Cover of the first edition
|Publisher||Oxford University Press|
|Media type||Print (hardcover and paperback)|
|Pages||520 (first edition)|
|LC Class||P306 .S66|
After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation (1975; second edition 1992; third edition 1998) is a linguistics book by literary critic George Steiner, in which Steiner deals with the "Babel problem" of multiple languages.
After Babel is a comprehensive study of the subject of language and translation. It is both a controversial and seminal work that covers a great deal of new ground and has remained the most thorough book on this topic since its publication. Director Peter Bush of the British Centre for Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia described the book as a "pioneering work which revealed all communication as a form of translation, and how central translation is to relations between cultures." Daniel Hahn at ContemporaryWriters.com wrote that "It is extraordinary in making a real contribution to translation studies, while remaining fairly self-contained and accessible to people who have never before given the matter a second thought."
In After Babel Steiner states "To understand is to decipher. To hear significance is to translate." He challenges conventional theories of translation by maintaining that all human communication within and between languages is translation. He argues that deception was the reason for the development of different languages: it was humanity's deep desire for privacy and territory that saw the creation of thousands of languages, each designed to maintain secrecy and cultural isolation. Real translation between languages is impossible because the original meaning is always lost: the translated text is tainted by the translator's own cultural beliefs, knowledge and attitudes.
Steiner states that the reason for the lack of new developments in translation theory is that translation is a hermeneutical task, "not a science, but an exact art." This is problematic for machine translation. He then presents a new translation model that combines philosophical hermeneutics with existing translation studies to form a "systematic hermeneutic translation theory". The new model comprises four "movements": trust, aggression, incorporation, and retribution. "Trust" and "retribution" honour the source text and its author's intentions, while "aggression" and "incorporation" benefits the translator.
Despite the significance of After Babel as a central work in the philosophy of translation, the book has been criticized by many authors. In a substantial rereading of the "hermeneutic motion", Kharmandar, among other things, questions even the authenticity of the "hermeneutics" in Steiner's theorizing, stating, "Th[is] investigation, quite contrary to popular belief, reveals that Steiner’s reading only partially relies on hermeneutics, and that at many levels it is counter-productive to hermeneutic research."
After Babel was first published in January 1975 by Oxford University Press in the United Kingdom. In 1992 a second edition was published by Oxford University Press with major revisions by Steiner, including a new preface, and new and expanded notes and references. A third edition, with minor revisions by Steiner, was published by Oxford University Press in 1998.
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- Youzi, Li. "On the Subjectivity of the Translator". towerofbabel.com. Archived from the original on 3 April 2008. Retrieved 15 April 2008.
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- Kharmandar, Mohammad Ali (2018). "A Hermeneutic Critique on George Steiner's Hermeneutic Motion in Translation" (PDF). Crossroads – A Journal of English Studies. 20: 83–98.
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- Velez, Fabio (2016). Antes de babel. Una historia retórica de la traducción. Granada, Spain: Comares. ISBN 978-8490454718.