Motherless Tongues: The Insurgency of Language amid Wars of Translation
Vicente L. Rafael is Professor of History at the University of Washington. His books include
The relationship between translation and empire in the United States is the topic of this chapter. It argues that such a relationship cannot be understood apart from a critical appreciation of the history of Americanization, which is to say translation, of English from an imperial into a national language. This required the reorganization of the nation’s linguistic diversity into a hierarchy of languages, resulting in the emergence of a monolingual hegemony. However, this American notion of translation as monolingual assimilation has always been contested. Its limits are seen in the U.S. occupation of Iraq. As an examination of the vexed position of Iraqi translators working for the U.S. military shows, attempts to deploy American notions of translation in war have devolved instead into the circulation of what remains untranslatable and so inassimilable to U.S. imperialist projects.