Obviously SIL’s solicitude does not extend to religious tradition, the value systems which it considers Satanic but most native people consider the basis of their way of life. It is true, of course, that missions may deflect as well as multiply the pressures which disintegrate a culture. The most popular rejoinder to missionary work—‘leave the Indians alone’—delights the Summer Institute. For decades it has made the no-lose argument that civilization, now culture change, is ‘inevitable’. The happy savage meets the same fate: he died in a contact epidemic. Offering their own bromide, translators customarily indict anthropologists for wanting to preserve Indians as cultural specimens, like animals in a zoo, rather than helping them adjust to change as SIL says it does. But while translators may believe that isolationism is the basic anthropological grievance against their work, they are in far more difficult terrain.
To construct the dual identity, SIL/WBT learned from supposedly value-free scholars who mocked fundamentalist beliefs. Just as they did, it could present itself as value-free (an impartial institute with a vague commitment to Christianity) when it was actually value-laden. Disapproving anthropologists could be kept at bay with the argument that, since anthropology is value-free like other sciences, its practitioners have no right to use their authority to make value judgements against Christian missions. With its nation-building claims SIL made itself congenial to Latin American indigenists.
Communication as it exists now, as it is offered and normalized in media, is the level of only offering the meaning of the words. But never everything that comes with the meaning and that forms the context of the words and also determine which meaning would come out as being dominant.… Anybody who works in translation knows how easily one can betray the meaning of the sentence just because of the lack of intonation that one does not hear. The lack of context—and I’m not saying the context of meaning but rather the context of how one says it.
We’ve got to realize we’re not even reading Sebald’s book [The Rings of Saturn]. We’re reading a book by Michael Hulse, who’s the translator. It was [Sebald’s] strategy that he doesn’t write directly into English; he writes in German, and then it’s translated. And he could perfectly well translate it himself, but he chooses not to. So you’ve got another version which is already filtered, and it’s not that different—I don’t think—from the reports that The Midsummer Murders—a sort of generic TV series set in a perfect English Village. By the time it’s translated into French, where it’s popular, it takes on a sort of existential gloss. It becomes something else. It’s much moodier and weirder.