Translation: Sameness, Likeness and Match

08 Dec 2017 3:44 PM | Shelley Fairweather-Vega (Administrator)

Translation: Sameness, Likeness and Match

By Viktor Slepovitch, Ph.D.

Viktor Slepovitch is Associate Professor and Department Chair at the Department of Business English, Belarus State Economic University, Minsk, Belarus, and Principal Consultant for Washington Translation Bureau (a NOTIS corporate member).

Dr. Slepovitch reviews the “Translating Europe” 4th International Conference, October 5-6, 2017, Vilnius University, Lithuania.

A very special event for translators, interpreters, and academics occurred this past October to mark the 20th anniversary of the Department of Translation and Interpretation Studies of Vilnius University. Vilnius University is the oldest institution of higher education in Lithuania.

The Department Chair, Professor Nijole Maskaliuniene, and the faculty, in collaboration with the European Commission's Directorate-General for Translation, did a tremendous job arranging this large-scale conference on translation issues, which brought in participants from 17 countries. It was indeed a privilege for me to participate in the capacity of presenter alongside other professionals in the field.

Plenary speakers were carefully selected to meet the interests and expectations of the audience. They included Pietro U. Dini (University of Pisa, Italy), Luc van Doorslater (University of Leuven, Belgium), Filip Majcen (Directorate General for Interpretation (DGI), European Commission), and Robin Setton (International Association of Conference Interpreters).

Apart from the plenary speakers and presenters who delivered papers in parallel sections, there were workshops for students and freelance translators that focused on translator competencies and skills in the contemporary labor market, as well as on practical aspects of the work, including case studies. These workshops were run by representatives of the European Commission’s DGI and the translation agency Alumnus.

In this short review, I would like to share with you the most insightful and mind-broadening ideas expressed by the keynote speakers Luc van Doorslater and Robin Setton, who reported research findings which truly became food for thought and the subject of discussions among the conference participants.

Professor Luc van Doorslater of the University of Leuven started his presentation, “Media translation and imagology: Translation in newsrooms and image building,” by commenting on how blurry the concept of ‘nation’ is from a research perspective. He then drew the audience’s attention to the issue of languages as framing factors for images and identities. This was followed by his observations on the extended subject of translation studies. Van Doorslater continued by exploring new fields in which the translation process is applied, including migration/assimilation as translation, identity development as translation, travel as translation, and news processes in the media as translation.

Imagology/image studies for translation purposes, according to Doorslater, focus on the cultural representation of otherness: of a country/state/people in the literature of another country, as well as extra-literary sources and the importance of para- and metatexts. In the example of France, he identified the following positive and negative constants that turned out to be contradictions in the national representation: civil behavior, verbal eloquence, and refined social manners (positive) vs. arrogance, showiness, and vanity (negative).

Finally, Doorslater highlighted a challenge for media translators, which he called the automaticity of stereotyping. Translation problems in journalists’ texts are related to all kinds of stereotypes that are in place due to the journalists being poorly informed, which results in an “overabundance of nationality-related stereotypes.”

Robin Setton (International Association of Conference Interpreters) delivered an “Update on (advanced) conference interpreter training.” He started with what many consider to be “threats to the profession of conference interpreter.” The number one “threat” is that more people are now fluent in English and do not need interpretation. This is the result of the combination of ELF (English as a lingua franca), or Globish, with media exposure. ELF (Globish) is now a basic business tool, like a smartphone. Meetings conducted only in ELF run more quickly and smoothly, but the exchange of ideas may be superficial and unequal. The number two “threat” is machine translation.

The largest market for interpreters worldwide is now bilingual, being mainly that between a local (national) language and English. The conditions under which conference interpreters must operate range mostly between reading a prepared text (which is easier than speaking impromptu because the content can be controlled in advance) and spontaneous interpreting, when speakers are not willing to share their texts (for security reasons).

Later on, Setton focused on special skills conference interpreters need when working in different settings:

  • formal language (when interpreting ceremonial, official or ritual speeches);
  • precision and completeness (for legal/courtroom interpreting);
  • flexibility (for community interpreting).

Another important skill is adaptation and mitigation in conference interpreting, especially when changes in the conference climate are beyond the interpreters’ control.

According to Setton, interpreters can only mitigate the impact of those changes through their relations with clients (negotiating conditions, getting documents in advance, explaining the interpreters' role) and adapt by updating their skillset or diversify into other branches of interpreting and translation; learning about these new settings and roles, while bringing with them their high standards and professionalism.

The concluding part of Setton’s talk was about the optimization of interpreters’ work. It covered (1) optimization of form (changing how, but not what is said), i.e. managing the information flow, organization, style, and presentation; (2) optimization of content: explaining (annotating), clarifying, elaborating/compressing, correcting, filtering, toning down, and censoring; (3) optimization of process: intervening by asking a speaker to clarify, repeat or expand; asking for texts in booths; signaling to stop all talking at once; clarifying their own role (e.g. taking turns, segment length, etc.); clearing up cultural misunderstanding and communication failures.

There was also an emphasis on the need for stronger mediation on the part of a conference interpreter in the form of interrupting and regulating the flow of talk, assuming a moderator’s role, and providing commentary or certain information. As a matter of fact, this is all outside the interpreter’s standard role, but it can be considered in some contexts, at the request of clients (if all sides agree).

Meeting these challenges that interpreters currently face will eventually facilitate and improve the process of building bridges between people worldwide.

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