National Identity in Translation

by Lucyna Harmon (Volume editor) Dorota Osuchowska (Volume editor)
©2019 Edited Collection 246 Pages


Language as an essential and constitutive part of national identity is what obviously gets lost in translation, being substituted by the language of another nation. For this reason, one could perceive national identity and translation as contradictory and proclaim a total untranslatability of the former. However, such a simplified conclusion would clearly deny the actual translation practice, where countless successful attempts to preserve the element of national identity can be testified. The authors of the book focus on the possibilities of various approaches to national identity as a research subject within Translation Studies. The authors hope that the variety of topics presented in this book will inspire further research.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Preface
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • List of Contributors
  • Options for Research on National Identity in Translation
  • National Identity in and as Translation
  • Translators as Shapers of National Identity and Its Disseminators
  • Mykola Zerov’s View of Translation as a History of National Identity Shaping
  • Macedonian Nation in Translation: Translating Macedonian Realia into “Big Cultures”
  • Identity Translation
  • The Translator’s Responsibility in Cross-Cultural Communication
  • Ideological Plane of Bible Translations
  • The Phenomenon of ‘Anti-Patriotism’ in Ukrainian Linguistic Culture: Translation Studies Perspective
  • Tales of Anthologists, Translators and Publishers: A Few Decades of Greece Represented in Poetry
  • Anthologies of Ukrainian Literature in Germany as a Reflection of the Struggle for National Identity
  • Linguistic and Culture Studies as a Constituent of National Worldview: Translation Aspect of Lexicographical Literature
  • How Comprehensive? Nationality Terms in Bilingual Dictionaries
  • Translations of Yiddish Literature into Lithuanian in Apžvalga Weekly (1935–1940)
  • The Image of the People’s Republic of Poland in Translations of British and American Press Articles into Polish Under Preventive Censorship
  • Discourse of Racism in Translation Perspective
  • Silesian in Translation
  • Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Interpreting Culture Specific References in U.S. Political Discourse
  • Translation Prizes and National Identity: A Case Study of the Ramon Llull Prize for Literary Translation
  • Born Translating: The Transl/National Roots of Estonian National Identity
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables

List of Contributors

Piotr Bołtuć

Szkoła Główna Handlowa w Warszawie, Poland

Oryslava Bryska

Ivan Franko National University of Lviv

Svitlana Budzhak-Jones

U.S. Department of State Contract Conference Interpreter

Oksana Dzera

Ivan Franko National University of Lviv

Rainer Emig

University of Mainz

Iryna Frolova

V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University

Lucyna Harmon

University of Rzeszów

Kostiantyn Hizer

Kyiv National Linguistic University, Ukraine

Valeriia Hizer

Kherson State University

Antony Hoyte-West

University of Vienna

Maria Ivanytska

Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv

Svetlana Jakimovska

University “Goce Delcev”

Daniele Monticelli

Tallinn University

Paschalis Nikolaou

Ionian University (Corfu, Greece)

Dorota Osuchowska

University of Rzeszów

Alla Perminova

Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv

Radegundis Stolze

University of Technology in Darmstadt

Andrejs Veisbergs

University of Latvia

Anna Verschik

Tallinn University, Estonia

Urszula Wieczorek


Edyta Źrałka

University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland

Lucyna Harmon

Options for Research on National Identity in Translation

Abstract: The paper departs from opinion polls that reveal people’s spontaneous attitudes to national identity and confronts them with selected traditional and more recent academic concepts of nation and national identity. As a result, the essential components of national identity are established from which some options for thematic research within Translation Studies are derived. The conception of a discursive nature of national identity is emphasised as the most convincing one, showing the dynamic, historical character of national identity, which manifests itself in a flow of texts and their translations, worthy of scholarly attention.

Keywords: Translation Studies, intercultural communication, discourse, nation, cultural identity

1 Introduction

The question of national identity is becoming more important, more complex and more controversial with increasing migration within and towards Europe. People who leave their country of origin and settle down abroad take very different stands to the new reality. At one extreme, some make a very hard effort, even though not always successful, to integrate with the local people, whilst at the other extreme some put up walls against them in an act of defence of their own identity, as if it is in danger. A vast majority, though, take a position in between the both radical ends. Similarly, from the other perspective, the attitudes of representatives of receiving nations to immigrants vary, or rather varied,1 from friendly welcome to open hostility, with most individuals taking distance to both, and placing themselves in between.

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1.1 A Discrete Opinion Poll

People who oppose the immigration seem equally concerned about the costs of massive immigration as about the danger the latter poses, in their opinion, to their own national identity. I questioned a hundred German people in a discrete opinion poll2 in summer 2018, with the aim to determine what concerned them most about the immense wave of recent emigration in their country. The high costs were mentioned eighty nine times, but only twenty two times in the first place. A vast majority of eighty seven interviewees declared that they did not wish in their neighbourhood a strange religion with all its implications (loud prayers, clothing, customs, manifestation of male dominance), and forty eight put it in first place. Sixty seven people admitted to feel uneasy on hearing ununderstandable languages3 spoken in their presence, at work or in public places, and forty seven added that it irritated them to see a local foreigner unable to communicate in everyday situations. More than a half of them, fifty nine to be precise, feared that in few generations the inborn Germans in Germany might be outnumbered by foreigners. The evaluation of the obtained results is not very difficult: People point to their culture, their language and their territory which they want to be populated by descendants of the original nationals. As will be shown below, their opinions are in concordance with traditional German approaches to nation and nationality, even though the people were not asked to decide who in their view qualified for a German.

1.2 A Large-Scale Survey

The results of the above investigation correspond to the outcome of an international survey conducted by Pew Research Center. As reported by Taylor (2017), representatives of fourteen countries evaluated the significance of being born in their country, speaking its language, having its nationality and sharing its customs and traditions as prerequisites for accepting a person as member of their nation. The language proved to be the most important factor, followed by shared customs and traditions. Much less weight was attached to one’s actual birth place and having a given nationality.

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2 Nation

National identity cannot be detached from the concept of nation, therefore, a brief review of historical approaches to nation will be provided first. It should be noted, that the German concepts of nation that are outlined below were developed before Germany was unified to become a state (1871) and thus represent the voice of a nation yet without a political framework but longing for one.

As specified by Bär (2000: 204–205), German Romanticists defined a nation by five criteria: culture, politics, language, living area-character and genetics. The last two may need some clarification. With regards to the living area-character, the nations were divided into two major character groups, (northern and southern), according to their geographic location and its climatic conditions. In this manner, a weather-dependent national character was introduced in the considerations about the specificity of a nation as such. As far as the genetic criterion is concerned, it obviously confirms the importance of ancestry as an identificator of one’s belonging to a particular nation. This aspect of a nation is usually associated with racism, and often skipped in debates on nation for the sake of political correctness. Such escapism does not change the common practice of nations to accept the descendants of their nationals as their own, including repatriations on demand.

Wilhelm von Humboldt referred to language as “impression of the national individuality”4 (1827/29: 242, translation mine). In his opinion, thinking relies on the language in which it happens. Humboldt divides the words from the lexicon of a language into general ones, rooted in reason, and specific ones, rooted in sensation and perception of the speakers. Only the former can be re-expressed in another language, whilst the latter remain “indissolubly weaved in the individuality of their language, therefore, a very important part of the contents of each language undoubtedly depends on it so that the expression of the latter cannot be indifferent to the former any more” (1843: 259, translation mine).5 Let us keep this observation in mind for further consideration.

Ernest Renan (1882/1996: 52) enriched the concept of nation with two vital components: that of a shared memory, in his words, “a rich legacy of memories”, and that of a shared will to be together, in his words “present-day consent, the desire to live together, the will to perpetuate the value of the heritage that one has received in an undivided form.” Noticeably, they both constitute an ←13 | 14→indispensable foundation for discourse as a continuation of interpersonal and intergenerational exchange of thoughts which precedes common action.

3 National Identity

Anna Triandafyllidou (2001: 10) points to “a double-edge character of national identity”, which consists in “its capacity of defining who is a member of the community but also, and perhaps more importantly, who is a foreigner.” However, this observation leaves open the question of who and how should decide this membership, as well as what purpose such a decision should serve. The investigations reported above reveal only one viewpoint, namely that of the receiving community, represented by its members. But they ignore “the other side of the barricade”, namely the perspective of the affected strangers themselves, which is particularly absorbing in the context of translation, as a constitutive element of those texts that interest us here in the first place.

Ruth Wodak et al. perceive discourse as a constitutive factor and product of national identity in dialectical interchange. In their words (1999:22), national identity “is constructed and conveyed in discourse, predominantly in narratives of national culture. National identity is thus the product of discourse.” The first obvious ramification of this approach is the dynamic character of national identity, which can never be considered as ultimate but undergoes, on the contrary, permanent revision, modification and expansion.

Anthony Smith (1991:19) defines national identity as a “collective cultural identity”, which “involves some sense of political community, however tenuous.” At the same time, he delegates the territory and ancestry as alleged constituents of national identity to the myths of nationalism., The scholar is rather critical of the western understanding of a nation, which encompasses “historic territory, legal-political community, legal-political equality of members and common civic culture and ideology” (ibid. 11) that boil down to the political aspect of the phenomenon. The emphasis on collective culture as indicator of national identity corresponds to the notion of ‚Kulturnation‘ (culture nation) introduced by Friedrich Meinecke (1862–1954), and contrasted with that of „Staatsnation“ (state nation). In Meinecke’s view, cultural nation relies mainly on its cultural property, in the first place on a common language, literature and religion. The latter is built upon a state as a political organisation (1928:3). This pair of terms can be roughly compared with Herder’s notions of Volk and Nation in that the former constitutes a necessary foundation for the latter to become reality, albeit many a culture nation never follows this path and never organises itself as a state.

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In his reasoning about the politics of identity, Bhikhu Parekh (2008:56) claims that national identity “refers to an individual’s identity as a member of a political community” or “the identity of a political community” (emphasis original). Obviously, in accordance with the major topic of his book, the scholar focuses on just one aspect of the phenomenon (political) but exposes its two complementary bearers (an individual and a community) which are valid for any other approach.

It is vital to differentiate between national identities as the identity of a nation, i.e. those features of a particular existing nation that make it identifiable as such among others, and the national identity of an individual, i.e. those characteristics that make it possible for a beholder to recognise him or her as a member of this very nation. Certainly, the observations of these peculiarities are reflected in national stereotypes. At the same time, as mentioned in the initial section, there is also an internal, subjective dimension of national identity, namely the way the individual feels and think about his or her membership is a nation. Authors express this in their texts of various types, and as is well known, what they convey is not infrequently far from happiness or pride.

Parekh departs from the image of prototypical members of a political community who “are likely to have lived in it for generations and their history and individual memories are bound up”(ibidem), to argue that “[n];ational identity is not primordial, a brutal and unalterable fact of life and passively inherited by each generation (…) not a substance but rather a cluster of interrelated tendencies that sometimes pull in different directions, and each generation has to identify them and decide which ones to build on” (ibidem, 58). This conclusion shows striking similarity to the abovementioned findings of discourse analysts Wodak et al. They legitimise national identity as a historical phenomenon which corresponds to the concept of an open nation.

4 Multiculturalism

Multicultularism designates the idea of cooperative, peaceful and fruitful coexistence of different cultures within a community. As pointed out by Uberoi (2015:509), this idea does not contradict the concept of national identity at all: On the contrary, it displays the advantages of a plurality of cultures and promotes its inclusion in education, with the aim to teach respect and tolerance through understanding. As is well known, Canada and Australia officially proclaimed their nations multicultural, whilst many other nations are this without a declaration.

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5 Implications for Translation Studies


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (September)
intercultural communication nation shaping ideology identity shaping Translation Studies refraction
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019., 246 pp., 5 fig. b/w, 7 tables

Biographical notes

Lucyna Harmon (Volume editor) Dorota Osuchowska (Volume editor)

Lucyna Harmon is Professor at the Institute of English Studies and Head of the Department of Translation Theory, University of Rzeszów, Poland. Her expertise includes general and literary translation, general and comparative linguistics and intercultural communication. Dorota Osuchowska is Professor at the Institute of English Studies and member of the Department of Translation Theory, University of Rzeszów, Poland, where she lectures in Applied Linguistics, lexicography and academic writing. Her research includes dictionary use by learners of English and translation students and description of phraseology in dictionaries.


Title: National Identity in Translation
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