Thursday, February 18, 2016

ITA 2016 Conference

This week, the 2016 ITA Conference was held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem. Due to personal circumstances, this year I was only able to attend one day of the conference, so this report will be shorter than in previous years.

I arrived on Tuesday morning in time for the lectures in the plenary session. First there were greetings from Andre Lindemann, President of the German Federal Association of Interpreters and Translators. He spoke about the role associations can play in promoting the profession, and about the changing world of translating and interpreting within the European Union.

Next, we heard from Stefan Gentz, discussing various changes in the translation industry. He presented several views of the future of the profession, some gloomy but others hopeful, and pointed out that the demand for translations is out there, and we just have to find ways to provide the services people require.

Then, Andrew Morris told the story of his Standing Out translators' forum on Facebook. When he became a translator, he found the interactions on translators' sites and lists tended to feature a lot of complaining and also hostility between translators, and he set out to create a space for positive, constructive, and supportive discussion. My experience in the ITA over the past 17 years has mainly been positive, and when there are differences of opinion or people feel the need to vent, other members usually know how to redirect the discussion to more positive tracks.

The panel of these three speakers then took questions from the audience, including some about alternative ways of pricing our work, finding new work, and adapting to changes.

After a short break, I attended the Academic track, which is the most relevant to my own work. The first lecture was by Racheli Lavi, describing various rhetorical devices that translators should be aware of. We looked at some examples and how translators attempted to preserve them in the target language. One of the main messages of this lecture was that conveying the sense of the text is often more important than translating word for word. Obviously, this is one of the first things new translators have to grasp, but it was good to see how flexible a translation can be when employing a similar rhetorical device.

Temima Fruchter spoke next, presenting the field of discourse analysis as a method for translators to become more aware of the real meaning and subtext of the texts they encounter. By exploring the different aspects of the vocabulary, grammar, and overall text structure, the reader can gain insight into the author's intention. This can help translators formulate an equivalent meaning in the target language. This was the first time I had seen discourse analysis applied as a professional methodology for translators. I have previously only encountered it as part of qualitative studies I have translated and edited, and the idea of integrating it into my work was appealing.

After lunch, the Academic Track resumed with Stephen Rifkind presenting some false friends in translating legal material from French to English. While my French, unfortunately, never progressed beyond the high school level, I find the subject of false friends very interesting from a linguistic point of view. I was able to understand, in some cases, why the French word had a very different meaning from similar English words, sometimes thanks to my (partial) knowledge of Latin. The lecture brought home the great importance of having a specialization and expert knowledge of the field you translate and its specific vocabulary.

Inga Michaeli spoke about the difficulties involved in translating political and religious material. Apart from the vocabulary having different connotations in different languages and cultures, there is also the problem of whether a translator believes a certain text should even be translated. We all have lines we refuse to cross, but in some cases it can be argued that it is worth knowing what other people are saying in their texts even when we strongly disagree with them. As in any profession, the morality can be confusing. Even a version of the Hippocratic Oath, "Do no harm", is difficult to apply in some cases. The lecture also demonstrated that there can be ideological decisions behind many choices translators have to make in all sorts of texts, not just the overtly political ones.

Jeffrey Green spoke about creativity in translation. First he presented examples of creativity from the fields of music and visual art, and then he showed how the translator is required to find solutions to reflect the creativity of the original text in the target language. He gave an example of a story by Agnon he had translated into English.

Because I was only there for one short day instead of two full days, this felt like just a taste of the conference. There were other lectures that interested me in the other tracks or on Wednesday, and I hope we get the opportunity to hear some of them as part of the ITA's monthly lecture events. Also, I didn't have the chance to talk to as many of my friends and colleagues as I would have liked. In general, the conference lived up to the high standards of previous years, and I'm glad I managed to attend, even if only partially.