Highlights from the Translation in Contexts of Official Multilingualism conference

As anyone who browses through enough of this blog will likely discover, my research interests are rather varied. I love technology, and I’ve presented and published papers and posts on crowdsourcing, website translation, and translator blogs. I spend a lot of time teaching, so I often post blog entries about my experiences in the classroom. But I also love history and politics–so much so, in fact that my doctoral thesis focused on the English and French translations of non-fiction texts related to Quebec nationalism, independence movements and the sovereignty referendums. So this month I’m attending two very different conferences held two weeks–and two continents– apart: the Translation in Contexts of Official Multilingualism conference in Moncton, New Brunswick, and the 12th Portsmouth conference “Those who can, teach”, in the UK. I’ve just returned from the Moncton conference, and I’ll be flying to the UK later this week.

Writing more than just a brief overview of the two conferences is beyond the scope of a short blog post (which is unfortunately all I have time to write), so I’ll share a few thoughts from the Moncton conference right now, and a few comments about Portsmouth later this month.

Some of the presentations I found particularly interesting were Chantal Gagnon‘s presentation on Liberal, Bloc Québécois and Parti Québécois translation policies around the time of the 1995 Quebec sovereignty referendum, Kyle Conway‘s research on (non)translation policies at Radio-Canada and the CBC, and Mathieu Leblanc‘s talk about translation in a Moncton public-service agency.

Gagnon’s comparison of speeches made by the Bloc Québécois, Parti Québécois and Liberal leaders during and after the 1995 sovereignty referendum really underscored, to me at least, the advantages of having an official translation policy: while the Liberal Party was able to target voters differently by adapting the French and English versions of speeches to the two audiences, the speeches made by politicians from the Quebec parties (Bloc and PQ) were translated in newspapers by journalists. Thus, only partial translations of the speeches were available, and these translations often contained minor shifts in meaning and omissions of politeness markers that the Quebec politicians may have wanted to retain. Not providing an official English translation meant the two Quebec parties weren’t able to control the message English-speaking Canadians (and English speakers outside the country) were receiving.

Conway, by examining statements made by policymakers and executives in the 1960s and 1990s, explored the question of translated news at the CBC and Radio-Canada. His presentation compared the current style of presenting news to Canadians, namely having two separate, but parallel, national news services to report on events and interview Canadian figures, and an alternative model periodically recommended by policymakers who wanted to see more bilingual or translated news. For instance, a politician’s might be broadcast in French across the country, but subtitles would be added to broadcasts appearing on English networks. Conway explored why this alternative model has not been successful in Canada, raising questions along the way about how French- and English-speaking Canadians understand one another.

The interviews Leblanc conducted in a Moncton-based federal department gave him some insight into the attitudes of bilingual public servants toward translation. The vast majority of the documents in the department were produced in English and then translated into French, even when the writer’s mother tongue was French. What I found fascinating was that many of the public servants Leblanc interviewed didn’t view translation negatively (as it often is in cases like this where the target language is the language into which texts are usually translated rather than the language from which translation generally take place). Instead, the French translations were viewed as a model to be followed. Some of the interviewees commented, for instance, that they wished they could write in French as well as the translators. Often, these interviewees didn’t write in French because they didn’t feel confident enough in their mother tongue, but the fact that the bilingual public servants also worked with unilingual anglophones also played a role: French speakers wanted to ensure their drafts could be read by everybody in the department before the document was finalized (and translated).

Moncton isn’t the only place where non-native English speakers are producing texts in English and having these texts translated into their mother tongues (and other languages). During the panel discussions and plenary talks with representatives from organizations like Canada’s Translation Bureau, the European Commission and Amnesty International, one point that came up several times was that language professionals are less frequently translating official documents into English and are instead revising English documents produced by non-native speakers and then sending these documents on for translation into other languages. Partly because non-native speakers are writing in English and their texts are being revised rather than translated into English, public-sector English translation work seems to be on the decline. This is a trend I’ll have to mention to my students, as editing (rather than translating) may be the kind of work they’ll have to look for post-graduation, given the current economy.

All in all, this was a very interesting conference, and it’s given me some new points to consider as a revise my doctoral dissertation into a book. I’ll start posting more on political and historical translations as I focus more attention on my book in the new year.

2 thoughts on “Highlights from the Translation in Contexts of Official Multilingualism conference

  1. There’s so much demand world wide for native-speaker editing (aka revision) that all translation students should have practice at it as an additional source of income. This is especially true for Anglophones. There used to be an undergrad course of revision in the Ottawa BA, but I don’t know if they still have it. Part of the demand arises from the preeminence of the American and British scientific and learned journals. Their reviewers are very picky about language. Here in Spain, ambitious academics prefer to publish in English, so I quite often get a paper from one of them for revision before (or sometimes after) they’ve submitted it to a journal or a conference. I’ve just finished one on arthritic thumb transplants.

  2. Thanks for the comment. We do have a revision course here at York, but this conference has really underscored for me the need to encourage students to develop skills like editing/revising while they’re pursuing their degrees in translation. I think their translation training will make them particularly well suited for editing texts by non-native speakers, and if that is what employers are looking for, then it’s worth thinking about now as a career option in the near future.

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