Translation and national identity: the use and reception of Mauritian Creole translations of Shakespeare and Molière
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The purpose of this thesis is to find out whether theatre translation into Mauritian Creole can contribute to the formation of a national identity in post-colonial, multi-ethnic and multilingual Mauritius. There are currently fourteen languages spoken, many of which, as carriers of symbolic value, are often used as markers of ethnic identity. Moreover, the fact that they do not all carry the same socio-economic and political status has created a linguistic hierarchy which positions English at the top, closely followed by French, in turn followed by Asian languages and finally by Mauritian Creole, even though the latter is the most widely spoken language on the island. I argue that translation into Mauritian Creole is largely an ideological endeavour, designed to challenge the existing asymmetrical linguistic power relations, and to highlight the language’s existence as a shared cultural capital and as a potential force for national unity. I show how such an endeavour is closely linked to the political and socio-cultural aspects of the target society. This is done by using complementary theoretical perspectives, such as Itamar Even-Zohar’s polysystem theory (1979, 2000), André Lefevere’s systemic concept (2004) and post-colonial approaches to translation, and by drawing upon the case study research method, with its emphasis on multiple sources for data collection. The thesis examines Mauritian Creole translations of six plays by Shakespeare and two by Molière. I suggest that the reasons for choosing Shakespeare and Molière for translation are highly symbolic in the Mauritian context, where the educational system, a British colonial legacy, has continued to assign a privileged position to canonized British and French literatures; a system which contributes towards the perpetuation of colonial values. The translation of canonized texts is therefore intended to highlight the persistence of hegemonic socio-cultural values. Equally, it is designed to promote cultural decolonization and to point to the emergence of new creolized practices that offer areas of shared meaning for the Mauritian population as a whole. I also argue that since translation is an ideological undertaking, it is essential to understand the purposes of those actively involved in its production and dissemination. Because theatre texts can function as literary artefacts and as performance scripts, I look at the role played not only by translators and publishers, but also by theatre practitioners (producers, directors and actors). I explain their beliefs and their political agendas, showing why neither translation, nor stage production can constitute a neutral activity. In the process, my examination reveals the opposing forces at work which disagree over the way Mauritian Creole should be used in the discourse of nation-building. I then look at the intended target audiences with a view to finding out if the translations and the stage productions have had any obvious impact upon Mauritian society. My findings show that neither readers nor spectators are likely to have represented a large proportion of the population. Although this seems to indicate that theatre translation has had little direct impact so far upon the construction of a national identity, I suggest that in fact, its contribution to the Mauritian Creole literary and cultural capital should not be underestimated, as the language is very slowly emerging as an important symbol of the island. I conclude that should theatre translation be combined with other societal efforts in the future, it could still have a part to play in the formation of a national identity based upon Mauritian Creole.