UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Voice in text : translating orality in Robert Bringhurst's A Story as Sharp as a Knife, Harry Robinson's Write it on Your Heart, and War Party's The Reign Watkins, Paul


Voice in Text investigates the process of translation that occurs when transmitting oral stories into a written framework with the intention to bridge the gaps that exist between oral traditions and technological scholarship. This thesis explores the potential motives behind Robert Bringhurst’s retranslation of John Swanton’s Haida texts, Wendy Wickwire’s transcription of Harry Robinson’s stories onto the page, and War Party’s use of Hip Hop as an expression of Native identity. Translating (one culture into another and the spoken into the written) can be used as a tactic to reinscribe cultural priorities and also to enact resistance. A storyteller’s allowance of the transcription and translation of their stories can be read as a plea for a listening that functions cross-culturally, a listening in which we can gradually learn to hear the storyteller’s voice in a written context. I apply theories of hybridity and intersubjective approaches to listening in my investigation to uncover how the translator and storyteller engage in a cross-cultural mode of transformation. Because of the highly sensitive nature of translating First Nations literature into a European poetic context, as both Bringhurst and Wickwire do, I explore some of the debates surrounding cultural appropriation, as well as show how potential divergences between written and oral practices interact to question what constitutes a respectful rendering of another culture. In many cases, writing and orality can function within a unified synthesis that reflects the priorities of both mediums simultaneously. Ultimately, this project is intended to provide an ethical approach to listening, an approach that places responsibility on a reader’s own approach to a text, in order to show that a sensitive reading is itself a process that involves a highly dialogic and integral role in the process of uncovering a human voice in text.

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