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The Perils of Polyglossia

Esther Allen, Baruch College, City University of New York
Monday, February 22, 2016 - 5:30pm to 7:20pm
Communications 120

Selecting the language in which an utterance is made is the first and most significant semantic component of that utterance, the primordial basis of its meaning. It may also seem to be the one component of a text’s meaning that a translator must betray. A translation, however, embodies a theory of the text it represents, of the scope of the translator’s work, and of the relationships between the languages the translation moves among. The translator who chooses to produce a multilingual text enacts, reinforces, and comments on those relationships. But polyglossia’s playing fields are not even: what one language means within another may not be what the other language means within the first.

Esther Allen is Associate Professor in the Department of Modern Languages & Comparative Literature, Baruch College, City University of New York. Her numerous translations from French and Spanish include the 2002 Penguin Classics anthology José Martí: Selected Writings and the 1998 Penguin Classics translation The Book of Lamentations, a novel by Rosario Castellanos. She co-edited The Man Between: Michael Henry Heim & A Life in Translation (2014) and In Translation: Translators on Their Work and What It Means (2013). She has been a fellow at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers and at the Leon Levy Center for Biography at the City University of New York Graduate Center. The National Endowment for the Arts has twice awarded Allen translation fellowships, and in 2006 the French government named her a Chevalier de l’ordre des arts et des lettres. To read more of her work, visit

Co-sponsored by Troubling Translations, a crossdisciplinary research cluster of the Simpson Center for the Humanities; Asian Languages & Literature; Comparative Literature, Cinema & Media; Drama; Germanics; History; Near Eastern Languages & Civilization; Spanish & Portuguese Studies; and the Paull Shin Korea Studies Program of the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies.