Alec Pongweni


This paper is about the role of translation as a mediating process between texts that are couched in the languages of different cultures in contact. The etymology of the word "contact" goes back to the Latin verb "tango", which inflects "tangere, tetigi, tactum", and means "touch". The prefix "co(n)-

.." is attached to "tactum", and we get a word that means "touching each other", "contact". In our

lived reality we come into contact with others who speak languages other than our own in order to conduct the business of living. For it to flourish, we need to understand each other through a third medium, a language which a translator has a command of, in addition to having fluency in the languages of those seeking to conduct business together. Such a person‟s role is quintessential to the success of the business enterprise and must therefore not be assumed lightly. When executed successfully, translation serves to project both commonalities and dissimilarities among cultures, with the similarities serving to emphasize our common humanity, while the dissimilarities expand and deepen our understanding of what it means to be human. Using texts originally in a Bantu language and now translated into English, I argue here that access to the cultural terrains of peoples other than our own enables us to develop empathy for them, an empathy which facilitates peaceful and productive co-existence. If this were not so, why did my West African colleague object to me handing him a salt shaker, instead of merely pushing it towards him across the dining table? As we do in these parts, West Africans have a belief that handing the salt shaker to a fellow diner portends evil intentions.

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