Ensuring Fair Play in Inter-Cultural Encounters: Do We Need a Tertium Comparationis -- A Translator's Perspective

Malcolm P. Williams (King Fahd School of Translation, Abdelmalek Essaadi University, Tetuan, Morocco)

[complete paper]

One of the results of globalization and ever more rapid and accessible communication is that inter-cultural encounters are becoming increasingly frequent. This means that the chances of misunderstanding of and reaction against the "other" are manifold. Therefore, the role of the translator, seen not just as an anonymous and parasitic pen-pusher, but rather as inter-cultural facilitator and expert communicator, becomes increasingly vital and demanding. But such a mediator needs to be able to analyze what is going on, and to play the role of umpire. However, what are the rules of the game? Are they the relativistic rules of spin-doctors, or are they the absolutist rules of the authoritarian imperialist or colonialist?

The aim of this paper is to explore some of the problems that arise in such inter-cultural encounters, and to argue that the most appropriate rules for the umpire are derived from an approach that takes seriously both epistemological subjectivity and metaphysical objectivity. To exercise his role, the translator needs to do justice both to the participants and the subject matter addressed, and he cannot accomplish this without a tertium comparationis. Examples will largely be taken from translation, but supporting examples may also be drawn from other fields.

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Last modified: 7 May 2001