Pierre Dupont’s L’archéologie mône de Dvāravatī and Its English Translation | and the Translator's Response

by Nicolas Revire

Publication: Journal of The Siam Society, Vol. 99, pp 96–225​ | Journal of The Siam Society, Vol. 101, pp 251-252 (2013)

Language : English


This controversy around the translation of Pierre Dupont's essay on the Mon archeology of the Dvaravati arises several questions of note for passionate researchers of Angkor and Southeast Asia, in particular:

- as so many works from French academics and researchers, Dupont's book (based on his PhD thesis (1953) and published after his sudden death two years later) had become hard to find, hence the importance of an English translation, published 50 years after his passing;

- a belated translation is often prone to 'modernize' and 'update' the lexicon and references used in the source book, and this is the main critic Nicolas Revire rises here against the translator, who responded some two years earlier in the columns of the same Journal of The Siam Society (here is Joyanto K. Sen's response);

- translating a modern essay dealing with ancient civilizations in which translation was often an exercise in 'cultural adaptation' -- from Sanskrit to Pali, from both of these languages into local idioms -- seems extraordinarily difficult, and yet necessary. In their 'Translation as Commentary in the Sanskrit-Old, Javanese Didactic and Religious Literature from Java and Bali', Andrea Acri and Thomas M. Hunter* show how translating was, in those times and in this part of the world, essentially "a commentary involving multiple processes simultaneously: first, the translation from an Indo-European language into a local idiom, and second, the exegesis (or reconfiguration) of Indic material and its refitting into a familiar/known cultural context";

- adding new maps, plates and photographs to the source text, as it happened for this English translation published in 2006 (White Lotus Press), might be justified when posterior discoveries have happened since its publication;

- in any case, the controversy brings us to discover or rediscover Pierre Dupont's major contribution to the study of Ancient Southeast Asian, in this case the Mon (or Indic-Mon) culture that strived before the development of Tai kingdoms.

* Published in Medieval Worlds, n. 11, 2020, pp 213-240.

Photo: The Kulavaka Jataka Boundary Marker (Khon Kaen National Museum, Thailand)

About the Author

Nicolas Revire

A specialist in Southeast Asian Buddhism studies, Nicolas Revire is a lecturer at the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Thammasat University, Thailand.

He authored (with Stephen A. Murphy) Before Siam: Essays in Art and Archaeology (2014).