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Bedbugs and grasshoppers: translation and the becoming of the nation-state

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date2014
JournalJournal of Historical Sociology
Early online date29/10/13
Original languageEnglish


How is literally, a nation translated? This paper offers a historiography which looks at translation practices as historical process and practice rather than submitting them to causal explanations with respect to the constitution of the nation-state. It takes as its starting point, two contemporary Malay words negeri (province, state) and negara (country, nation-state) and how they once had opposing definitions. Working with over three hundred years of dictionaries and lexicons, mainly English-Malay dictionaries, the words negeri/negri and negara were translated and defined very differently from current dictionaries. What then happened to these words and how were they understood and translated over time, and in what possible context within the language of post-colonial nation-state formation? What do the processes of translation offer or convey that disrupts the singularity of nations and nationalism? Writings on translation do not necessarily shed any further clarity but they offer a space in which we can think about translating practices and what they enact in the narrative of the nation.