanings deemed to reside in the source texts by virtue of the intentions of their authors. As witnessed in their think-aloud protocols, however, when involved in the actual process of translation the translators did not always adhere to the views expressed in their interviews, with translation procedures ranging from one that was primarily modernist and structural in orientation (but also reflecting the careful attention to co-text and cohesion that is characteristic of much recent research on discourse analysis) to one that was primarily postmodern and post-structural in orientation, being highly personal, autonomous and individualistic.

In the absence of any clear agreement about translation theory in the literature on translation (see Chapter 2), and at a time when pre-modern, modern and postmodern positioning and structural and post-structural perspectives vie for acceptance, each of the participants in this research project appears to have found his or her own way of traversing the complex terrain of translation practice without necessarily being fully aware of the way in which the decisions they made positioned them theoretically. What this suggests is the need for a type of training that introduces novice translators in an explicit way to a variety of theories about human language and communication and the ways in which they can impinge upon translation practice, thus creating a context in which translators are able to make critically informed decisions about how they will proceed in any particular instance, why they will proceed in these ways, and what is required in order to ensure that their beliefs about translation are in accord with their actual practices. Critical awareness of these issues is likely to be particularly important in the case of those involved in translating between international languages such as English and more localized, indigenous languages such as Māori, where discontinuity in the transmission of the language has occurred and where, therefore, texts that are deemed to be of particular significance would otherwise be unavailable to those for whom the texts form part of their cultural heritage.

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