Latino Studies Self-Translation
Eva Gentes, Trish Van Bolderen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 February 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0104


As a literary phenomenon, self-translation (formerly “auto-translation”) involves an author translating their own literary work into another language and text. While this definition is not unchallenged—as illustrated by contributions in Cordingley 2013 (cited under General Reference Sources) that define writing in secondary languages as “mental self-translation”—this article focuses solely on this initially proposed definition since it remains the most common. Contrary to popular belief, this practice has enjoyed a long, rich history, predating the Middle Ages, involving countless writers, and occurring worldwide. While relatively new, this area of scholarly interest is also increasingly popular. Research into literary self-translation among Latino authors in the United States is nonetheless lacking. The United States might be expected to house numerous Latino self-translators, particularly given the country’s many linguistic and cultural contact zones (e.g., Puerto Rico, the Mexico-US border), its influx of migrants from Spanish-speaking countries, and the considerable Latino population size, not to mention political tensions surrounding disproportionate Latino representation within broader society. All of these conditions conceivably stimulate bilingual writing and generate potential audiences. Thus far, however, few Latino self-translators are recognized as such. Twenty are referenced here, yet the works of only five have received critical attention as self-translations. While three of the twenty grew up on the Mexico-US border (Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, Roberta Fernández, Sabine R. Ulibarrí), most are migrants. Two (Alberto Ferreras, Andrés Berger-Kiss) grew up in South America but were born elsewhere (Madrid and Hungary, respectively); one (Manuel Puig) lived only a short time in the United States, arriving from Argentina, departing for Mexico. Two self-translators (Rosario Ferré, Esmeralda Santiago) emigrated back to their Puerto Rican birthplace, although Santiago later left Puerto Rico again; one (Ariel Dorfman) came to the United States twice as a political exile (once from Argentina, once from Chile) before becoming a transmigrant, moving back and forth between South and North America. The remaining Latino self-translators migrated once, staying in the United States: some arrived from Cuba (Gustavo Pérez-Firmat, Ruth Behar, Teresa Bevin, Carlos Rubio Albet); others from Puerto Rico (Miguel Algarín, Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, Noel Urayoán); others still from Mexico (Jorge H. Aigla, María Amparo Escandón, Miguel Gonzales-Gerth, Antonio Ruiz-Camacho). This article focuses on contemporary writers from the 20th and 21st centuries who self-translated while living in the United States. It excludes children’s literature, literature for young adults, instances of collaborative translation, and self-translations where the original or translation is unpublished.

General Reference Sources

In its beginnings, the study of literary self-translation focused solely on a few prominent migrant self-translators (e.g., Samuel Beckett and Vladimir Nabokov) and was typically discussed within comparative literary studies and as a bilingual writing strategy. More systematic research emerged around the turn of the millennium and has gained particular momentum over the past five to ten years. Today, self-translation is predominantly studied within the field of translation studies and, foremost, as a translation phenomenon. Despite increasing research by Japanese and Chinese scholars, non-Western findings and self-translators are overwhelmingly underrepresented in general reference sources (see Gentes 2017, cited under Bibliographies), and self-translation research consequently tends to be confined to Western understandings of translation, literature, and bilingualism. The spike in popularity is evident in the emergence of the new term “self-translation studies” (see Anselmi 2012), and in the recognition the topic is now garnering outside the immediate realm of this scholarship. For one, it is the sole focus of a recent International Association for Translation and Intercultural Studies yearbook (Cordingley 2013), in which self-translation is examined from numerous angles (e.g., ethical, sociological, philosophical, psychoanalytic). Moreover, Grutman and Van Bolderen 2014—which effectively expands on Grutman 2009, providing an updated summary of the principal issues surrounding self-translation (e.g., frequency, timing, presentation, and language directionality of the texts)—marks the first time an entry on self-translation has been included in a translation studies companion. Recuenco Peñalver 2011 provides an introduction to several aspects of self-translation, outlining them in a first typology. That self-translation is under discussion from various perspectives is illustrated by the following publications. Hokenson and Munson 2007 is the first monographic study to situate self-translation, as both a practice and a theoretical object, within its long and complex historical context. Oustinoff 2001 focuses on the translation strategies adopted by self-translators. Anselmi 2012 examines the reasons for self-translating and the transfer strategies used by self-translators. Dasilva 2011 addresses the visibility of self-translations, as explored through paratextual analyses. Cordingley 2013 also examines the way self-translations are presented, namely considering the role and impact of bilingual editions (see articles by Corinna Krause and Mark Gibeau). These last two publications are among those demonstrating that self-translation is practiced not exclusively by migrants, but also by writers in multilingual societies (e.g., Spain [Galicia], Scotland, Japan). With self-translation research still in its exploratory stages, these publications show that scholars continue to map out its conceptual and theoretical terrain.

  • Anselmi, Simona. On Self-Translation: An Exploration in Self-Translators’ Teloi and Strategies. Milan: LED Edizioni Universitarie, 2012.

    Concise and comprehensive overview of the notion, practice, and theory of self-translation, contextualized within the broader field of translation studies. Categorizes the reasons motivating self-translation, identifies intertextual transfer strategies used by self-translators, and coins the term “self-translation studies” in reference to this branch of research.

  • Cordingley, Anthony, ed. Self-Translation: Brokering Originality in Hybrid Culture. London: Continuum, 2013.

    An insightful collection of twelve articles, including writings by several leading self-translation scholars. Considers multiple definitions of self-translation; examines the notion, its practices, and its implications from a variety of complementary as well as conflicting perspectives; includes case studies as well as more general analyses. Comprehensive, engaging, well-written.

  • Dasilva, Xosé Manuel. “La autotraducción transparente y la autotraducción opaca.” In Aproximaciones a la autotraducción. Edited by Xosé Manuel Dasilva and Helena Tanqueiro, 45–68. Vigo, Spain: Editorial Academia del Hispanismo, 2011.

    Discusses the extent to which self-translations are presented as self-translations in Galicia; defines them as “transparent” or “opaque.” Provides numerous examples. Explores why the self-translation status is asserted or concealed, referencing interlinguistic power relations, the self-translator’s multifaceted persona, and writers’ self-representation. Important for appreciating the significance of paratextual material.

  • Grutman, Rainier. “Self-Translation.” In Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. 2d ed. Edited by Mona Baker and Gabriela Saldanha, 257–260. London: Routledge, 2009.

    The most cited source in self-translation studies. Updated version of the “auto-translation” entry (also by Grutman) in the first edition of the encyclopedia (London: Routledge, 1998), i.e., the first comprehensive encyclopedia entry within translation studies devoted to self-translation. Coins the terms “consecutive” (formerly “delayed”) and “simultaneous” self-translation.

  • Grutman, Rainier, and Trish Van Bolderen. “Self-Translation.” In A Companion to Translation Studies. Edited by Sandra Bermann and Catherine Porter, 323–332. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781118613504

    Extended comprehensive entry; very useful introduction to self-translation. Identifies the particularities of self-translation, framing its status in terms of the notions of “authority” and “agency”; presents reasons writers do and do not self-translate; discusses self-translation as a process and a product. Provides a helpful list of further readings.

  • Hokenson, Jan Walsh, and Marcella Munson. The Bilingual Text: History and Theory of Literary Self-Translation. Manchester, UK: St. Jerome, 2007.

    Detailed historical study of bilingual writing and self-translation in the West from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, with acknowledged privileging of French language and culture. Discusses self-translation chronologically in relation to translation; chapters conclude with substantial descriptions of selected self-translators, including Rosario Ferré. Useful for more advanced research.

  • Oustinoff, Michaël. Bilinguisme d’écriture et auto-traduction: Julien Green, Samuel Beckett, Vladimir Nabokov. Paris: L’Hharmattan, 2001.

    In his study of three prominent self-translators (Green, Beckett, Nabokov), Oustinoff establishes a first typology of self-translation strategies comprised of: (1) naturalizing self-translation (auto-traduction naturalisante), (2) decentered self-translation (auto-traduction décentrée) and (3) (re)creative self-translation (auto-traduction (re)créatrice). Examines self-translation from a linguistic perspective. One of the first monographs devoted to self-translation.

  • Recuenco Peñalver, María. “Más allá de la traducción: La autotraducción.” Trans 15 (2011): 193–208.

    A thoughtful, well-documented survey of self-translation, emphasizing its long tradition and, most significantly, proposing a first thorough typology, incorporating eight categories for describing self-translations. Also catalogues an extensive number of self-translators, outlines perceptions of translation and self-translation, discusses challenges of evaluating self-translations, and identifies reasons writers do and do not self-translate.

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