Lee Haring


Untranslatability, today being praised in the field of comparative literature, is not a usable concept for storytellers, who continually borrow narratives from speakers of other languages, or for readers, who deserve access to the delights of the world’s verbal art. This article examines the work of translation as a potent practice in daily life and scholarship. In an extended sense, translation occurs in the situated performances of folk narrative; it occurs also in scholarly analysis of narratives. By reshaping concepts such as genre and intertextuality, translation brings folkloristics and translation studies into the center of a definition of the literary. Using folktales from Indian Ocean islands, the paper sets out tasks facing scholars both of translation studies and of traditional narrative. Repeated performances of a well-known African story from the island of Mayotte, for example, are as much translations as are the French versions by a linguist-ethnographer. A recent “domesticated” retranslation of an elaborate narrative from Madagascar aims at interesting new readers for its artistry. Both translation studies and folkloristics look for “interpretants”—features of the source text that can be built into a translation. Both also must attend to, and translate, the discursive processes and behavior of performer and audience. Consequently, the productive confluence of the two disciplines is itself an example of the relevance of translation to the scholarly world.