Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 July 2019
The relevance of translation to practices of travel and travel writing cannot be overstated. Travel takes place in what Michael Cronin (2000, 156) terms ‘a world of language(s)’ where ‘linguistic exposure to others’ is difficult to avoid and invariably requires the traveller to reword cultural systems encountered. Judith Johnston (2016 , 2) also insists on a causal relationship between travel and translation, but for her translation triggers the journey rather than the other way around: ‘translation is another form of journey, literally the removal from one place or condition to another’. Anthony Pym's (2010, 152) conclusion is perhaps most emphatic and posits as elemental to human activity a mutually dependent relationship between movement and translation: ‘if nothing moved, there would be no need for translations’.
The centrality of translation to notions of movement, travel and transfer is also attested etymologically. The term derives from the Latin substantive translatio and the verb transferre. The former refers to the solemn transportation of religious relics from one location to another during the Middle Ages whereas the latter means to ‘move or to carry across’, a meaning that evokes the etymology of the Greek term for metaphor (Shannan Peckham 1998, 164). The notion of removal and transfer from one context to another is retained in the old French translater but this verb also understands translation as a specific interlingual process involving the transferral of meaning from a source to a target language.
Critical work on travel writing has not ignored the fundamental importance of translation. James Clifford (1997b), for example, identifies ‘translation’ as a key travelrelated term, as does Mary-Louise Pratt (2002) who sees its hermeneutical dimension repeated in travel's cross-cultural activities. However, although these influential critics explore how difference is deciphered and explained in familiar terms through writing practices that include travel accounts, translation as used by them and others is often divorced from language (Cronin 2000, 102). Instead, its metaphorical value is emphasized to account for external cultural and ideological processes that influence the (mis)representations of a source culture to a target culture.
Travel writing's collusion with the European imperial project exposes an enduringly contradictory role played by linguistic translation that may explain a reluctance to engage in any systematic way with language encounter in the context of travel writing and its scholarship.