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Postcolonial Translation: Robinson, Cohn and Raj’ Views Essay (Critical Writing)


The main argument of the Robinson is that, translation is a powerful way in which the colonialists utilized to conquer their subjects and form empires. Translation involves accurate interpretation of one language into another to allow effective communication while an empire is a political, military and economic system that dominates nations. The colonialists not only used translation as the way of effective communication with their subjects but also as a way of subjecting and converting their subjects to suite their political interests. The colonialists selected and trained translators to mediate the communication between them and their subjects.

The main argument of the Cohn is that, the Europeans conquered and ruled Indians by use of the literary knowledge. The Europeans learned the Indians’ knowledge, culture and traditions, and then transformed them by translation to suite their interests. The Europeans believed that conquering literature translation would enhance their rule over the Indians and that why they establish a publishing company. To conquer the Indians, the Europeans learned their traditions culture and the knowledge, and incorporated the Roman and Greek knowledge as a way of civilization.

The Europeans then supported the Indian’s educational, religious and literary specialists in the publication and transmission of the Indians’ traditions and culture. Europeans support made them appear as the custodians of the Indian traditions and culture. The question is why did the Indian scholars become the instruments of conquest? The Indian scholars entrusted their traditions and culture into the hands of the Europeans, which led to their employment in the East India Company where they translated their culture and traditions according to the dictates of the Europeans, hence they become the instruments of literary conquest.

The main argument of Raj is that, the work of William Jones is the cornerstone of the Orientalism. The purpose of the Orientalism was to convert the Indian forms of knowledge and subject them to the western powers of the knowledge. William Jones made it possible to subject Indians to their knowledge because he was a prolific writer of linguistic and philosophy.

He later becomes the high court judge where he influenced the development of colleges where the officers of his printing company learned languages, philosophies and languages. These colleges and the printing company transformed the Indians into the subjects and objects of colonial knowledge. Why did the Indians failed to establish their learning institutions? William Jones and the East India Company influenced the Indians to embrace the western knowledge thus the Europeans through establishment of the learning institutions led the scientific revolution.

The arguments of the Robinson, Cohn and Raj agree that the colonialists used language and knowledge to rule their subjects. Robison argues that, “…the translation has always been an indispensable channel of imperial conquest and occupation” (8) and he further supports that, “one of the earliest areas of concern in the history of translation as empire was the selection and training of the interpreters to mediate between the colonizer and the colonized” (10).

These arguments agree with the Cohn’s argument of translation and publication of the knowledge materials saying that, “these archival publications are a tribute to the extraordinary labors of thousands of employees of the Company who produced this seemingly endless store of information” (16). He further qualifies that, “…the tribute in print and manuscript is that of the complicated and complex forms of knowledge created by the Indians, but codified and transmitted by the Europeans” (16).

On his argument, Raj concludes that Orientalism helped in “converting Indian forms of Knowledge into European objects” (204) and British conquerors … reduced them to passive objects of what is termed ’colonial knowledge’, opening the way to the imposition of European categories upon their traditional beliefs and social practices” (208). Thus, language translation was used as a means of transforming the knowledge of the subjects.

Robison, Cohn and Raj are very biased in depicting Indians scholars and ordinary Indians as very flexible in that the Europeans can easily change their culture and traditions. Robinson argues that during translation “the native author or culture is perceived as passive” (44). This leads to the assumption that, “the native author is imagined as having no power to create or even influence the translation” (45). Cohn argues that since “there were no patronage for literary and scholarly research on oriental languages” (21) hence, “the British believed that they could conquer this space through translation” (53).

Raj is depicting the ease of “converting Indian forms of knowledge” (204) and showing Indians as “informants persuaded to reveal their traditions to the British conquerors who in turn reduced them to passive objects of what is termed ’colonial knowledge’, opening the way to the imposition of European categories upon their traditional beliefs and social practices” (208). These are the biases that portray Indians as weak and flexible to the influence of the colonialists.

Robinson argues that the translation is a powerful way of establishing power over the subjects in an empire. In order for the colonialists to conquer other nations, they translated their languages for the effective communication. The communication provides the means of making the people in the empire be the subjects of the colonialists due to the effective communication. The colonialists established institutions where they trained translators who will be used as to achieve their interests.

Cohn argues that the Europeans conquered the Indians by changing their traditions and culture through translation. At first, the Europeans seemed to support the conservation of the Indian culture and traditions thus they behaved as the custodians. Then after being entrusted as the custodians of the Indians’ culture and traditions, the Europeans used Greek, Latin and Indian scholars in the comparative studies of the law, religion and the Indian society in order to effectively translate the traditions and the culture of the Indians to suite their interests. In the end, the Europeans conquer the Indians by changing their culture and traditions hence giving them a gift of history.

Raj agrees with the arguments of both Robinson and Cohn, and further explains how William Jones establish his strong influence over the Indians’ institutions of learning with aim of converting Indians to be the subjects of the western power of knowledge. William managed to convert Indians into objects of European power, as his work became the cornerstone of the oriental empire.

Works Cited

Cohn, Bernard. “The command of Language and the Language of Command.” The British in India: Princeton University Press, 1996. 16-56.

Raj, Kapil. “Refashioning Civilities, Engineering Trust: William Jones, Indian Intermediaries and the Production of Reliable Legal Knowledge in Late Eighteenth-century Bengal.” Studies in History. New Delhi: SAGE Publication, 2001. !75-209.

Robinson, Douglas. “Translation and Empire: Postcolonial Theories Explained.” 8-45.

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IvyPanda. (2020, June 24). Postcolonial Translation: Robinson, Cohn and Raj' Views. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/postcolonial-translation-robinson-cohn-and-raj-views/

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"Postcolonial Translation: Robinson, Cohn and Raj' Views." IvyPanda, 24 June 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/postcolonial-translation-robinson-cohn-and-raj-views/.

1. IvyPanda. "Postcolonial Translation: Robinson, Cohn and Raj' Views." June 24, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/postcolonial-translation-robinson-cohn-and-raj-views/.


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IvyPanda. "Postcolonial Translation: Robinson, Cohn and Raj' Views." June 24, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/postcolonial-translation-robinson-cohn-and-raj-views/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Postcolonial Translation: Robinson, Cohn and Raj' Views." June 24, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/postcolonial-translation-robinson-cohn-and-raj-views/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Postcolonial Translation: Robinson, Cohn and Raj' Views'. 24 June.

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