Translation policy and indigenous languages in Hispanic Latin America


Howard R, de Pedro Ricoy R & Ciudad LA (2018) Translation policy and indigenous languages in Hispanic Latin America. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 2018 (251), pp. 19-36.

This article will critically examine the nature and role of translation policy in relation to language policy in the Andean-Amazonian region of South America, with examples from Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. The historical legacy of Spanish colonization in this region resulted in widespread loss of the native Amerindian languages over the centuries, and still today the hegemony of Spanish ensures an ongoing process of language shift. Deep-rooted inequalities and discriminatory practices associated with linguistic and cultural difference characterize the societies of the countries we will discuss (Mannheim 1991; Howard 2007). Whereas translation and interpreting between Spanish and global foreign languages tend to be highly regulated practices, interpretation and translation between Spanish and the indigenous languages have been an ad hoc set of practices since colonial times, due to these societal asymmetries. We will start from the premises laid out by Meylaerts (2011), who reminds us that ´a translation policy is to be defined as a set of legal rules that regulate translation in the public domain´ and that, moreover, ´[a]ny language policy presupposes a translation policy´ (Meylaerts 2011: 165). In the postcolonial context of the Andean-Amazonian countries, and in light of the indigenous activism arising here in response to language policy and translation policy, the concept of ´policy as practice´ (Sutton & Levinson 2011: 1) is also salient. We will incorporate theory from critical social policy studies that allows us to think of policy not only as ´the conduct of political and public affairs by a government or an administration´ (Meylaerts 2011: 165) from the top down, but also as socially constructed practice from the bottom-up and among a diverse range of actors (Sutton & Levinson 2011). Across the three countries that form the focus of this study, an estimated xx languages belonging to an estimated xx language families are spoken. A State driven concern to legislate for language rights, and ultimately to formulate a national language policy, has been on the political agenda to varying degrees and with varying outcomes in the region over the past two decades. Different country-specific political and social contexts have given rise to variations in the ways the issue has been approached. Likewise, there are variations in the extent to which an attention to translation policy, as a part of language policy, has been explicitly formulated and acted upon. Peru provides the most advanced scenario in this respect, while strong interest in and awareness of the need for translation policy is expressed in the cases of Bolivia and Ecuador. This paper will examine these different scenarios in a comparative perspective, and will hope to have an impact in all three countries, bringing the notion of translation policy to the fore for the attention of policy makers. Within this wider context, the article will present a case study of Peru based on the authors´ recent in-country research. Language policy in Peru is being constructed on the basis of the Languages Act passed in 2011. It is of interest that the State is not yet articulating the notion of translation policy as such and yet de facto, through its actions, it is implementing an incipient translation policy as integral to language policy and as expressed in the law. Implementation includes state-sponsored training of indigenous people as accredited translators and interpreters to work between Spanish and their native languages in public service settings. We will give examples of how policy has benefited speakers of Quechua, Aymara, and some of the Amazonian languages.

language rights; indigenous peoples; translation and interpreting; translation policy; Latin America

International Journal of the Sociology of Language: Volume 2018, Issue 251

Publication date31/05/2018
Publication date online12/04/2018
Date accepted by journal01/06/2017
Publisherde Gruyter