Translation and the development of a cultural identity

Translation doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but in a continuum; it is not an isolated act, it is part of an ongoing process of intercultural transfer. Moreover, translation is a highly manipulative activity that involves all kinds of stages in that process of transfer across linguistic and cultural boundaries. Translation is not an innocent, transparent activity but is highly charged with significance at every stage; it rarely, if ever, involves a relationship of equality between texts, authors or systems. (Bassnett, 1990)

In the 1990s, studies in Translation experienced a major breakthrough with the development of Post-Colonial Translation Studies, in which, according to Susan Bassnet and André Lefevere, “neither the word, nor the text, but the culture becomes the operational ‘unit’ of translation” (Lefevere and Bassnett 1990: 8). Translations, like literary works themselves, do not exist without a context and a culture that defines and shapes them, and to which development and shaping they can also contribute.

Taking the Post-Colonial Translation Studies as a theoretical frame, and understanding its critical importance for peripheral languages such as Galician in Spain, I am focusing my research on translation and the development of cultural identity in the figure of Plácido Castro, prominent Galician intellectual and translator who carried out translations of many works by Irish, Scottish and English writers and expressed his desire to develop Galician identity within the frame of Celtic cultures.

In my research I explore a number of questions concerning translation and the development of identity, focusing on Castro’s translations and the context in which they were carried out. Firstly, I would like to ascertain the reasons that encouraged Plácido Castro to translate into Galician. I expect to find a desire to influence in Galician identity and political life, as well as a drive to enrich the Galician literary scene at the time. Plácido was very active in the Galician political life before the Spanish Civil War, and at that time he translated, along with Antón Villar Ponte, Yeats’ dramas Cathleen ni Houlihan and The Land of Heart’s Desire. Both pieces are clearly identified with Ireland and its nationalist cause, which, for the Galician intellectuals of the time, was the perfect frame in which to formulate Galicia’s Celtic identity. However, after the Spanish Civil War, Castro withdraws from political life and focuses on essays and articles about literature, as well as on the translation of poetry. Many of his translations of Irish, Scottish and English poets, such as Yeats, Christina Rossetti and many others originated around this time. He publishes Poesía inglesa e francesa verquida ao galego, along with Lois Tobío and Delgado Gurriarán, and the translation of the Rubáiyat, by Omar Khayyám, from its English translation by Edward Fitzgerald. What arouses the change from drama to poetry in Plácido? Is it only because, as he himself affirms, “There is no language that could defeat Galician in poetic qualities and possibilities” (Ríos, 2013, the translation is mine)? Or is he still trying to contribute to the creation of a Celtic identity through a different channel? Why does he focus mostly on Irish poets, as well as on the Rubáiyat, which was not written in English originally?

Lastly, I would like to explore the impact of these translations in Galician society at the time, as well as their extended impact in the development of Galician identity both past and present. Have Castro’s translations contributed to the self-assertion of the Galician culture and the development of the Celtic identity that he refers to in many of his essays and journalistic writings?


Bassnett, Susan and Harish Trivedi (editors). (1999) Post-Colonial Translation: Theory and Practice. London: Routledge.
Castro, P. (1928) La saudade y el arte en los pueblos célticos. El Pueblo Gallego.
Fundación Plácido Castro (2014) Plácido Castro Ramón del Río. [Website, last consult on 20/11/2014].
Lefevere, A. and Bassnett, S. (1990). “Introduction: Proust’s Grandmother and the Thousand and One Nights: The Cultural Turn in Translation Studies”, in Translation, History & Culture. London: Cassell.
Millán, C. (1997) “Nationalism vs. universalism in the 1926 Galician fragments of Ulysses”, in Galician Review 1, 1997.
Ríos, X. (editor) (2013). 101 Máximas e Reflexións de Plácido Castro. IGADI.
Tymoczko, M. (2002) “Translation and Political Engagement: Activism, Social Change and the Role of Translation in Geopolitical Shifts”, in The Translator: Volume 6, Number 1.

1 thought on “Translation and the development of a cultural identity

  1. This is a wonderful subject area. Translations are always super interesting because a good translation of a text is never an exact copy in another language but a full rewriting of the thing which is done in the same spirit, tone, et cet, which raises a holy host of issues (translators do not get nearly enough credit, good ones, i mean); and then there’s all that stuff about characters and plots designed for one marketplace and how they are perceived and received in another). Also, I was in Galicia a few years back (i walked from one side of it to the other) and it is astonishing how irish-like Galicia is, people’s faces and the way they dress (especially country people), the music (pipes and fiddles and sean-nos singing and the like), even the farm yards (along with, of course, the weather and the landscape). I’ve always believed that ethnicities were social constructs, but Galicia rocked me on this point. Best wishes with all, and Merry Christmas, P.


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