1 August 2017
Report on Conference held at Lancaster University on 12-13 July 2017.


T‌o see the full programme please click here: Translation Conference Programme.

The conference comprised a combination of keynote talks, panels, and workshops. Akiko Sakamoto’s (University of Portsmouth, Japanese Language and Translation) opening keynote address entitled the “‘Non-universals’ of translation? Exploring translators’ discourses where East meets West” presented her comparative research on how British and Japanese translators explain and conceptualise their respective translation strategies. A survey and a series of interviews with translators from both cultures, including a range of specialisations and experience, led Akiko to the hypothesis that Japanese professionals have a strong tendency to prefer literal translation, while British translators aim for fluency. Akiko suggested that the history of Japanese translation might explain the difference. The importation of knowledge from China to Japan from the 3rd century involved taking over the Chinese writing system. This in turn meant that Japanese translators later did not need to transliterate Chinese texts but simply provide guiding notes within it, which was also an expression of the respect for the original’s authority. This approach was then passed on through education and remained in practice throughout the centuries. In the discussion following the talk, Duncan Large noted that the method of glossing rather than fully translating was also characteristic of early English approaches to the Bible. A closer look at the history of the English language and translation and its comparison with the case of Japan may nevertheless confirm Akiko’s hypothesis if those histories show diverging trends. Such comparison remains for now a project for the future.

The first panel, on Translation, Context, Intertextuality, broadened the perspective in a different direction. George Green (Lancaster University, Creative Writing) presented the results of his research with Johnny Unger (Lancaster University, Linguistics and English Language) on “University creative writing practices and the ‘translation’ of national identity”. This pilot project compared British and Lithuanian students’ understanding of “Britishness” and “Lithuanianness” by asking them to modify a base narrative to express their respective national cultures. The story offered to them was designed in a way to be as culturally neutral as possible, but George noted that his attempt at perfect neutrality of course failed and the author’s culture inevitably leaves its traces on any text. Nevertheless, the students’ amendments showed clear tendencies in using certain metaphors, food items, and so on. The aim of the discourse analysis, which the authors hope will continue with a larger sample, is to detect how your people perceive their nationality and what markers they associate with them. Johnny Unger then presented his work carried out with Rebecca Braun (Lancaster University, German Studies and Institute or Social Futures) on “Herta Müller in the Anglophone world: The mystery of the missing translators”. Comparing the presentation of the German editions of Herta Müller’s works with their English translations, the paper highlighted the evolution of the approach to the figure of the translator – first hardly visible, later present with a whole biography – and the different places the author herself occupies in the source culture as a major voice in the literary scene, as opposed to the target one, where she is presented as a literary celebrity thanks to her Nobel Prize. Nicholas Peat (Lancaster University, German Studies) concluded this panel with the presentation titled “‘Is this Bizarro World?’ The adaptation of intertextuality and characterisation in German audiovisual translation”, a taster from his recently defended PhD thesis. Nick highlighted the challenges of audiovisual translation and dubbing in contrast to text translation, and focused on the complexity of rendering intertextual references. “Bizarro World” is an example of this: this reference to Superman’s universe appears in the American television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but making this clear to a German speaking audience requires the translator to face the multiplicity of Superman representations and translations.

‌In the second keynote address Duncan Large (University of East Anglia, European Literature and Translation) tackled a question that has generated much debate, “The Presence of Theory in Literary Translator Training”. Duncan discussed the PETRA-E project, launched in 2014, which led to the creation of the PETRA-E Framework in 2016 and gave birth to a network of institutions offering literary translation training. Duncan LargeThe objective of the Framework, now available in 8 languages (Dutch, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, and Spanish), is to provide a clear set of criteria and level descriptors for literary translators and the institutions training them. One of the discussions that took place during the drafting of the framework was the role of theory in the training. To explain the background, Duncan offered an enlightening tour of the longer history of the debate, with the rise of what he called “theoroscepticism” from Paul de Man to Robert Chandler, the ambivalent feelings towards theory manifest in leading UK translation scholar Peter Newmark, and the warning about the dangers of naïve and poorly used theory by Jean Boase-Beier. The resistance might, however, be a Western phenomenon, as Chinese colleagues rather deplore the lack of theory they have access to and produce, which Sun Yifeng and Mu Lei consider to be an obstacle to the development of Chinese translation studies. The reflections about the place of theory in the PETRA-E Framework are still ongoing and it might need to remain the object of constant recalibration, Duncan noted in conclusion. The discussion following the talk further highlighted that the question ultimately seems to be not so much whether or not we use and teach translation theory, but what we mean by theory and how we use it and recommend using it.

The following panel continued on the question of Translation and Literature, first with Liz Oakley-Brown’s (Lancaster University, English Literature) paper on “Translation and the transformation of English Literature”. Liz discussed her journey through Shakespeare Studies, which has led her from the stereotypical image of Shakespeare as the emblem of the English language and culture to the recognition of the impact of a multilingual environment on his works, as well as of the resistance of institutional structures to giving the translingual dynamics of literature due place in English Literature curricula. In her paper titled “Young translations of young poets: Lithuanian student translation of Barbican poets”, Lora Tamošiūnienė (Mykolas Romeris University, English Studies) then presented the poetry translation competition for students introduced at her university. This optional part of the translation degree course aims to expose students to poetry produced by amateur poets of a similar age as themselves. While the quality of the translations produced varies, the students are brought to reflect on language and the source culture in a way they would not otherwise encounter.

The closing panel of the day also focused on Teaching and Learning Translation. Simone Schroth (Lancaster University, German Language, and Freelance Translator) returned to the question of the uses of theory in her talk entitled “More than a language-learning tool: On combining theory and practice in translation teaching”, presenting her method of undergraduate translation teaching for language degrees, where theory has its place as a way of inviting students to think about their approach to language and what they want to achieve with the translation. Birgit Smith (Lancaster University, German Language) then compared “Teaching translation at Lancaster University and Karl-Franzens University, Graz”. While the MA in Translation at Lancaster is largely based on a combination of individual work and translation through seminar interaction, Graz requires the students to complete translations projects as a group over the course of a few weeks using model text corpora in order to make their translations completely fluent in the target language. Research and collaboration are thus presented as essential parts of the translation process. Abigail Larner, a finalist undergraduate student of Lancaster University in English and Creative Writing and Translation then offered an insight into the student’s perspective in her reflections on the elective module “Translation as a Cultural Practice” (Rebecca Braun, Department of Languages and Cultures). For Abigail, a French-American bilingual, translation was for long a source of frustration, until she came to the realisation during her degree studies that there is no such thing as “pure” English literature, even though the linguistic heterogeneity of the texts and authors often remains unacknowledged. The module, focused on the various perspectives translation can offer on the interactions between cultures, highlighted precisely this aspect of all literature.

Anthony Pym’s  (University of Melbourne, Translation and Intercultural Studies) keynote address opened the second day with reflections on The deprofessionalization of university-level translator training”, which served both as a summary and a continuation of the previous day’s discussions on the thorny issue of “theory vs. practice”. Based on recent research and a survey of the European Masters in Translation, Anthony highlighted the significant decrease in the proportion of the practical, language-focused components of Masters-level translation training. While some countries, notably France, do significantly better than others, with 90% of the training being focusing on language, the average is much lower, around 20% of compulsory language elements, and the UK does worst, with Hull and Surrey requiring no language-focused work at all as a compulsory part of the degree course. While broadening of the concept of translation – the history of which the paper also retraced, with a focus on Derrida and his understanding of translation as constitutive of reflection and philosophy – is useful and important for theorising the dynamics of language, thought, and cultures, it is counterproductive for the training of translators when it serves as an excuse to dispense with hands-on language work that must remain the primary measure of translator competency.

A workshop led by Romain Bardot (Lancaster University, French Language) and assisted by Isabelle Baron (Lancaster University, French Language) invited all participants to continue the discussion on the subject with a focus on how translation teaching can foster employability by embedding it in the classroom work and/or assessment. An initial brainstorming led to a working definition of employability as the set of skills and competencies that enables students to gain and preserve employment. The must-haves mentioned include research and presentation skills, problem solving, time management, teamwork, resilience, and the ability to work under pressure. Fostering these is crucial to prepare the students for professional life. The speakers and the audience, coming from a wide range of institutions (Bath, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Nottingham Trent, Portsmouth, UCD, UCLAN, Vilnius (Mykolo Romerio), Westminster) presented their respective practices. These include group projects; individual research; training in the use of up-to-date CAT tools; placements and internships in various translation-related jobs; and varying assessments with a focus respectively on quality, performance under time pressure or in collaboration. The discussion highlighted the need for more detailed and ongoing exchange about best practice and innovative methods in this area in particular.

The fourth and last panel session returned to Translation beyond Language. Aiqing Wang (Lancaster University, Chinese Language) presented some of her doctoral work in the paper entitled “Vertical and horizontal cultural adaptation: From archaic Chinese to modern English”. She focused on the double translation required to render the ancient Chinese texts in English for the contemporary reader, both modernising them and translating them for another culture unfamiliar with many of the references modern Chinese audiences still inherit. The methods applied vary from explicitation to glossing and translation notes, according to the complexity of the context required. Astrid Nordin (Lancaster University, Politics) then addressed the problem of conceptual transfer between Chinese and English in her paper on the “Differences in the understanding of the concept ‘hegemony’ in Chinese and western international relations discourse”. She highlighted the negative moral implications of the Chinese term “ba”, used when speaking about the US as a hegemonic power, as opposed to the alternative concept “wong”, implying “benevolent power”, used when referring to China’s own international aspirations. The distinction goes back to ancient Chinese thought and has significant consequences on contemporary Chinese discourse on international relations. Isabelle Baron (Lancaster University, French Language) brought us back to Europe with her reflections on “Cultural differences in the air: a few comments on Air France in flight magazines”. She looked at the ways in which translation and cultural transfer combine with marketing strategies in the pages of such magazines, producing a unique and in many respects quite artificial hybrid language both in French and in English, targeting the international passenger population and projecting an image of “Frenchness” by reinforcing stereotypes. Last but not least, Karen Jürs-Munby’s (Lancaster University, Theatre Studies) paper entitled “Between foreignization and domestication: Translating Jelinek for the British stage (Ein Sportstück - Sports Play)” presented the challenges encountered as a dramaturg and translator of Jelinek’s complex and subtle, both highly political and poetically flowing text. The translation work here involved a transposition in various respects: from text to stage, from German into English, from a long written text to a much shorter performed one, and from an Austrian context into a British one. In line with the original’s alienating tendencies, the adapting team opted for a foreignizing translation, also highlighting the often forgotten background in theatre of the concept of “Verfremdung” later appropriated by translation theory.

The second day and the conference itself concluded with a second workshop run by Emily Spiers (Lancaster University, Creative Futures) on “The Future of Translation”. Using a dynamic method for generating discussion, Emily first invited us to briefly discuss in groups the changes we think have happened in translation, understood as broadly or as narrowly as each group wanted. The emergence of translation technology that followed the spread of home computing, globalization and the boom of the language services sector, the birth of translation studies and university training, the recognition of the profession and the emergence of organisational structures and large institutional translation services, the democratisation of the profession, the dominance of the English language, as well as the broadening of translation as a concept were the most important points mentioned. On this basis, and departing from it as much as we saw fit, we were invited to imagine what translation might look like in 50 years’ time, in 2067 – and to picture this using the creative map, wooden blocks, human figures, and coloured wires to represent that world. The three groups proposed three different approaches that overlapped in certain respects and greatly differed in others. The shared predictions were focussing on the evolution of technology: CAT tools will gradually improve and make human translators increasingly dispensable, even though most of us agreed that literary translation has the best chance to remain human generated, thereby contributing to the survival of the profession with a much reduced number of practitioners. One group imagined the continued growth of Google as central power around which states will revolve, and which is perfected thanks to the global population’s input through their use of Google platforms. Another group took this in a slightly different direction by predicting a device that would sit in everyone’s ears translating in direct everything that the bearer sees and hears in any language at all. No one would therefore need translators any more, nor would they need to learn languages. Yet as people would continue to exist who are fascinated by languages and translate for fun or as a form of art. The device will also enable the development of massive multicultural and multilingual megapolises where everyone is able to understand everyone else’s language and culture and can live together in peace.

We kept this point as a reasonably optimistic prediction to close the discussions on – and to come back to and verify in 2067. Until then, the more immediate conclusions to draw were related to the pressing issues of translation training in Higher Education. It became apparent that there is a genuine interest in, and even need for, sharing experiences and discussing best practice across the UK and in comparison with institutions beyond the national and cultural borders. Crossing disciplinary borders in the reflections on translation as a profession, as a practice, and as a skill to be taught was also found to be particularly useful and stimulating for all parties. The general impression was that institutional structures break up what would otherwise be one complex phenomenon into separate fields that become isolated from each other. The event showed the value of stepping across institutional divisions and a clear willingness to do so. As far as the teaching of translation more specifically is concerned, the relations and respective proportions between theory and practice, between reflections on the complexity of translation as a cultural practice and the hands-on language work require further balancing. The challenge faced here is how to counter the institutional pressure that departments face to make their degree schemes economically viable, encouraging them to cut on the expensive work-intensive language-based seminar work and increase the portion of general theory in the training. There is no simple solution, but reminding ourselves that we need to adjust the balance between the broad and the narrow concept of translation in our training schemes in light of the reality of the profession we are preparing our graduates for seems a first step in the right direction.

Erika Fülöp