I was asked to write an article on translation for the International Encyclopedia of Linguistic Anthropology. Of course the publishers always make you cut down on the number of references, so here is an earlier, longer draft version on my teaching site, where it may one day be used in one of my classes. This is the abstract:
Unlike many philosophers of language and scholars of translation, linguistic anthropologists see translation practices as both ubiquitous and necessary to communication, and one of many different kinds of metalinguistic capacities that all languages must possess. The anthropological study of translation has attended to what particular societies’ ideas about translation reveal about their ideological conception of linguistic difference and its relation to other kinds of difference. In general, classical conceptions of translation as the conveyance of intended meaning also involve the alienation of language from its speakers and its conditions of use. Such formal translations thus exist in contradiction with the implicit kinds of translations and other metalingual operations found in bilingualism and pidgin languages.
I learned a lot from writing it. The truth is: even though they do take some time (and you only get paid in books), I do enjoy writing these kinds of things and wish I could do it more often! The IELA is published by Wiley Blackwell and will appear in print soon.