Organized Panel Session
It is undeniable that colonial translation and interpreting were embedded within a structure of power hierarchies. Translation becomes a site at which the question of power and colonial authority becomes complicated and forces us to rethink and re-conceptualize the asymmetrical power relation that is often stressed in colonial historiography. The case of colonial Vietnam (1862-1945) illustrates this power dynamic to be unstable and oftentimes fluid, malleable and dictated by situational circumstances, language fluency and personal relationship. Vietnamese interpreters possessed relatively more power compared to the French administrators due to their linguistic ability to communicate more effectively with the colonized population. They oftentimes abused their power by intentionally mis-translating, or non-translating, for personal interests, or to defy colonial power. As such, local interpreters became a threat to the colonial regime, who sought to control and monitor their translation by implementing a regime of translation (from Han-nom to quoc ngu to French) to ensure faithfulness, where mis-translation became a crime, in order to protect the political interests of the colonial regime. This paper examines and critiques the surveillance instruments administered by the French to monitor and discipline both the Vietnamese interpreters and their translations. It will discuss two common patterns of transgressions committed by Vietnamese interpreters and the disciplinary actions employed by the French to punish them. Lastly, the paper discusses a legal case study to highlight the weakness of the translation regime, and its unintended consequences, that the French implemented in their attempt to control the very act of translation itself.