Thoughts from the Territories of Understanding Conference

Hello everyone, I trust all is well out there in translation land! As some of you may have spotted, last week marked the occasion of the second international postgraduate conference in translation and interpreting studies at Queen’s University in Belfast.

Entitled Territories of Understanding: Conflict & Encounter, the organisers put on a thoroughly enjoyable event and I wanted to share a few quick thoughts that emerged during my stay in Northern Ireland.

The Present and Future of Translation Studies

Spread out over the course of two days, the conference’s twenty or so papers were slotted around keynote talks from leading translation studies scholars Susan Bassnett, Michael Cronin and Samia Bazzi.

While these big-name talks all provided ample food for thought (as you’d expect), reflecting the breadth of research in contemporary translation studies and showcasing what the (inter)discipline’s well-established scholars have to offer, there was much more to the conference than the chance to hear from a few translation heavyweights.

This was the first time I’d attended a specifically postgraduate conference and I was blown away as translation’s emerging scholars were provided with the leading voice. Talks were consistently excellent throughout, tackling a vast array of topics while centring around the notion of conflict and encounter, and the whole event was characterised by a universal willingness to share and discuss ideas.

Indeed, beyond enjoying two intense days of translation talk (what’s not to like about that, right?!), it was this postgraduate basis that really set the event apart. Having seen first-hand what this new generation has to offer, I left Belfast with no doubt that there is a bright future in store for translation studies.

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Moving beyond translation studies

Back in the present, one of the most pressing general issues facing current and future translation scholars alike (and something that is also a real concern in the translation profession) is the need to move beyond our own borders and demonstrate the complexity and relevance of translation to a wider audience.

As our ongoing preoccupation with expanding understandings of translation continues to take the area beyond traditional notions of a specifically linguistic activity, translation studies’ interdisciplinary appeal is becoming increasingly evident.

While such tightly focused conferences can often represent a case of preaching to the converted, talking up the merits of a subject to an audience of fully fledged enthusiasts, the range of high quality talks on offer from people based outside of translation studies demonstrated that this push beyond our borders is gathering increasing pace and garnering tangible results within the academic world.

Talks centring around discussions of politics, tourism and art seamlessly blended in alongside more traditional discussions of corpus linguistics and rhetoric and the conference gave a strong sense of the progress that has been made over the last few years.

But this expansion must also be accompanied by a note of caution. While these widening understandings of what translation can entail undoubtedly allow us greater scope in engaging with other fields, it seems that an already limited focus on using theory to inform the core practice of translation may be slipping further from our attention.

Aside from a few papers that did explore concrete examples of translation issues, direct concerns from translation and interpreting professionals were only briefly discussed during a round table discussion at the very end of the conference – a clear indication of the way in which such concerns are all too often relegated to the sidelines.

Our core focus (which, for me at least, is that of translation as an interlingual transfer operation going from a source text to a target text) is becoming increasingly diluted and the acceptance of more abstract notions of translation, which are so powerful in extending a welcoming hand to neighboring disciplines, perhaps sees us running the risk of becoming disconnected with an important element of our discipline’s goal. That all-important sense of real-world applicability remains in danger of drifting out of sight – a concern that is not new but is well-worth reiterating.

Ultimately, however, my enduring impression of the conference is undoubtedly that of the considerable quality and the strong sense of direction within the young translation studies community. As the only translation studies PhD student at my university, it was great to get a real sense of what is happening in the wider community. What’s more, my enjoyment of the talks and the discussions that followed really confirmed that, one year into my translation research, I’m definitely working in the right area!

BONUS ODDITY: A poster for ‘Rough on Rats’ poison found during a flying visit to the Ulster museum. Enjoy…

7 thoughts from the 7th EST Congress

At the end of the last month I had the good fortune to travel to Germersheim in Germany for the 7th EST (European Society for Translation Studies) Congress and, as my first time both in Germany and at an academic conference, it was a wonderful, new experience for me.
I got to spend my days listening to a renowned cast of scholars discussing an incredible range of topics within translation studies, (briefly) experience a new culture, and enjoy some late summer sun before returning to rainy England – not bad at all.

Germersheim itself is a tiny town with a population of about 20,000. To put this into perspective, we were told early on that the arrival of all the conference-goers had increased the town’s population by around 2.5%! A strange venue for such a big conference perhaps, with the international nature of proceedings seemingly suited to a venue with better travel connections, but it certainly worked well enough.

While I began writing this post immediately upon my return, with all of the experiences fresh in my mind, a busy schedule has ensured that I’ve had to keep my ideas bottled up for a few weeks. But anyway – better late than never – here are my 7 most enduring impressions from the event:

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1) Translation studies is huge

Ok, perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise to me or anyone else in the industry, but attending a conference such as this exemplifies how far-reaching translation studies and the act of translation really are. Being in a country with little knowledge of the language (my German was pathetic) and relying on translations to get by was a potent reminder of the importance of the profession. Beyond that though, listening to the first keynote speech (given in German) being instantly relayed into English by two interpreters – with concepts that I could barely understand in my own language translated with ease – really stood as a reminder of the skill and sheer excellence of members of our community. Furthermore, listening to talks on topics as diverse as patent translation and translation in the Gulag emphasise the fact that translation is everywhere.

2) Conferences offer unparalleled opportunities to network

While this is another point perhaps stating the obvious, it is certainly something that can’t go unmentioned. While wandering around the university campus I was able to discuss my own ideas on translation in some detail with the EST president – and one of the world’s leading translation studies scholar’s – Anthony Pym (a fully fledged translation celebrity in my head) as well as mixing with colleagues, translators and academics of all backgrounds and nationalities as the venue came to resemble a kind of real-life Twitter.

My personal highlight, however, was undoubtedly being able to meet the only published translator into English of work by the French philosopher I had painstakingly studied for my MA dissertation. Being able to discuss the challenges such a translation posed with one of the only other people in the world to have attempted the same feat is quite a triumph of networking.

3) Poster sessions are a great idea

The use of a poster as a means of allowing lots of up-and-coming authors to display a succinct summary of their work is a great idea. Amidst a packed schedule, this allowed many more participants beyond the set panels and only served to further highlight the diversity of the discipline. The walls were lined with enough posters to attract the interest of any translation enthusiast and I found myself drawn to one poster detailing a study on the typical features of a professional translator; apparently, being young, male and university educated in translation, I am about as far from the norm as possible. (One other poster that really caught my eye was one about the translation of film titles in Greece and I really wish I had taken a picture…)

4) The divide between practice and theory is still too great

Yet, among the excellent talks, posters and networking opportunities, one pressing question kept nagging at me: where is the link to the actual profession of translation? Being a freelance translator with a huge interest in translation theory, I feel a part of both the academic and professional sides of translation and, while it is perhaps easier to justify the professional’s tendency to deal only with issues relating to their work as a translator given the obvious importance of their livelihood, it is harder to find an excuse for translation scholarship to neglect such an area – surely the point of all this talk about translation is to directly benefit the actual translation task?

Aside from the poster mentioned above there were very few direct references to the translation profession (I believe there was just one panel dedicated to scientific and technical translation) and ultimately, the divide between translation as a profession and translation studies as a discipline remains too prominent, with neither side really looking towards the other and no easy answers available. For me, the responsibility to reconcile this difference lies within translation scholarship, where researchers should perhaps take a look at the work that they are doing and question what it really offers to translation.

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5) Sitting and listening is hard work

This is something I thought I was prepared for as I headed off for the conference after everyone in the know had told me that conferences are tiring, but I still went back to the hotel every evening ready to collapse! Actively engaging with talks on a huge range of challenging topics for the best part of three hours in the morning and then again in the afternoon is hard work, not to mention the discussions that go on in between. Put simply, if it wasn’t for the copious amounts of tea and coffee on offer throughout the days, I don’t think I would’ve made it!

6) I can’t wait to go to another conference

The title is self-explanatory but this is exactly the kind of lasting impression that one should have when heading home from a conference. As I took to the road, my enthusiasm for the subject was given a boost, I was looking forward to emailing new contacts about exciting projects and my desire to attend another academic or professional conference at the first available opportunity far outweighed the exhaustion that was slowly catching up with me.

7) German stereotypes aren’t always true

Finally, and as a bit of fun, I have to say that while I did enjoy some lovely traditional German dishes during my time there, one of the other, most enduring German stereotypes wasn’t at all fully reflected during my few days in the country. Upon landing at Frankfurt airport, I was greeted with a rail system in utter chaos. With trains arriving and departing late, or not at all, carriages packed tighter than you can imagine and signs bearing the wrong information, it was all very far from the ultra-efficient Germany I’d come to imagine. Ultimately, it was all good fun and with the return journey running perfectly smoothly, I’m still left wondering whether I just managed to catch Germany on a bad day..? Ciao!