Thursday, February 16, 2017

2017 ITA Conference

This year the ITA Conference was held at ZOA House in Tel Aviv.

On February 14th, the plenary session of the conference was opened by ITA Chair, Danit Ben-Kiki. Her opening greetings mentioned the surveys conducted by the ITA in the past, which revealed that over half the members are female, and that half are aged over 50 and half under 50. The ITA plans to conduct further surveys in the future so the members can contribute their ideas and preferences for its activities.

We then heard Angela Keil, President of AIIC. She stated that translating and interpreting are sister professions, which seemed like a good way of looking at it. She introduced the interpreting track at the conference, which would address various questions about interpreting, including: why is it still needed if everyone speaks English?

The first lecture was by author Yannets Levi, who told us about how his children's book series was translated into various languages, and how each culture addressed various issues in a different way. This demonstrated the different roles children's fiction plays in various cultures. Most of the translations chose to "localize" the books, using names and descriptions that would be familiar to local children, while the Korean translation chose to maintain the Israeli names and features, and also added work sheets at the end of the book. He described how Korean culture admires creativity and holds Israel as an example of a society that produces creative thinkers.

Ifat Israel Kfir spoke about collection, stressing the importance of having a written agreement, and encouraging translators to seek payment in advance. The audience remained skeptical about the possibility of changing business practices, despite being told that our self-perception influences the behaviour of others toward us.

I then attended the Cultural and Literary Track. Shakhar Pelled spoke about translation and theological worldviews. After discussing the approaches of Jerome, Luther, and Cady Stanton, he made some suggestions for translating the Bible in a way that expresses gender equality. For example, he suggested that Elohim is plural rather than masculine, but since Judaism is monotheistic, the word could be expressed as "one-Gods". His approach seemed to me rather idiosyncratic, where his desire to square the Biblical text and theology with his support for gender equality led him to interpret the language in a manner that seems anachronistic and unlikely to reflect the ideas at the time of its writing. This approach would not be helpful for translators working on texts that express a different ideology, and the translator's role is usually seen as expressing the most likely understanding of the original text rather than trying to fit it into their personal worldview.

Alan Clayman discussed the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam as a work of "transculturation", since the English translation of the poems from the Persian, published by Edward Fitzgerald in 1859, is far from literal and represents 19th century Romanticism.

The next lecture was a debate between translator Jessica Setbon and her colleague Shira Leibowitz Schmidt. Jessica translated into English the book From Sinai to Ethiopia, by Rabbi Sharon Shalom, which describes the halakhah as practiced by Ethiopian Jews. Shira presented some arguments for not using the term "halakhah" to describe the practices of the Ethiopian community, since they are far from those accepted by mainstream Judaism. Since the author advocated accepting the practices of the older generation while gradually assimilating the younger generation into the mainstream (for those who choose to remain religious), I found the arguments against using the term "halakhah" in this context to be unconvincing and divisive.

Temima Fruchter talked about language as determining our worldview. She mentioned the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (linguistic relativity), and gave some examples from research and some anecdotes showing what seems to me self-evident, that the language people use shapes their view of reality. As bilingual or multi-lingual people, translators have a rich way of viewing reality through various languages and their associated ways of thinking, and can serve to bridge potential misunderstandings between monolingual speakers.

At this point, unfortunately, I felt unwell and had to leave the conference, and was unable to attend the following day. I enjoyed the few lectures I managed to attend this year, and look forward to future conferences.

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