Thursday, March 13, 2008

Nordic Translation Conference Report, Part 2

Let me start with some statistics and basic information about the conference. The conference offered six workshops (on translating poetry, computer tools for translators, tips of the trade, translating songs, keeping language skills up to date, and contrastive linguistics) on 6 March. On 7 and 8 March, we had the bulk of the conference, which included: a publisher's panel (which discussed issues of finding and publishing Nordic literature in English); keynote presentations by Amanda Hopkinson, Douglas Robinson, Janet Garton, Geoffrey Samuelsson-Brown, and Kirsten Malmkjær; around 30 presentations on literary or technical translation or subtitling; five readings by authors from Nordic countries (Alexander Ahndoril from Sweden, Douglas Robinson from the US/Finland, Sjón from Iceland, Stig Dalager from Denmark, and Izzet Celasin from Norway); and a variety of exhibits, including one by the authors of Outside In, in which they displayed Nordic children's books in English translation. The conference dinner was at the House of Commons, hosted by MP Martin Linton, who was born in Sweden, and there was also a reception at the conference hosted by Norrtelje Brenneri, a Swedish liquor company. Other sponsors included the Nordic Culture Fund, the five Nordic embassies in London, Scandinavian Airlines, UCL's Department of Scandinavian Studies, and Swansea University.

Since I was the organizer, I had to deal with a lot of the practical issues, which meant that I missed some of the presentations (maybe people who attended the conference can write in the comments about the presentations they went to), but I certainly got a lot out of what I did attend, and I also enjoyed all the socializing. Many of us who work on Nordic languages tend to feel rather alone, since the languages are small and often forgotten, which is why it was so great to get an opportunity to come together.

I knew next to nothing about the Faroe Islands and its literature, so I was grateful to hear Turið Sigurðardóttir's presentation, in which she discussed the influence of Danish on Faroese and how the islands have developed their children's literature. Subtitling is another issue I have little experience with, and the panel presentation by Tina Engström, Helena Johansson, Erik Skuggevik, and Kenn Nakata Steffensen was entertaining and interesting. Though some of the facts they offered about the subtitling industry were depressing, I nevertheless started to think that it might be fun to try to work on subtitling at some point.

One of the highlights for me was the readings. Hearing authors read from their work is always a special treat that really brings the text alive in a new way. In this case, we had authors read from their work in the original languages and their translators (or, in two cases, someone else) read from the translations. Most of us attending the conference do not know all of the Nordic languages, so one might think that it could be frustrating, say, or dull, to hear the Icelandic author read in Icelandic if one doesn’t know the tongue. On the contrary, though, I felt that I could understand something of the text just from the way each author read (of course, it didn’t hurt that I had read all but one of the books in advance, and also that the translated text was a nice cheat sheet).

Speaking of Icelandic, our featured author Sjón made some interesting comments about writing and translating. When asked whether he has begun to write for translation (as his texts can be very Icelandic-specific, and since the vast majority of the people in the world have never been to Iceland and know little about the country, one might think he’d start to soften the Icelandicness of his work), he said no, and that he felt it was important for writers to stick to their own language and own culture. His translator, Victoria Cribb, said that she has spent so much time in Iceland and speaking Icelandic that it has lost some of its exoticism to her, which is why she feels that it is useful for translators to have other people review their texts; a translator may no longer always know what s/he is domesticating or foreignizing, or what s/he has made overly clear or not clear enough. Sjón joked then that since translators are so familiar with the source language and culture, it is up to writers to make the job of translating even more challenging, by using ever more difficult words and concepts.

This post is getting long, so I will close it with a few photos from the conference (and if anyone has more pictures, please email them to me).

This first picture is from the dinner at the House of Commons on Friday night.

This is Douglas Robinson, who both gave a keynote lecture and also read from his novel, which has been published in Finland and is about the Finnish poet and translator Pentti Saarikoski.

The next picture is of Geoffrey Samuelsson-Brown, who gave a keynote lecture. Here, he is discussing the process of detective work that a translator must sometimes go through while translating.

Here you can see one of the exhibits. This one is on Nordic children's books in English translation, and the woman who arranged it is seen in the picture. Her name is Deborah Hallford and she is a co-author of Outside In, a guide to children's books in translation.

This photo shows Swedish author Alexander Ahndoril and his translator Sarah Death, discussing his novel based on the life of Ingmar Bergman (the novel is called "The Director" in English).

This last photograph shows Anna and Jessica Anerfält from
Norrtelje Brenneri, which sponsored the conference's reception on Saturday night. It was great to have a real Nordic conference at the event.


mediamovers said...

We would be interested to be part of such conference in future as we are always seeking for competent subtitlers/translators in all language pairs.

Lawrence Vishnu
Media Movers, Inc.

Patje said...


Looks mighty interesting, I'm sorry I wasn't there. Do you know if (some of) the presented papers are available online?

B.J. Epstein said...

Thank you both for your comments. We are hoping that we will publish selected papers; if so, I will announce that here. And we will also keep people posted on the next such conference, which we tentatively believe will be in spring 2010.

Best wishes,

Eric Dickens said...

I was there. It was really rewarding. I found it interesting that we were treated to that most English of food, Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding at the meal in the House of Commons. (Strange name for a restaurant.) Martin Linton was very humorous.

Owing to the parallel sessions, which are inevitable at any larger conference, I missed, for instance, the Faroese contribution and several others. But I went to plenty of sessions, and gave one myself.

One of the highlights for me was Victoria Cribb's presentation and Sjón's own reading.

Another accomplished performance was that of Martin Murrell, who has recently translated stories by Runar Schildt together with his wife.

I really hope that this conference can, in due course, be made a regular event, every other year, if not annually. Because we translators of the various Scandinavian literatures into English, spread out as we are, and living in several countries, have so little opportunity to meet each other, academics, publishers, and so on.

And what was equally fruitful for me, as a translator from Swedish, was experiencing translations from the other Scandinavian languages as well as the one I know best.

Looking forward to the 2010 conference!

B.J. Epstein said...

Thanks for your positive comments, Eric! I am glad you seem to have enjoyed it.
As for the food, well, I thought those travelling to the UK from abroad deserved to try good British food (not just fish and chips or kidney pie)! Perhaps that was too common for the House of Commons?
Watch this blog for news about the publication later this year!

Best wishes,