This week I attended the 2011 ITA Conference, held at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Jerusalem.
The first day, which I did not attend, was devoted to workshops on specific topics. I arrived in the evening in time for the gala dinner. The after-dinner speaker was Israel's former UN Ambassador, Prof. Gabriela Shalev, who described her two years in office, noting the role of language in rhetoric and diplomacy.
Day 2 opened with a plenary session. Award-winning Israeli author, Rabbi Haim Sabato, raised questions of translating the grace of a language, giving examples of Biblical passages, sentences from his own books, and quotations from Maimonides. He noted that literary translators must possess a creative spirit of their own in order to capture and express the tone of the original text.
The plenary session continued with a lecture on ergonomics for sedentary people who spend hours at the computer. Dalit Ben-Tovim explained the principles of ergonomics and got the audience performing exercises to improve posture and avoid strain. I was reassured to have confirmation that my current work station and sitting position are ergonomic.
Following the coffee break, the conference split into four tracks, focusing on Judaica, business aspects, literature, and a workshop for translation companies. I attended two lectures in the business track. First, Osnat Rubin, whom I recently heard lecture at another conference, spoke about achieving success by defining goals and establishing targets.
Then we had a lively debate between Aviva Doron, owner of a translation agency, and one of the freelancers she employs, Eliezer Nowodworski. They discussed the advantages of working together, with the agency handling issues of marketing and collecting payment, thus freeing the translator to do the actual translation work. I was pleased to hear that Eliezer charges rates considered high by many agencies, which shows that some agencies, presumably including Aviva's, do agree to pay more for professional and experienced freelancers.
After lunch, I attended lectures in the literary track. First was an interesting discussion of political correctness by Donna Bossin. There is now an expectation for people to use language that provides the minimum of offensiveness to specific groups. We discussed the problematic usage of male-gendered terms to describe people in general, an issue I routinely encounter in my own work. As Donna recommended, I often change "man" when meant in a general sense to "human being", and frequently use the plural, which is ungendered in English. Donna also noted the usage of "people-first language", such as "children with ADHD", and touched on the sensitive subjects of how to refer to older people and how to term the Arab population of Israel (any terminology necessarily reflects some political bias).
Then, Dana G. Peleg gave a talk about the terminology used to describe individuals and groups of differing sexuality. She gave a handout containing a glossary of Hebrew and English terms, noting which of them are respectful, which may be used with the permission of the people involved, and which are offensive and should be avoided. This is the sort of information more useful to translators of literature, television, and scholarship on this subject, and so far I have not encountered this sort of terminology in my own work. But one of the things I most enjoy about these conferences is learning new things about new subjects beyond my usual areas of interest.
One of the conference's foreign visitors, Clara Chan from Hong Kong, gave an interesting talk about the changes in the translation and transliteration of foreign place names and people's names into Chinese in Hong Kong following the handover from British rule to China in 1997. I know very little about the Chinese languages and dialects, but from what I understood, Hong Kong uses Cantonese, which is more complicated than the simplified form of Mandarin used in Beijing. In some cases, the Hong Kong usage contained a closer transliteration of the phonetic values of the foreign name, while the Mandarin version translated elements such as "new". It also appears that the tradition of granting foreign people official Chinese names is falling out of favour, and foreign leaders' names are now transliterated phonetically.
I then attended a panel of translators from several countries. The discussion attempted to find common issues and some of the different approaches taken in the various countries. The chair was Micaela Ziv, and the participants were Igor Vesler from the USA, who has lectured at previous ITA conferences, Clara Chan from Hong Kong, Natascha Dalugge-Momme from Germany, Anna Zielinska from Poland, and Gabriela Gonzalez from Argentina. The panel compared the status of translators and translators' associations in the different countries, and there was a lively discussion on payment practices, and the difference between working with direct customers and with agencies. This panel reinforced my impression of the great diversity in working conditions for translators in different countries, areas of specialization, and language pairs.
Day 3 opened with another plenary session. First, award-winning literary translator and poet Rami Saari spoke about translating into Hebrew from distant languages. He gave examples from his own translations from an impressive number of languages, showing cases where the translator has to be aware of differences between the languages and cultures, sometimes adapting the text, or in other cases adding footnotes to explain thing the reader would find unfamiliar.
Then we received an update on the ITA's recognition and certification program from Micaela Ziv. I was one of the first ITA members to receive recognition, and now about 60 members (from a membership of over 500, I believe) have received their recognition. The next stage will be a certification exam, held, at first, in combinations of Hebrew, English, and Arabic, the most common languages of translation in Israel (probably followed closely by Russian). The Israeli certification exam will be on computers, but without Internet access (where people could receive help from others...), and people will be allowed to bring in printed dictionaries. Micaela stressed that while some translators' associations around the world have a minimum membership requirement similar to our recognition standard, the ITA welcomes new translators and helps them learn and develop through the mentoring program and various lectures and conferences. The exam is not intended to be as difficult as some in other countries, which only have a 20% pass rate.
Then we heard from Doug Lawrence, a guest from the UK, who gave a review of language service providers around the world. There are about 24,000 LSPs, of which 48.5% are in North America and 43.18% are in Europe. In Israel, there are 439 LSPs, and they were found to be surprisingly resistant to using technology (translation memory software, and even customer management systems), considering that many specialize in software localization.
The conference then split into three tracks, one on marketing and business relations issues, another on computer-aided translation, and the third on literary translating. I chose the marketing track, and first attended Leah Aharoni's review of translator websites, which has encouraged me to set up my profile on these sites, though I don't expect to find many relevant jobs in my area of specialization, academic translation, there.
Then, Tuvi Pollack spoke about using content for marketing. Perhaps I have heard too many lectures on similar topics, and perhaps I feel I want to do more with my blog than just market my business, but this talk was less impressive or interesting than the other lectures.
Finally, Sagi Adiv spoke about Simplified Technical English, a controlled language aimed at ensuring that technical documentation is written as clearly as possible, particularly for readers of English as a second language. This was quite remote from my area of expertise, as I doubt academic publications will ever be written in simplified language - in fact, many scholars think it is impressive to use obscure terminology and complex sentence structures!
As always, the conference was well-organized and enjoyable. There were more participants than ever, and the hotel provided excellent service. I would like to thank the ITA's conference organizers, Sarah Yarkoni and Alan Clayman, along with the ITA's chair, Pascale Amozig-Bukszpan, for their efforts. As in previous years, the technical side of the conference was organized, very professionally, by Ortra.
I look forward to next year's conference!