Motherless Tongues

The Insurgency of Language amid Wars of Translation

Motherless Tongues

Book Pages: 272 Illustrations: 13 illustrations Published: April 2016

American Studies, Asian Studies, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

In Motherless Tongues, Vicente L. Rafael examines the vexed relationship between language and history gleaned from the workings of translation in the Philippines, the United States, and beyond. Moving across a range of colonial and postcolonial settings, he demonstrates translation's agency in the making and understanding of events. These include nationalist efforts to vernacularize politics, U.S. projects to weaponize languages in wartime, and autobiographical attempts by area studies scholars to translate the otherness of their lives amid the Cold War. In all cases, translation is at war with itself, generating divergent effects. It deploys as well as distorts American English in counterinsurgency and colonial education, for example, just as it re-articulates European notions of sovereignty among Filipino revolutionaries in the nineteenth century and spurs the circulation of text messages in a civilian-driven coup in the twenty-first. Along the way, Rafael delineates the untranslatable that inheres in every act of translation, asking about the politics and ethics of uneven linguistic and semiotic exchanges. Mapping those moments where translation and historical imagination give rise to one another, Motherless Tongues shows how translation, in unleashing the insurgency of language, simultaneously sustains and subverts regimes of knowledge and relations of power. 


"Vincente Rafael's latest work, Motherless Tongues, brings an innovative perspective to the field of translation studies." — Marianna Deganutti, Target

"Motherless Tongues is a revelatory and lucid rejection of the delusions of control of language flows implicit in the work of many a translation studies scholar. Amidst the continued hegemony of research moulded by the reassuring stability of different types of social and ideological structures, Rafael’s superbly written book illuminates the counterpoint: translation as site for the everyday expression of dissent, subversion and insurgency." — Luis Pérez-González, The Translator

“We might take this volume as the author’s masterpiece in the understanding of translation as the 'relations of power' of the plurality of languages – vernacular, Spanish and English – by traversing two cultural milieus between the Philippines and the United States.”

— Yoshiko Nagano, International Journal of Asian Studies

Motherless Tongues not only demonstrates what a rich ecosystem the Philippines is for thinking through translation, but also offers a new and productive way to think about the relationship between translation and language.”

— Jessica Gross, Journal of Asian Studies

“A valuable contribution to translation studies, especially in relation to Philippine history and culture, American empire critique, and area studies. . . . Rafael’s gifts as an essayist are on full display: his prose is typified by equal parts charge and clarity; the gravity of colonization and empire is counterpointed by the lucidity and brio of his prose.” — Vincenz Serrano, Southeast Asian Studies

“Among the most notable aspects of the author’s approach in Motherless Tongues is that it is scholarly, theoretically vivid, and, at the same time, deeply personal. . . . The world of Motherless Tongues is encouraging to a degree that is, perhaps, even beyond the author’s intentions stated at the outset.” — William B. Noseworthy, Pacific Affairs

“An excellent collection. . . . Rafael demonstrates that translation is a versatile and complex concept capable of producing both broad generalizations and intricately detailed historical arguments.” — Lanny Thompson, Journal of American History

"[Rafael] is a perspicacious observer of culture whose discernments constantly open up new vistas." — Ilan Stavans, Latin American Research Review

"In this rich compendium, Vicente L. Rafael continues to teach us how to think about the long, unpredictable afterlives of empire—their entangled, translingual socioscapes, their webs of attraction, their insurgent, untameable energies. His pages are populated by intellects of remarkable imagination and insight, including, above all, his own."  — Mary Louise Pratt, author of Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation

"Motherless Tongues presents the most compelling and deft analyses of the role of translation in the contexts of revolution, revolt, war, and empire in the Philippines and the United States. No work of this kind brings the Philippines and the United States together with its singular attention to the politics of translation, or with the kind of deep linguistic and cultural fluency that Vicente L. Rafael possesses. A significant figure in translation studies, Rafael is positioned to open new pathways to thinking about what translation brings to light in the contemporary moment."  — Neferti X. M. Tadiar, author of Things Fall Away: Philippine Historical Experience and the Makings of Globalization


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Price: $26.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Vicente L. Rafael is Professor of History at the University of Washington. His books include The Promise of the Foreign, White Love and Other Events in Filipino History, and Contracting Colonialism, all also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  xi

Introduction. The Aporia of Translation  1

Part I. Vernacularizing the Political

1. Welcoming What Comes: Translating Sovereignty in the Revolutionary Philippines  21

2. Wars of Translation: American English, Colonial Schooling,and Tagalog Slang  43

3. The Cell Phone and the Crowd: Messianic Politics in the EDSA II Uprising  70

Part II. Weaponizing Babel

4. Translation, American English, and the National Insecurities of Empire  99

5. Targeting Translation: Counterinsurgency and the Weaponization of Language  120

Part III. Translating Lives

6. The Accidents of Area Studies: Benedict Anderson and Arjun Appadurai  149

7. Contracting Nostalgia: On Renato Rosaldo  162

8. Language, History, and Autobiograhy: Becoming Reynaldo Ileto  173

9. Interview: Translation Speaks with Vicente Rafael  189

Notes  203

Bibliography  233

Index  247
Sales/Territorial Rights: World exc Philippines

Rights and licensing

Finalist, Philippines National Book Award, Best Essays in English category

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6074-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6058-2
Publicity material