Non-professional translation, vernacular scholarship and global higher education

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In this paper I present the preliminary results of a qualitative survey on perceptions and practices of academic translation in the humanities and social sciences (HASS) which situates questions of expertise in non-professional translation in a broader context of globalisation. The survey deals with Japanese-to-English translation of academic papers in HASS authored by scholars in Japanese universities. Much of this translation work has traditionally been carried out by individuals who are ‘non-professional’ in the sense of not being trained or working as paid translators, but nonetheless possessing scholarly expertise in the discipline in question – often, colleagues or research partners of the authors themselves. This tradition of ‘non-professional’ translation by scholars for scholars is gradually being eroded and replaced by a commercial procurement model whereby translation is outsourced to service providers whose translators and editors may be highly qualified and experienced, but often lack the deep disciplinary insight of non-professional scholarly translators. This trend is a product of the growing pressure on Japan’s universities to internationalise in order both to generate knowledge capital for the needs of Japanese industry in the global era and to raise the competitiveness of Japanese universities themselves in a market for higher education services is increasingly shaped by international rankings. Boosting the number of research publications in international Anglophone outlets is a top priority, especially in HASS disciplines where the great bulk of research output is still produced in Japanese for consumption by the domestic scholarly community. Government initiatives to orchestrate this internationalisation have grown in number and scale in recent years, and the availability of government funding has further fuelled the shift from small-scale, collegial, non-professional translation to the procurement of commercial, professional translation services on a much larger scale.
In this paper I use data from my survey to argue that the shift has the potential to lead not so much to the ‘internationalisation’ of Japanese HASS research but an isolation of vernacular scholarship in Japanese from the global, Anglophone mainstream. The distinctive expertise of non-professional scholarly translators appears to enable sensitive mediation of differences in reasoning and argumentation strategy in a way that preserves a degree of visibility for vernacular traditions. Professional translators, on the other hand, tend to efface such traditions in preference for the production of texts more readily palatable to a ‘global’ audience. As well as challenging some common assumptions about quality and expertise in non-professional translation, this study places translators at the centre of an important shift in the way knowledge is produced and consumed globally. In doing so, it references both debates on translation and global academic monolingualism (cf. Bennett’s [2007] treatment of ‘epistemicide’), and broader concerns over the ‘deparochialization’ of research under globalization (Appadurai, 2000).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationConference
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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