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Krog, A. (2008). My Heart is on My Tongue: The Untranslated Self in a Translated World. J. Anal. Psychol., 53(2):225-239.

(2008). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 53(2):225-239

My Heart is on My Tongue: The Untranslated Self in a Translated World

Antjie Krog

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was the first body to provide translation in all the languages of the country, setting people free from groping around with distorted tongues, unable to see, talk or hear one another…After three centuries of silence South Africans could daily hear the black voice talking and being translated; for the first time white South Africans could hear and listen. Through translation we could access our deepest emotions and feelings.

But among the two thousand testimonies there were some that were incomprehensible, that confirmed every racial stereotype built up over many years of apartheid. What does one do with these ‘untranslatable’ narratives? This paper looks at one TRC testimony and one Bushmen story, both of them translated from indigenous languages and both posing enormous moral dilemmas. Read in a particular way, the Bushmen story seems to say that they had no sense of responsibility. I will look at the story in its cultural context as revealed through translation to see if another conclusion is possible. In the TRC testimony, I and two colleagues looked at the slippages between the original Xhosa testimony and the interpreted version and explore the consequences thereof.

I want to make the point that a narrative can be experienced as discriminatory and ethically problematic when read through a particular, in this case a western, perspective. But the moment there is an attempt to interpret the narrative via its embeddedness in an indigenous worldview, it becomes breathtakingly ethical, fair and logical.

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