Agency in translating "Une Vie de Boy" into English: Exploring translator identity and translation strategies

Felix Nkwatta Awung


Recent research in translation studies has underscored the role of translators as agents. This implies that a translator is not just a neutral conduit of a message from one language to another, but someone who is very much involved in the power interplay that determines the decision making leading to the translation product. It is within this context that this paper seeks to analyse the concept of ‘agency’ in translation, with specific focus on African literature in European languages. It is worth mentioning that while this type of literature has been the subject of much research, less attention has been given to it in terms of translation. Focusing on a translation by the late John Reed of Ferdinand Oyono’s Une Vie de Boy, this paper seeks to show how an understanding of the identity of the translator can lead to an appreciation of his/her translation strategies. It should be noted that translating African culture from one European language to another can be quite a challenging task – especially if the culture is foreign to the translator – due to the fact that cultural value systems are difficult to grasp as they are intricately woven into the texture of the native languages (Bandia 2008). Such a task is even more intriguing since the original text is in itself a form of translation, initially conceived in the African language of the author before being rendered into a European language. In this case, the agency role of the translator would therefore be more significant given that s/he is dealing with a peculiar source text that is different from most source texts which are translated between relatively close or non-distant cultures. Through an ethnographic study involving an exploration of the context of the translation production, as well as an interview with Reed, this paper posits that the translator’s socio-cultural background tends to influence the nature and extent of his/her intervention in the translation process. This will contribute in shifting the focus of translation assessment from solely the end product to an inclusion of the translator’s identity.


Agency, translator identity, ethnography, African literature

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ISSN 2224-3380 (online); 1726-541X (print)

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