International Translation Day 2016 in London: a few highlights

British Library, ITD 2016

Though not a holiday, September 30th marks an important milestone in a translator’s year. It is International Translation Day (ITD, for insiders).  For the first time, I was able to celebrate in London and I am delighted to share my experience with you!

To begin with, why International Translation Day? Coincidentally, September 30th is also the day that celebrates St Jerome, famous for translating the Bible into Latin. Started in 1953, International Translation Day is an opportunity for all language professionals to gather and focus on one translation-related theme. This year, the theme was ‘Connecting Worlds‘.

For my first ITD in London, I attended the British Library’s ITD 2016 conference series.   At the British Library, the focus was on how translating literature promotes intercultural dialogue. Thanks to a well-designed format, the agenda was a fantastic occasion to discover the ins and outs of literary translation and its inherent challenges.

From Author to Reader

The opening session of the day aimed at introducing all aspects of translating a book for a new market. This exciting journey in the generation of a translated book allowed the speakers to discuss the challenges in today’s translated literature.

Several subjects were raised during the debate; the most striking topic was probably assessing the status of translated literature in publishing. The panellists agreed that despite the galaxy of literary festivals present throughout the UK, little emphasis was placed on translated literature. Sarah Braybrooke, publicist at Scribe UK, pointed out that translation is a sign of publishing success in the country of origin of the book. While that in itself should be a selling point for the translated version, she continued, translated books in the United Kingdom prove harder to sell. To further illustrate this paradox, Sarah Braybrooke eloquently asked: would you imagine a “local book for local people?”

Thankfully, initiatives to promote translated literature are flourishing. Fiammetta Rocco, books and arts editor at The Economist reminded the audience that The Economist now has a regular slot for books in translation and that the Man Booker Prize has become the first of its size to divide the prize equally between the author and the translator. As for publishers, many make the choice of specializing in one country’s literature. Among the speakers present at the British Library alone, there were publishers specialized in Spanish, Ukrainian, Italian and French translated fiction. Additionally, the numerous associations supporting literary translators also presented. Brighter times are coming?

Midsummer Night's Dream, literary translation, ITD 2016
Celebrating 400 years of Shakespeare on ITD

Multilingual creativity

The themes of the afternoon sessions focused more on the translation process itself. In literature as well as in sign language, speakers showed how translation can be a vehicle for creativity and a source of inspiration.

A majority of people in the world are at least bilingual and, to add variety, there are a lot more than one regional variations of the same language. That means that the traditional opposition between the monolingual norm and the ideal figure of the native speaker are not realistic conceptions.

This raises a fascinating challenge for the translator: how to translate multilingual and multicultural influences. Ellen Jones, who does research in the subject, introduced authors who deliberately chose to write multilingual texts, taking the multilingual experience even further – that is, texts in Frenglish or Portuñol, for instance. Participants agreed that multilingual texts benefit from collaborative translation, which may be more truthful to the versatile nature of the source text.

The closing session took the relationship between creativity and multilingualism one step further through a presentation of sign art. While the creative use of signage goes back a very long time, Youtube and a better access to video-editing allowed sign artists to acquire a broader audience and to combine written words and signage. This was a complete discovery for me and I was impressed with how language and translation, in these videos, became a source of inspiration, a vehicle for expression and art.

A Final Word

The British Library’s series of events was a 360° view of literary translation and a fabulous opportunity for translators to discuss all aspects of their profession. Because this is the main event taking place in London, I believe a cross-disciplinary approach would be interesting, gathering various areas of translation practice (business, institutional, technical…). Next year, perhaps?


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