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Globalizing Translation. What Hope For The Translator?

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Salawu Adewuni photoAbstract

Globalization and translation both deal with languages and cultures. They attempt to remove cultural and language barriers but while translation targets better understanding among people and maintains cultural diversity, globalization moves towards reducing languages and cultures to the language and culture of the global village. In view of the differences and similarities between the two terminologies, an attempt is made to study the basic contributions of globalization to translation. This study employed archival materials for investigation. Works of linguists, translatologists, globalizationists, sociologists, translators, language experts, anthropologists and literary scholars served as reference documents. An analytical, deductive, and synthetic approach is used. It is discovered that globalization is nothing but a death trap for translation. It looks at first as if it offers a helping hand to translation but is gradually making translators redundant with its process of making the language and culture of the global village uniform. This study concludes that the present process of globalization, if not reversed, might lead to a cultural revolution. The study suggests that an harmonious existence between the richness and diversity of cultures and languages should be maintained for the sake of creativity and invention while encouraging cross-cultural skills for a better understanding among people. This way translation as a profession will not die.

Key words: Globalization, translation, global village, glocal village, languages.


Translation helps people to appreciate others and respect their ways of thinking as summed up in their cultures. It weakens barriers between languages and communicates messages, spreads cultures, and increases understanding among neighbors near and far. On the other hand, globalization deals with culture, language, and communication but on the contrary it narrows the understanding of people to just the language, norms and principles of the global village. At the very beginning, when there was no global village, translation had an unconditional mission to remove the languages and cultural barriers among people. Now that the “world village” is reduced to a global village or “glocal” village (Goswami, 2003), what becomes of translation? Now that the “glocal” village is adopting its own language, what becomes of other languages? Once globalized, can we as translators initiate the target-language reader into the sensibilities of the source-language culture as stated by C. Thriveni (2002)? Or in simple terms, will we have source languages and cultures versus target languages and cultures? These pertinent questions will be answered adopting an analytical, deductive, and synthetic approach.

Cultural globalization versus translation

The first impression I had about globalization was that of a process forced by some (the powerful) on others (the developing) without choice, where the less privileged were subdued to unwanted norms not beneficial to them and where the rich become richer. Today I have a more flexible opinion and better understanding of the concept. My earlier position on globalization is mirrored in what Miasami called westernization, even if today he is still reserved about the definition given to the word (Miasami, 2003). In fact, the world is fast growing and the old parameters are changing in the direction dictated by technological innovations. With the world dominated by technology, a global village is no longer a mystery and globalization is no longer an illusion. It is a fact not a fiction and it is all about a process. Lavault-Olléon (2004:9) reasons the same way but this time on translation in the following words “Il s’agit d’envisager la traduction en tant que un processus, act de communication,…”. People all over the world are accepting the culture of the globalized village, dominated by global entertainment, the values and norms of the Western ideals of capitalism. With the breakthroughs in the Internet, satellites, and cable TV, the less technologically advanced languages had their cultural boundaries softened with much more influence on the children. Children all over the world, having been exposed to the same culture and norms of the global village, will look alike and think within the framework of the same culture. Foreign movies, television programs and music abound in almost all families across the world and younger ones are the most vulnerable. It helps the younger ones to lose more of their native culture to the benefit of the culture of the global village. This is a dangerous trend that will reduce the need for translation among people in the global village. Packed food and medicines are also available according to the norms of the global village. David Brooks while describing rightly that globalization creates new pressure groups and converges global economies, did not comprehend that it is also a process that weakens or rather attempts to kill other cultures and languages and brings us all together into a small place called “glocal” village (David Brooks, 2005). Monshipouri (2005:1) is more worried about globalization than Brooks because for him, it is an old wine into a new bottle. He argues that Muslims, for example, are skeptical on how to strike a balance between joining the process while maintaining their cultures and religious identity. But he agrees that the process of the globalization is irreversible with its well rooted strategies and influences. It means losing some part or all of one’s identity which constitutes a strong point in translation and which globalization is trying to deny us. Mohammed Moussalli (2003) also expressed the same idea in this way.

Critics of globalization argue that this cultural invasion will lead to the disintegration of identity and the spirit of culture. In opposition, its cheerleaders consider the decline of cultural distinctions as a substantial sign of enhanced communication, a measure of integration of societies, and a scope toward unification of civilizations.

Enhancing communication in the way of streamlining cultural diversity are steps that negate the relevance of translation in societies so rich in culture. But Jeremy Seabrook (2004) rather takes globalization in a different way. He confirms the conclusions of Moussalli by presenting globalization as a declaration of war upon other cultures that would be positioned henceforth as merely local. It diminishes and marginalizes them at a stroke and exposes them to death. Seabrook also stresses the irreversible and inevitable fact of globalization, which has started a process that encloses everybody. Moussalli again affirms one of the functions of translation while defining globalization as a promoter of the integration of the world cultures minus cultural barriers but leaving these cultures to face competition and challenges of the modern technologies and innovations. Instead of transferring the message from a source-language to target-language taking into account the cultural implications, globalization would prefer to transfer the knowledge into the world in the language of the global village. While translation spread culture and people’s identity, Moussalli argues that globalization disintegrates identity and the spirit of culture (Moussalli, 2003). Translation came out of the zeal of people to discover others, to have links with them, and to know what is going on in other parts of the world. Globalization is rather as M. Miasami presents it:

..the spread and exchange of people, goods, and ideas across the globe. Characteristically, it is directly associated with change, or transformation, modernity, and an increasingly interdependent relationship between different regions of the world. Globalization is an aspect of human life that has always been there since the beginning of humanity….the process of globalization has been linked with concepts of comparative advantage, free trade, and an open economy, its origin can be traced to a time long before such ideas appeared…Globalization is a process in which “the whole world becomes like a small village…. “ (Miasami, 2003).

In contrast Nico Wiersema in his paper “Globalization and translation: a discussion of the globalization on today’s translation” has something different to offer. In his “Excessive translation” approach, Wiersema is of the opinion that globalization has tremendously helped to facilitate the task of the translator by the way of foreignization. By so doing he says “future translations need to be as foreignizing as possible within the limits of reasonable acceptability” instead of an explanatory translation. He looks at globalization as a process that allows cultures to collaborate and interact with flexibility while exotising is a helping hand to translation. He further remarks, “ In our globalized world, translation is the key to understanding and learning foreign cultures”. I believe this might not go down well in the global village which is promoting the culture of the village and making irrelevant the profession of translation. But in the true face of things, isn’t it globalization a killer of other languages and cultures?

The language of the global village

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the world faces many challenges, but one that strikes the mind most is the issue of the fast growing language of the global village, commonly called the language of business. Language is known to be the most important parameter in translation. With globalization reducing world languages gradually to the language of the global village, there will be no need for translating. In Africa today, English is seen as a means of easy access to good jobs and to progress and this preference for English is a great concern and one of the new millennium’s greatest challenges in African countries. English is no longer a language which can be limited within the frontiers of its nation; it moves fast beyond expectations and at different level of society. It is being accepted, adopted, and adapted to business environments. Translation units have gradually disappeared in some international establishments partly because of the funding problems but mostly because of the monolingual tendency of workshops, seminars, and conferences. Most presentations are now done in English, the preferred language of communication in international establishments. Everyone seems to be acquainted with the new rules of the global village. Rahul Goswami testified in the paper “Globalization erodes local languages, fuel “Glocal” English where English is said to be going “glocal” that is English is going global with its local roots (Goswami, 2003). In a survey carried and published by Pew Research Center in June 2003, most respondents agreed that children’s success depends on their know-how in English and that the teaching of English should be emphasized, with English made compulsory in schools. Japan is concerned about the fast spread of English which Hiroshi Hiyama calls a foreign linguistic superpower. In a view to stopping the spread, a panel was commissioned and Mitsuru Ohki, a linguist at Kyoto University, observed.

“My first thought (about the panel) was it would just be a waste of time. People will continue to use English and foreign terms regardless of what the government panel says” (Hiyama, 2002).

For John Tagliabue (2002), English is not only the language of business but it has taken over most of working places in Europe. Some tend to call it the working language in the business arena. He aptly mentioned that:

“… the triumphal march of English through European business is symbolic, born of a wish to shed a parochial image and assume that of a global player…But there are also substantial reasons to use English, which makes it easier to leverage international links….the use of English is mainly determined by the unchallenged dominance of United States in industry, commerce and finance.”

The establishment of the Endangered Language Fund with a view to raising funds to preserve and revive disappearing languages is a testimony of the fast impact of cultural globalization on the weak languages, the vocabulary, the greetings, oral traditions, and poetry that are the substance of a culture. People would like to speak English, the potential killer language which remains the most successful lingua franca of modern times enabling speakers to communicate effectively and efficiently with neighbors and build powerful connections (Tuhus-Dubrow, 2002). Despite the establishment of the Endangered Language Fund, Daniel Nelson informs us of the likely threat of extinction to half of the 6000 languages of the world, which marks also the death of associated cultures. Parents are not left out in the plot to undermine some languages by encouraging their children to familiarize themselves with the norms set by the modern times as a means to get a job (Nelson, 2002:1). Wiersema (2004) admitted that English is the global language and that globalization and English are linked, that English is a lingua franca with possible source-texts and target-texts going also global (source-texts likely to be the equal of target-texts). It is a trend that may gradually make translators redundant in the years ahead. The publishing houses are also complying with the norms of globalization thus publishing in a language with a wider audience because of profitable returns.


The process of globalization affects almost all the fields of research undertaken by human beings; translation has not been an exception. Everybody speaks the language of the innovations of technology. Everyone seems to agree to the universality of the language of the global village, which is English. It is the most accepted, adopted, and used means of communication, a lingua franca, the language of conferences, workshops, presentations, postal, and publishers. The process of making English the language of the global village looks as if it was a mankind’s conspiracy to marginalize other languages. Making other cultures and languages irrelevant is simply gradually disengaging the translator, as translation is the act of transferring the culture and language of the source-text to the culture and language of the target-text. A time will come when the whole universe will be fully globalized, with English the sole language, and the culture attached to it the universal culture. Complete globalization may be prolonged to the century to come. But while we talk of the complete’s globalized village, we should be prepared for a possible Cultural Revolution which might be a replay of history in some parts of the world just as we have had in Africa with Negretitude and Panafricanism. In this regard, a symbiotic existence between cultures in all aspect of human interactions may be the modest suggestion in this research knowing well that we are trying by this approach to ease interactions that will encourage cross-cultural skills necessary in this definite march to globalized village.


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Contact address: C/o Maize Unit, Research for Development, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, PMB 5320, Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria


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