CIOL 2020 – Life’s What you Make It!

Moving beyond “Members’ Day”, the Chartered Institute of Linguists held its first 2-day conference on 6th and 7th March. Presentations offered aimed to develop our business skills, writing and working with technology. The challenges for linguists, particularly for those in a post-Brexit Britain along with the rise of the machines, are bad omens – but we have the tools to counteract them.

With the coronavirus on everyone’s minds, the UK-based institution’s choice of BMA House, home of the British Medical Association, was an apt venue. Ellie Kemp of Translators without Borders, which engages linguists to help tackle emergency situations, showcased what happens when an ebola epidemic strikes. Linguists have to learn cultural and linguistic sensitivity to communicate as clearly as possible to prevent further cases and heal those affected – a matter of life and death!

BMA HouseBMA House, London [photo courtesy of CIOL]

Other sessions I attended also stressed the importance of communication, reflection and the need to adapt. For example, your career profile can change over time to fit a market need, as described by Anna Ostrovsky, a linguist and digital product manager. We are here to solve problems.

Dr Binghan Zheng, an associate professor at Durham University, concluded the first day with his lecture on how the brain functions when translating. Various experiments reveal how your eyes and brain track a text in many ways, far beyond reading.

On day 2, translator Oliver Lawrence showed with fun examples how we can engage our readers. We’ve got rhythm, we’ve got music, but some clients do ask for something more. We can offer that too. Know your text and know your audience. Keep it snappy or mellifluous depending on your client and their product or service.

CIOL’s Chair of Council, Judith Gabler, proposed embracing its support and, most importantly, achieving Chartered Linguist status to future-proof our profession. A final panel discussion was chaired by experienced linguist Michael Wells. The discussion emphasised that, whilst businesses recognise the importance of learning and working with languages, professional linguists have low status and poor pay. This, combined with work mostly being outsourced, provides a hostile environment for translators and interpreters in particular.

However, by enhancing our skills of writing and communication with our clients, we can and should assert ourselves. Asking for feedback and thanking your clients are simple, but effective ways both of making you stand out and of realising your own value. After all, we are here to help and improve business, justice and life itself.

From Fact to Fiction: Translators get Creative

Published writers Ros Woolner and Alison Layland recently guided a group of translators along a path towards creative writing at a fun and lively workshop. Alison translates fiction and creative texts from German, French and Welsh into English. Ros translates marketing materials and children’s books from German and French into English.

The Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI)’s West Midlands Group organised this workshop for translators, held at the Birmingham & Midland Institute on Saturday 29th June 2019. Below, our venue for the day:

IMG_20190629_094528234_Birmingham & Midland Institute

As translators, the source text provides us with a template for our translations, but we may focus too much on the facts. Playing with words and being creative can enable us to find solutions to difficult translation issues. When it comes to creative writing, Ros emphasised that the first copy is only for you and that you should think how something sounds not just how it looks. Word games were used to help us form a sentence and then a short story. Bouts of concentrated writing were followed by some of us enthusiastically reading our attempts to the group.

We explored imagery whereby a tangible object, such as a remote control, could have an emotion or a person attached to its description, bringing an inanimate object to life. We discussed character. Alison stated that we don’t want too much open description. We need to have empathy. We were challenged to describe a character on a journey/in a waiting room through his/her observations and what happens. Then, we had to introduce a different/opposite character.

After lunch, Ros read some of her poems from her book On the Wing and Alison read an excerpt from her second novel Riverflow. It was great to hear these texts voiced by their creators.

Returning to our writing, we then had to consider the setting for the characters we had created earlier and describe a favourite place where we feel happy.

Next, we arrived at the music of language. Ros introduced this as re-writing Shakespeare one word at a time. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” uses iambic pentameter and is the first line of a sonnet. We could change words, e.g. “Shall I entice him to my caravan?” We could then write another line, repeating the rhythm and/or rhyme, using different authors as inspiration.

Finally, we selected picture prompts and were asked to write a few lines of poetry or flash fiction (150-250 words). My picture prompt was a postcard of a werewolf by the Estonian author and illustrator Priit Rea. Printed on the reverse was the quote “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, for this is the only method of study nature has given us.” This summed up the experiment of creative writing very neatly.

Ros and Alison asked us to send some of our completed writings to them so that they could make a compilation. Throughout the day, we were given examples of published prose and poetry. We were encouraged to write in any language and share anything we wished. Overall, it was a very inspiring experience.

The Creative Art of Translation

A new year is a chance to reflect. One highlight for me of 2018 was a workshop I attended in Germany. It took place in Greifswald, the birthplace of Caspar David Friedrich, a 19th century romantic artist. This was a fitting setting to discuss

“Translating the Arts – The Art of Translation”.


“Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” by Caspar David Friedrich

(image taken from wikimedia commons)

The light in Friedrich’s works gives an air of magic. Landscapes dominate and people are in the shadows or depicted as a “Rückenfigur” (with their back to the viewer). A translator is similarly in the shadows, but reveals the landscape of a text to the reader in a different light.

Translators play a crucial role in the creative arts and literature. Here, style is important, not just content. “It’s not what you say, but the way that you say it.” In German, this becomes “Der Ton macht die Musik”, literally “The sound makes the music.” Sometimes, this can lead to odd expressions. For example, something was gained in translation when “break a leg” came to mean “good luck”, as the original phrase was misheard. Being familiar with proverbs and sayings is important. Otherwise, a literal translation would not make sense.

The magic of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books has been translated into 70 languages. Invented words, riddles and anagrams create great challenges to a translator. Tom Marvolo Riddle is Harry’s nemesis Voldemort. His name is an anagram of “I am Lord Voldemort”. On translation, his moniker has to change:

Tom Vorlost Riddle (German) = ist Lord Voldemort

[is Lord Voldemort]

Tom Elvis Jedusor (French) = Je suis Voldemort

[I am Voldemort]

Marten Asmodom Vilijn (Dutch) = Mijn naam is Voldemort

[My name is Voldemort]

Tom Gus Mervolo Dolder (Swedish) = ego sum Lord Voldemort

[I am Lord Voldemort] Here, the translator opted for Latin rather than Swedish.

Tom Dredolo Venster (Norwegian) = Voldemort den store

[Voldemort the great]

Without subtitles, film and TV fans might miss out on great drama and comedy from around the world. Good subtitles seamlessly express dialogue whilst allowing time to enjoy the images. Subtitlers have to compromise though, as a maximum of two lines appears on screen. Sometimes, text is shortened; a passive phrase becomes active; an indirect question, direct; a double negative becomes positive; or the viewer is simply provided with the sense of the dialogue. There is a stark contrast between accuracy and the art of a translation. The viewer wants to understand not just what characters are saying, but subtle nuances, which also reveal their emotions.

Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”, an instant success in late 18th century Vienna, only became popular in the 20th century in the UK when translated by Edward Dent, then Professor of Music at Cambridge. Translating opera for performance means the music has to come first. The libretto (the words) must be singable, make sense, be natural and respect the rhythm and rhyme of the original. Some translations are “Textbuch” (textbook) while others are “Textbruch” (they take liberties).

From Wagner’s use in “Siegfried” of modal incongruence, where words or actions contrast with the music, to neologisms such as “Wunschmaid” (“wish-maiden” or “wish-daughter”), the translator faces many challenges, most recently tackled by Jeremy Sams’ 2005 translation. Alfred Kalisch’s 1912 translation of Richard Strauss’ “Rosenkavalier” is still the most frequently used. Hofmannstal’s invented language, known as “Sprachkostüm”; formal and colloquial Austrian dialogue; and a mix of tragedy and farce feature here. An example captures the rhythm of the original:

“Heut oder morgen oder den übernächsten Tag” (literally, “Today or tomorrow or the day after tomorrow”) is translated as “Now or to-morrow: if not to-morrow, very soon.”

In these examples, the translator remains hidden. A successful translation flows effortlessly and the audience feels at home as if the words being viewed or heard were original and not re-conveyed. Jeremy Sams perhaps makes the best conclusion: “Translation is an interesting paradox. Sometimes things have to radically change in order to seem the same.”

With thanks to Jadwiga Bobrowska and Stephanie Tarling of the Chartered Institute of Linguists’ German Society for organising this weekend workshop in June 2018 along with Professor Harry Walter of Greifswald University (proverbs); translator Nick Tanner (Harry Potter); subtitler Andrea Kirchhartz (subtitling); and translator and poet Sandy Jones (libretti).

Full Pedal Ahead in Salzburg


Salzburg, the city of Mozart and “The Sound of Music”, recently hosted the European Cycling Summit with the slogan “Radkultur bewegt” (translated as “Cycling culture moves”), welcoming around 400 delegates from across the world ( The pretty Austrian city, popular with tourists, has been increasing its number of traffic-free cycle and pedestrian paths making it extremely pleasant to explore. Salzburg’s cycling strategy encourages mobility for everyone and has already achieved a 20% cycling share of trips and over 180 kilometres of cycle paths.

Prior to the conference, a choice of cycle tours was available to participants. I opted for ‘High culture meets cycling culture’ which covered a number of fabulous sights in the city centre along with the lovely countryside over the course of 2 hours.


The welcome reception, held at the Mirabell Palace, included presentations of what has been achieved to promote cycling in the city and province as well as an ode to cycling by rap-poet Georg Sandner. The conference took place over 2 days in the Salzburg Congress – an excellent venue equipped with interpreting facilities and plenty of space during refreshment breaks to network, talk to exhibitors, attend extra panel sessions and view posters.

Topics included changing mobility routines, cycling culture for children and best practice in urban and rural areas. A panel discussion entitled ‘Cycling Culture in between Politics, Planning and Society’ brought together key players from different countries:

Amsterdam’s Inge Janssen of BYCS believes that cycling is more than transportation: it is transformation. BYCS is a social enterprise driven by the belief that bicycles transform cities and cities transform the world. It has created a network of bicycle mayors to encourage cities around the world to achieve 50% cycling by 2030 emphasising the economic, health and environmental benefits of cycling.

Berlin’s Heinrich Strößenreuther of Volksentscheid Fahrrad (Berlin Bicycle Referendum), which got more than 100,000 city residents to sign a petition for improved cycling conditions and prompted the city government to adopt their demands, argues that politicians do not willingly take away space from car users and the lack of space for cyclists is causing conflict.

Roland Romano of Radlobby Österreich, Austria’s national cycling advocacy, believes “Baut es und sie radeln” (“Build it and they will cycle”). The group promotes investment in infrastructure, research, PR, training, planning and critical mass rides.

Johannes Rauch, a member of Austria’s provincial government of Vorarlberg, feels that improving cycling infrastructure will lead to a chain reaction: cycling culture can be communicated through signage, apps, paper maps, google maps and by offering hire bikes.

Gothenburg’s Michael Koucky of Koucky & Partners AB, a leading consultancy in sustainable mobility, developed the tool Kommunvelometer, which has annually measured the cycling efforts of Swedish cities since 2009. People embrace coffee culture and car culture, but not necessarily cycling culture. Measuring investment in cycling infrastructure, information and marketing are needed.

Brussels-based Piotr Rapacz of the European Commission’s DG Move, its sustainable and intelligent transport unit, discussed a vast array of initiatives which assist cycling: SUMP guidelines, CIVITAS, European Mobility Week, Partnership on Urban Mobility, smart cities and communities, and urban access regulations.

Michael Adler, managing director of tippingpoints GmbH, an agency for sustainable communication based in Bonn and Berlin, gave examples of films promoting cycling in a creative and humorous way.

Delegates took part in a bicycle parade where they cycled from the Salzburg Congress to the Stiegl Keller as a critical mass in rush hour. With a police escort and cheering pedestrians, it was a very positive experience, culminating in an enjoyable dinner.  The summit concluded with a presentation by UK cycling research expert Rachel Aldred, of the University of Westminster, on ‘Cycling Cultures of the Future’.

As many posters dotted around Salzburg state: “Fahr mit einem Grinsen. Fahr Rad” – “Ride with a smile. Ride your bike”:


Slamming it – Translating with an Audience

Working freelance, I often translate for people I have never met with emails being our only means of communication. So, when asked to take part in a German – English translation slam at the University of Bristol, I was both honoured and somewhat overwhelmed.

Having attended other slams, I understood the format: Two translators prepare a translation of the same text in advance. These translations are then dissected with an audience of fellow translators, students and academics while a moderator chairs the event.

Receiving the source text in December gave me over a month to prepare a translation of roughly 400 words – normally a 2-hour task even allowing time to liaise with the client regarding any queries. However, whilst there was a clear brief in this case, there was only an imaginary client: A management company representing two musicians planning a UK tour. The text was a promotional brochure for a four-handed piano duo.

The secretive nature of translation slam preparation means that queries cannot be discussed with the client nor with colleagues, and especially not with your fellow translation slammer.

My approach

The source text was marketing material for a unique partnership between two pianists. After researching information on the performers, institutions and music mentioned, mostly online, I drafted my translation in English. I checked it for accuracy, read it and spellchecked it. I had assumed British English, as the management company initially wanted to put together a UK tour. So far so normal, but I then annotated my translation to clarify why I had translated as I did since I could be asked to justify any part of it.

Mainly translating in the legal field, where contracts and court proceedings require a high degree of accuracy and a style close to the original, my approach had to be different here. A free style used for press releases, interviews and marketing texts had to come into play. Facts should appear in a lively and engaging way, grabbing the attention of the reader.

Although the text was short, the need to create a truly robust translation whilst working in isolation meant it had to be revised several times. So, the translation, revision and annotations took 16 hours to produce over a couple of months. Some of the source text would have been very impenetrable if translated literally. Several ideas were often crammed into one sentence. So, I broke the text down into more sentences to give the impact a marketing text deserves.

The original audience for this text would have been Austrian and so there were subtle differences between Austrian and standard German as well as institutions more familiar to an Austrian audience scattered throughout the text. The source text was ambiguous at times, which made it seem intriguing. This raised the question of how to achieve this tone in English whilst also making the message clear.

The day of the slam – 15 February 2018


Once the audience of over 40 people had arrived, I realised that the real work was only just about to start. The discussion was lively and the panel took it in turns to answer questions relating to our respective translations, displayed section by section alongside each other. Over the course of two hours, the audience asked about everything from the nature of the musical collaboration involved to our choice of vocabulary, punctuation, style, word order and the time we had spent on our translations.

It was potentially a nerve-racking experience. When queried, I needed to explain my choices while respecting those of my combatant. Usually, we had come up with alternatives, but it was difficult to determine which was better. Several differences were discussed such as the use of quotation marks as opposed to italics, both being acceptable in the context. Snappy titles competed with explanations. Sometimes, the emphasis in a sentence differed.


Despite the two translations being very different at times, the key points were that the information was correct and engaging. We agreed that what’s important is to understand the gist and relay that in a creative, but clear way. A version produced by machine translation provided to the audience highlighted the weak points of using such a tool for a very idiomatic text.

Working in isolation, a translator can consult the client or agency involved and even discuss issues with colleagues online, but rarely has to justify choices made to an audience. If we consider the audience for our translation, we will be more aware of why and how we make our choices and the impact this will have on our readers.

Thanks to Sandra Mouton of ITI’s Western Regional Group for organising this event along with Dr Lucas Nunes Vieira of the University of Bristol, my fellow translation slammer Dr Seiriol Dafydd, our moderator Dr Lindsay Bywood of the University of Westminster, fellow translator Alex Reuer for reading the source text before the discussion and, of course, our audience.

[Photos courtesy of Dr Kiron Chatterjee]

Not just sweaters – “In from the Cold: Northern Noir” Europe House, London on Wednesday 18th October 2017 [full programme below]

Oslo NN photo

A symposium on Northern crime writing, crime fiction translation and criticism attempted to define this recent phenomenon. The packed day of events was curated by Dr Karen Seago, Prof Amanda Hopkinson and Dr Minna Vuohelainen of London’s City University with six prominent authors from Sweden, Norway, Estonia, Finland and the UK; translators Don Bartlett and Kari Dickson; Rosie Goldsmith of the European Literature Network; and also Dr Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen, Senior Lecturer in Scandinavian Literature at University College London.

The term “Nordic Noir” was first coined in 2010. Whilst ‘noir’ has been appropriately applied to modern crime fiction given its dark, cold nature, the works vary widely, even geographically to include countries beyond the Nordic region. So, the term “Northern Noir” was adopted for this event, although the label for Northern European crime fiction was debated throughout the day.

Firstly, where do these stories take place?

With Estonia’s Indrek Hargla favouring medieval Tallinn and Norwegian authors Torkil Damhaug and Kjell Ola Dahl modern-day Oslo, settings may be different both in terms of location and time. Finnish author, editor and journalist Karo Hämäläinen offers global stories which even feature London’s The Shard.

Henry Sutton, Senior Lecturer in prose fiction at UEA, and founder and director of the crime writing festival Noirwich, has coined the term “North Sea Noir”, as he sets his novels in Norfolk. He contrasts his abstract locations with more realistic crimes. More specific places would make the ending seem cosier. Sweden’s Håkan Nesser has been writing for 30 years and does not feel part of a collective. His focus is on Northern Europe and he also uses North Sea locations such as Shetland and Orkney.

The fact that fewer Baltic than Nordic novels have been translated into English is also a factor as regards locations. Indrek’s novels are more often translated into French or Finnish than English.

Who is involved?

As a psychiatrist, Torkil’s work is character driven. Suspense and confusion are often added by simply naming characters as “the visitor”, “the woman” or “the nurse”. He subsequently adds the plot and structure “like carving a stone sculpture”. He is concerned with outsiders, politics, cultural influences and sub-cultures. Characters with a mental illness are common here – a good person with a flaw. Empathy can be the basis for evil, as concern for others may lead to unintended events.

Indrek’s criminals are not good characters with a flaw, but definitely evil. His main question is who not why. Nordic Noir or modern crime novels tend to concentrate on why. The criminal is a “victim of society”, but Indrek writes that the murderer is evil. He doesn’t feel pity for the murderer.

Female characters are important in this genre appearing as gangsters and detectives. Indrek writes about smart women. Håkan sometimes writes from a woman’s perspective. There are also several female Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish and Icelandic writers of this genre.

In Karo’s post-recession financial crime thrillers, bankers in a crisis are like wild animals, losing everything in which they have faith. His themes are global, as there are many international investment banks in Finland. There are always ethical questions in crime fiction. Unlikeable characters raise questions about entrepreneurs and risk takers. There can also be dark, absurd humour because it is comical when someone thinks they’re important.

Kjell’s Detective Frank Frølich, who is upbeat, and Chief Inspector Gunnarstranda, a sarcastic pessimist, investigate different types of crime in Oslo from drug politics to white-collar investment crime. He believes that the story will decide how it will end up. Characters can be their own worst enemies. In contrast, Håkan feels that the story should be the focus and not police officers. His well-known compatriot, Henning Mankell, was very political and left-wing, whereas Håkan did not intend to write about society. His latest novel to be published in English is a family drama and a slow burn. An inspector doesn’t appear until page 184. According to Håkan, if a good guy commits murder, it is more interesting than if a bad guy does.

What is the inspiration?

Indrek was inspired by Agatha Christie and explained that women have an important status in his novels, portrayed as being both literate and numerate. Karo also cites Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as inspirations. He doesn’t see a conflict between crime writing and high-brow literature. He regards crime fiction as a musical due to its popularity. Crime stories are now highly developed and very complex. Torkil believes that a good crime novel is a good novel. It draws interest from other authors. He prefers characters not just action.

Henry described literary noir as stories steeped in emotional and often literal darkness. Graham Greene’s “Brighton Rock” is a fine example of this grim, unflinching style. He claims “crime fiction is the novel of our times” with a form, shape and purpose. It is insightful, intelligent and entertaining. The literary novel is the “poetry of our day”. The crime novel has more influence than the literary novel. It is dramatic; things happen. You can’t say that of every novel.

Kjell’s biggest influence is Henrik Ibsen due to his introspection. Today is influenced by the past. Kjell has also written about true crime. He believes that Nordic Noir does not have one definition.


So, it seems that Northern Noir could take place in a central or remote location, be global or insular, modern or medieval with flawed or down-right evil characters, driven by the characters or the plot. Can this be a genre at all? Suspense and dark crimes are the common elements. According to Torkil, there are common Nordic experiences: the weather; sparsely inhabited landscapes; never-ending summer night; melancholy; things are stable at the surface, but “aren’t what they seem to be.” Karo thinks “Nordic Noir” is a marketing term, but the rainy weather and mood of the characters are similar. Authors write very differently from each other. Financial thrillers are different from family drama.

Dr Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen stated that Nordic crime novels enchant the most mundane social experiences, such as the family. Crime fiction is “a lightning rod for collecting social anxieties.” The borders between the detective and serial killer become blurred. He queried whether Danish dogma was the origin of Scandi/Nordic Noir with 1994’s TV series “The Kingdom”. Long before that, Victorian Gothic may have acted as an inspiration.

If Northern crime fiction could give way to another genre, what would it be? Cornish noir and fantasy noir already exist. Suggestions included Facebook noir, retro noir, classic noir and literary noir. Of course, without good translations, the English-speaking world’s access to and appreciation of modern Northern European crime fiction would be far more limited.

IMG_20171027_130334827 (2)

Would you like to study the world of emojis?

Collins English Dictionary defines an emoji as “a small image used in electronic mail and text messaging to express an idea, such as a smiling face to express happiness” (Copyright © HarperCollins Publishers). The word “emoji” originates from the Japanese “e” (picture) and “moji” (letter).


With the growing use of emojis, it might not be surprising to read about opportunities to study and understand them. So, here is my translation of an article which recently appeared on Der Postillon, a satirical German website.



Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Emojiology: First university offers degree course on interpreting emojis

Emoji lecture

Munich (dpo) – Emojis are playing an increasingly important role in our lives, but often when trying to interpret the ideograms correctly we feel like this: 😳. That’s why the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich has created Germany’s first Institute of Emojiology where you can study Emojiology at graduate, master’s, bachelor’s and PhD level from the forthcoming winter semester.

LMU managed to recruit the prominent Brazilian emojiologist Professor Adriano Madruga as its institute director; he is internationally renowned for his fundamental research in the field of comparative animal emojiology.

“The world of emojis is as fascinating as it is complex,” explains Madruga, who is affectionately named Prof. 😜 by his students. “Most emojis have different display variants as far as skin colour and gender are concerned. Together with regional indicators, there are roughly 97 billion different combinations and numerous new symbols are being added each year.”

The relevant seminar materials are sent to students via WhatsApp.


This is increasingly leading to misunderstandings in digital correspondence, he says. “Just take this emoji which shows its teeth: 😁,” Madruga says. “Some think it’s grinning; others reckon it’s baring its teeth angrily. Such a misunderstanding can destroy entire relationships.”

Emojiological research is therefore necessary, he says, in order to set academic standards and investigate the impacts of emojis on society. The Institute is soon to create professorships in Emoji Linguistics (abbreviation: 💬), Emoji History (🏰🎌), Comparative Emojiology (😘↔😚) and Business Emojiology (💰📈).

There are courses on offer for budding emojiologists as early as this winter semester with titles such as “Advanced seminar: Why is the police officer 👮 male? – Gender stereotyping in emojis”, “Tutorial: Emoji Android/Apple Translation Course”, “Introductory seminar: The three wise monkeys 🙈🙊🙉 – Emojis and Philosophy”, “The Hieroglyphs of the ancient Egyptians”, “Revision course: Rain, sweat, tears: 💦 and its potential applications” and “Lecture: Why the hell are there lots of emojis in the form of cats’ faces as well? 😺😹😽🙀 One approach”.

In just a few years’ time, the first graduate emojiologists, teachers (Emoji Studies and Sport) and Emoji therapists will then be launching their careers.

pfg, ssi, dan; Photos: Shutterstock; First published on: 5.7.16



The original article can be found here:

This story is completely false of course. I did think the study of emojis could form a module on a linguistics course rather than being an entire degree course or combined course. Mind you, some people do study languages (!)

Have a great summer! Sunshine


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.