Homolinguistic Translations

I have always had a very personal relationship with language. I grew up in a bilingual home and have often had to play the role of interpreter between different members of my family, particularly across my paternal and maternal sides.

In elementary school I was the only student in my classes who struggled with speaking a language at school that I did not speak at home. I was raised by my mother, who is an immigrant from Vietnam. Between us, we did not speak English. My father, who does not know Vietnamese, was the person with whom I grew up speaking English. In school, my embarrassment made me very timid and nervous in group settings in the classroom, a feeling I have rediscovered as an adult studying in the Department of Hispanic Studies at Brown. Educational and academic settings in which we are asked to express and articulate ourselves in a non-native language are fraught with tensions because we feel limited. No one ever wants to feel that they are not putting their best or brightest foot forward despite the best intentions. Yet, conversely, learning to express oneself in a foreign language can open new doors, allowing for the discovery of identities that might have been otherwise left uncovered. At least this is what I have come to love about pursuing my post-graduate studies in Spanish. For me, I have always had a complicated relationship with the English language. It is, technically, my native language, or at the very least, one of them. Nonetheless, it has always felt a little foreign to me given that I spent many years in school struggling to reach full proficiency in all its linguistic skill sets.

Homolinguistic translations have become a major staple of contemporary experimental translations. A curious example can be found in American poet Paul Legault’s Emiliy Dickenson Reader (2012) in which Legault translates from English the entirety of Dickenson’s body of work into English. His work raises the question, is it possible to paraphrase poetry? Is it possible, or even valuable, to translate poetry into a contemporary or colloquial way of speaking? Homolinguistic translations can be made even more complex by using a secondary language, as we have done with “Cris de Couer.” In some instances, translators have gone one step further into the modern age of technology and used online translation generators such as Google Translate to produce these translations. For me, homolinguistic translations offer an interesting and often conflictive alternative path into the world of translation and language that speaks to my own dual-identity, particularly with the English language. It allows me to appeal to English as my native language in one moment, and in another, approach it as a foreign language. This ironic self-estrangement allows me, and many other poets and translators alike, to unlock an often overlooked realm of language where the possibilities of interpretation and meaning are infinite.

Mai Hunt

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