A Translator's Odyssey

Alumna Tomoko Takahashi (Ed.D. '84) reminisces on her career in applied linguistics.

When Tomoko Takahashi (Ed.D. ’84), an applied linguist specializing in the dynamics of second language learning and cross-cultural communication, decided to publish her memoir, Samurai and Cotton, in English, she did the Japanese to English translating. After all, Takahashi has published research on second language acquisition, co-authored with her Teachers College advisor, Leslie Beebe, and textbooks in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China. She’s translated works from English to Japanese — including three by Rosa Parks, the late civil rights icon, who became a close friend.

Also, Samurai and Cotton tells of Takahashi’s father’s and her own journey to the United States. But therein lay the rub. “You care so much because it’s your self-expression,” says Takahashi. Sometimes she groped for the right expression; often, she simply rewrote while translating.

Ultimately, “I became fascinated by self-translation — I felt that I had a book about it in my head,” says Takahashi, who sought guidance from translation theorist Rita Wilson of Australia’s Monash University.

Takahashi is Dean of the Graduate School for Soka University of America in Southern California. She has other responsibilities, including as a Commissioner and accreditation evaluator for the WASC Senior College and University Commission. Still, prompted by her conversations with Wilson, she completed a second doctoral dissertation — “Lost and Found in Self-Translation: Author-Translator’s Re-encounter with the Past, Self, Inner Voice, and Hidden Creativity” — in 2014, 30 years after her TC doctorate.

Her career in applied linguistics rekindled, Takahashi draws inspiration from Parks, whom she often visited. “Here was this national treasure, and I would find her in the kitchen, slicing tomatoes,” she recalls. “There are a lot of memories.” 

— Siddhartha Mitter

Photo credit: Eric Mitsu Kimura

Published Friday, May. 13, 2016

A Translator's Odyssey

Alumna Tomoko Takahashi (Ed.D. '84) reminisces on her career in applied linguistics.

When Tomoko Takahashi (Ed.D. ’84), an applied linguist specializing in the dynamics of second language learning and cross-cultural communication, decided to publish her memoir, Samurai and Cotton, in English, she did the Japanese to English translating. After all, Takahashi has published research on second language acquisition, co-authored with her Teachers College advisor, Leslie Beebe, and textbooks in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China. She’s translated works from English to Japanese — including three by Rosa Parks, the late civil rights icon, who became a close friend.

Also, Samurai and Cotton tells of Takahashi’s father’s and her own journey to the United States. But therein lay the rub. “You care so much because it’s your self-expression,” says Takahashi. Sometimes she groped for the right expression; often, she simply rewrote while translating.

Ultimately, “I became fascinated by self-translation — I felt that I had a book about it in my head,” says Takahashi, who sought guidance from translation theorist Rita Wilson of Australia’s Monash University.

Takahashi is Dean of the Graduate School for Soka University of America in Southern California. She has other responsibilities, including as a Commissioner and accreditation evaluator for the WASC Senior College and University Commission. Still, prompted by her conversations with Wilson, she completed a second doctoral dissertation — “Lost and Found in Self-Translation: Author-Translator’s Re-encounter with the Past, Self, Inner Voice, and Hidden Creativity” — in 2014, 30 years after her TC doctorate.

Her career in applied linguistics rekindled, Takahashi draws inspiration from Parks, whom she often visited. “Here was this national treasure, and I would find her in the kitchen, slicing tomatoes,” she recalls. “There are a lot of memories.” 

— Siddhartha Mitter

Photo credit: Eric Mitsu Kimura

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