Four Points for Linguistics—Deedles D’Dee-Dee-Dee-Dee SpecGram Vol CXCI, No 3 Contents Monoglot Derivatives—Polly and Paul E. Glōttidēs

On Cultural Translation

By Trent Slater
Professor Without Merit
University of Old Geezer

It has come to my somewhat erudite attention that there is now a movement to reclass translation as something done inside oneself and between places and not between texts. Quite frankly, I am amazed at this change! If a well-off, liberal, metropolitan elite wish to change the world in their favour, who should stop them? Certainly, a small change like changing the meaning of a word means nothing in the grand scheme of things. That does not mean that we should not try! Inspired by their genius, in this article I will explain how such a change can apply to many different disciplines. In doing so, I will show that the renegotiation of meaning is at the heart of a wider change in the renegotiation of our understanding of the world, both linguistic and scientific.

The (He)art of Cultural Translation as Transmigration

If etymology is the study of the has-been of the historical process, then its rediscovery and redeployment as the replacement for synchronic social meaning is the reassertion of the self over the tyranny of the empirical. Who cares how people use a word if we can invent an etymology to make it mean whatever posh authors want it to mean?

Thus, since translation comes from the Latin “to carry over”, it is simplicity itself to assert that it now means the universal migrant experience, filtered through the tribulations of not knowing which cricket team to support as you sip your champers at Lords.

This logic is remarkably flexible. Literally any term can be deconstructed in like fashion, reversing the tendency to hegemonic meaning-guarding and returning us to a state of heterogeneous mystery. Here, langue stands proud over parole and the ideal speaker delights in the downfall of the user. The ideal speaker is, of course, the speaker whose thinking, repertoire, and preoccupations are the same as mine.

It’s pretty cool.

Linguistics Re-Etymologised

Take the word “linguistics”, which is related to an old term meaning either “a wooden implement for untangling pasta” or “the study of the tongue”. Therefore, by the process of cultural translation, we arrive at a position where the meaning of linguistics is the study of the tongue as it untangles pasta. Yet this definition is not, in itself, empowering.

If we are to take seriously the paradigm of research as empowerment, so prevalent in cultural translation, allowing researchers to claim the ground of the German citizenship test, the entry point of new ideas into the world, and entire literary and political systems, then it becomes clear that the best response to hegemonic power is to give it unquestioningly to the people who talk the most about hegemonic power. Writing academic books is, of course, the primary route by which the oppressed are liberated. To do critical theory in any discipline is to save it.

A definition of linguistics via cultural translation is therefore the prime route towards saving the discipline itself and establishing the subaltern as the master. While traditionally slippery definitions have been preferred to solid ones, since clarity has a rather grubby relationship with empirical practice, there is room even here for manœuvre.

If, instead of offering an exact definition, we argue that linguistics is the study of the langue of the oppressed and powerless authors of academic monographs and novels about the oppression they suffer as university professors and successful novelists, then we have already made great strides. Linguistics is slippery and definitions are difficult, but anything that concentrates power in the hands of those who like cricket and do not like reliance on evidence is a very good thing.

Four Points for LinguisticsDeedles D’Dee-Dee-Dee-Dee
Monoglot DerivativesPolly and Paul E. Glōttidēs
SpecGram Vol CXCI, No 3 Contents