Translatability of Knowledge in Ethnography: The Case of Korean


Thursday, September 24, 2015, 4:30pm to 6:00pm


Belfer Case Study Room (S020), CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

SBS Distinguished Lecture in the Social Sciences

Antonetta L. Bruno, Professor, Istituto Italiano di Studi Orientali, Università di Roma ‘Sapienza’

About the speaker
Publications and area of interest: Most of the publications is focused on the exploration of shamanic language, language strategies, the switching levels of the speech and the emotional transformation of the participants in religious contexts using verbal and nonverbal, including objects. Her interests have since widened in Korean culture, food, film, popular culture. Her interests comprehends linguistic anthropology, religions and popular culture. She is author of The Gate of Words, Language in the Rituals of Korean Shamans, Sociolinguistic Perspective (CNWS, University Leiden Press, 2002). Among other publications, there are contributions to the volume in Korean Religious Practice (Princeton University Press), Canti sciamanici coreani (Torino: UTET, 2006). She is also author of Corso di Lingua coreana (Hoepli) and Metodologia di traduzione tra coreano-italiano e viceversa (La Sapienza Orientalia).

Titles and present position: 2011-2015 President of AKSE (Association of Korean Studies in Europe). 2011-2015 Chairperson of Korea Foundation Fellowship Committee for EU. Since 2008 to present Board Member Abroad, Korean Society of Cultural Anthropology. 2010-2012 Member of Commissione Ricerca Scientifica dell‘Universitá di Roma “Sapienza” and Board member of many international journals. 

Academic background: 1997 Completed Ph.D. courses at Seoul National University, Department of Anthropology, tutor Wang Han-sok, Linguistic Anthropology. 2002 obtained Ph.D. title at the Centre for Korean Studies, University of Leiden, The Netherlands. Since 2006 Associate Professor at Italian Institute of Oriental Studies, University of Roma Sapienza. In 2012 she has successfully passed Habitation for the position of Full Professorship.

Chaired by Nicholas Harkness, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Harvard University 

In anthropology notions mostly conveyed through principles and activities of translation embrace universes of thoughts and acts: knowledge, meanings, authorship, authority, self-reflection, “thick” translation, gloss, transfer of non-verbal to verbal, oral to written, involving various processes of transmutation and transformation. This constitutes the daily practice of an ethnographer, both inside and outside of fieldwork, through interviews, data-gathering, interpreting and translating, comparing linguistic-cultural semantics and pragmatics in contextual settings, and transferring them into the ethnographer’s world. Translation is more about transferring concepts and meanings from one mental scheme to another. The goal of this paper is, in the first part, to outline a few key concepts that in my opinion function as a theoretical background for reading and analysing the second part, which is based on empirical data of Korean shamanism. The key concepts discuss translation problems in settings where language is deliberately opaque, as in the speech of Korean shamans, which is characterized by continual, relatively unmarked vocal shifts, the resulting in an ambiguous – and, for the anthropologist-translator, problematic – speech pattern.

Keywords: translatability, intertextuality, incommutability, interpretative guessing.

Supported by the Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS) Endowment for Korean Studies at the Korea Institute, Harvard University