Beyond Words and Back Again at the ITI Conference: 18 – 20 May 2017

[Photo: Wales Millennium Centre]

This year’s ITI Conference, held every 2 years in the UK, took place in the Welsh capital of Cardiff with the title:

Working our core: for a strong(er) translation and interpreting profession

A wealth of presentations, TED-style talks and fringe events catering to the 340 translators and interpreters attending covered practical tips for our daily work as well as inspiration for developing our long-term goals. The full programme can be found here:

This article focuses on the fundamental tools of our trade: words.

Beyond words

Translators Alison Hughes and Adriana Tortoriello explained how to be creative with their presentation Above and beyond: the creative text. In advertising, subtitling and copywriting, there may be limits in terms of space and your text may need to be eye-catching.  You must escape the literal text in favour of something more visual and daring, for example ‘Bikes for the general public’ is better rendered as ‘Pedal-power to the people’.

Matisse said “Creativity takes courage”. To write creatively, you need to have the courage to convey the meaning of the text freely and discuss options with your clients to ensure you match their brief by going beyond the literal meaning. You need experience and subject knowledge, confidence and practice. You must read and engage with industry professionals, but above all convey the meaning of the message.

Back to words

Keynote speaker Susie Dent, well-known for her contributions on the popular UK TV quiz Countdown, is a lexicographer, writer and broadcaster. Her passion for words was inspired by her school dictionary, discovering that ‘silly’ used to mean ‘nice’, ‘goodbye’ means ‘God be with you’ and ‘focus’ came from the Latin for ‘fireplace’. She discussed malaphors (mashed-up metaphors) such as ‘He’s a minefield of information’ and ‘We’ll burn those bridges when we come to them’. She described the relationship between words which appear unrelated such as ‘atone’ and ‘onion’, the connection here being ‘one’. ‘Mortgage’ and ‘mortuary’ are linked, as a debt dies once paid. The word ‘true’, meaning actual, correct, upright and straight, has the same roots as ‘tree’.

Introducing the concept of ‘new words’, Susie stated that they face obstacles to succeed and only 1% are really new. They are often repackaged, resurrected or repurposed, for example ‘pro-caffeinating’: putting everything on hold until you’ve had enough caffeine. Eggcorns (from a mishearing of ‘acorn’) are misheard words or phrases: ‘like a bowl in a China shop’ (instead of ‘like a bull in a China shop’) and ‘lactoast-intolerant’ for ‘lactose-intolerant’. She highlighted texting, now a new creative language with texted poems even being exhibited at the British Library. Innovators such as Shakespeare and Keats were once criticized, but language is evolving all the time: ‘overmorrow’ (‘the day after tomorrow’, from the German ‘übermorgen’) and ‘smirkle’ (‘to smile with your eyes’). The word ‘thesaurus’ comes from the Latin for ‘treasure’ and so Susie encouraged us to learn one new word every day.

Beyond words again

Over 40 of us took part in the Singing Translators fringe event. Our rehearsals and performance were conducted by Neil Brinkworth and organized by translator Gillian Hargreaves. We sang a four-part version of “Memory” from the musical “Cats”, inspired by the industry terms ‘translation memory’ and ‘CAT tools’. Singing has many parallels with translation and interpreting, as it requires the need for accuracy, good phrasing, but also the right expressive mood and tone. With our performance being unaccompanied, we also had to listen to each other.

Those of us attending translator Helen Oclee-Brown’s Sticky wickets: the perils of translating sports metaphors discovered that sport is special because it embodies competition, team spirit, endeavour, fair play, the common touch and tactics. Helen provided English examples from politics and journalism before treating us to translated examples, e.g. from the French newspaper Le Monde ‘la balle est dans le camp de la Chine’ (‘the ball is in China’s court’ where the literal translation would have referred to a ‘field’ rather than a ‘court’). We were challenged to guess some French and Spanish translations. Audience discussion revealed that cricket metaphors stumped many non-native English speakers. Some metaphors work better than others depending on the context and readership. We must remember this and keep things fresh, but simple.

Of course, words are the tools of our trade and, as a translator, I enjoy learning new words and meanings as part of my work. With much information to absorb and great networking opportunities throughout this conference, my conclusion is that we also need to go beyond words and really communicate and collaborate both with our colleagues and clients.

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