Vicente Rafael sees language as a historical agent of colonization. Translation plays a crucial and inevitable role in this dynamics. In the struggle to maintain control over linguistic plurality, translation is always at war. Yet, translation is also crucial in dismantling the discourse propagated by whoever holds the greater power. Thus, translation can play a part in emancipating the oppressed.
Rafael comments generally on the colonial language's relentless pursuit of dominance, but in spite of this, what persists, both in speech and writing for the colonized, is an accent revealing the existence of another language within the imposed tongue. Confusion is the product of an 'imposition,' and this sways from an affirmation of one's national identity to its denial. In the process, a hybrid identity will be forged, but this identity will not be able to completely go beyond the bounds of nationality.
"Next to Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities, Professor Vicente L. Rafael's work on translation and conversion is statistically the most cited scholarly work in various studies of the Philippines. His work and its approach has been used in South east Asian studies on comparative colonialism and nationalism, language and power, translation and the historical imagination and the comparative formation of the post-colonial humanities." Masterclass Brochure, Center of South East Asian Studies, May 15, 2018
In translation, how is the "final Text" a "tool of the empire"?
In translating fiction for example from a Philippine language into English, the question isn't anymore why but when. The sooner translation is done, the better because there is no other way a Filipino language text will reach a global audience. The final text will be in English, so that even if marginalization occurs in the world republic of letters, language won't be the main reason for exclusion.
The final text, in English, hopes to cross the borders of imperial dominance of everything English [in colonial context, American], by insisting on its Filipino-ness in a language that isn't native to its shores. The translation has to meet the requirements of English-ness in all its technical expertise, and delivers, hopefully, a novel experience to foreign shores. The motivation in translation is the fight to gain recognition overseas of a national experience. Otherwise, why even translate if all that will be transferred is an experience merely echoing a Western narrative, proving an erasure of a native culture.
But there are other local ways of erasing a culture. Vicente Rafael's 'final text' can also be that language, not necessarily English, which dominates a culture. In the case of The Philippines, for example, Manila Tagalog is preferred in the Tagalog region, because almost every literary pursuit is judged and evaluated by academic gurus in major universities in Manila. 'Imperial Manila' was coined to mean a way of marginalizing regional experiences and narratives. But this has become less an issue now because other Philippine regions have been actively promoting their regional literatures, and writers have not been slack in publishing books in their Filipino languages. So where does the imperialism lie now?
Vicente Rafael posits that for the sake of a universal understanding, translation may go the pluralist route and transcend differences. But whose plurality? What language is a final representation of the multitude of tongues? The other question is 'what will be given the priority of translation?'.
Since there are more novels in Tagalog in the Philippine literary canon, a representation of regional literatures through English translation is immaterial. Soledad Reyes, a Filipino critic, translated many classic novels into English. "Classic" here is a general description for novels and other literary works that are already considered part of the 'canon' of Philippine literature, and they are all in Tagalog.
Why translate those works into English? It is because this intervention is necessary to capture a huge percentage of the population who prefer reading western fiction to perusing novels in their own language. And this is now the 'imperial' stance, that whoever is holding the biggest slice of the market will always have the final say on what will be translated, sold and bought.
Soledad Reyes translates into English because this language has indeed become, in Vicente Rafael's words, "the final text." All other texts have become "in-between" texts. For the Filipino writer who needs to become more present in the global interchange, interventions represented by one, final language, that is, English, may still sound limiting, but then, English is the lingua franca of the present world.
As a supplier of interpretation and transposition of texts the translator is expected to produce, for the target user, translations that is faithful to the meaning of the source texts. In requiring a translation from any language into Tagalog for example, the source expects zero deviation and accuracy, and more so in its tone and affect. In an oppressive agenda, a justification of the choices for equivalents is sometimes required to satisfy imperial designs and intentions. The subversive response is to insist against formula or standards, or even canonized equivalents.
The translator's task is to allow a smooth communication of text as generated by the source, via a language that will yield a near-similar experience to the target. The translator as bridge in this process, annihilates personal preferences that registers culture, orientation, and idiomatic expressions. The translator works toward a final text, from the point of view of the target reader as defined by the source.
In the case of an English into Tagalog translation, the translator allows 'the native' Tagalog dialect to become "assimilated" into the "imperialism" of Manila Tagalog simply because this is a crucial aspect of communication, according to the source. In the process, the translator wages "war" against her pride and ear for her language from birth, in this case, a Tagalog dialect. Then the translation adopts the assimilated codes to come up with equivalents that progressively make up what will be perceived as "Filipino." The translator bends to preferred equivalents touted as more correct in the light of new debates going on in the development of the Filipino language.
While the translator naturally longs to go back to the tribe' and anchor herself in the originality of native expressions, yielding to this desire will apparently result in confusion. Why do this at all? Why insist on the "I" when messages are always meant to be decoded, understood and applied beyond regional limits?
Five translators of English into Tagalog will yield five different translations. Native dialects will initially resist a 'hybrid' that is "Manila Tagalog." Or many Tagalog variations in Southern Luzon notwithstanding, Bulacan and Nueva Ecija Tagalog may also dominate the literary spectrum, somehow marginalizing the Southern varieties.
Therefore, with a lot of adjustments happening in the translation to accommodate a notion of a perceived language preference. an imperial imposition is not farfetched. Imperial here being what finally wins or upheld in the power play of what final language to use in what Vicente Rafael calls the 'favored discourse'.