29 March 2009
Translation has been around since the beginning of literature. Various encyclopedias trace translation to the Epic of Gilgamesh (ca. 2000 BCE), which was read in translation by writers of the Jewish Bible and the Iliad. Translation theory has also been around for quite a while, although of course not as long as translation itself (theory always comes only after practice!), being traced by historians of translation theory only to Quintus Horatius Flaccus [Horace] (65-8 BCE). From translation theory, we can pick up a concept that will help us in multilingual literary criticism, namely, the concept of biculturality. It is not enough, the translation theorists say, for a translator to be bilingual or fluent in both the source language and the target language; the translator must also be bicultural, meaning that the translator must have lived part of her/his life in the country where the source language is the native tongue. This is my biggest beef against most (not all, since some studied in English-speaking countries) Filipinos that write in English - they know English only from books or films but have never heard it spoken to them by ordinary British or American speakers. The poetry of these bilingual but not bicultural Filipinos sounds, well, terrible to the ears of someone that has lived part of her/his life in the US or UK. It would not be so bad if the non-bicultural Filipino writer would insist that s/he is using Philippine English, but no one I know will admit that but will on the contrary insist that her/his poetry is as good as that written in the US/UK. Since sound or music is at least half (I would say much more than half) of poetry, English poems written by non-bicultural Filipinos tend to violate the purity of one's poetic ears.