FIT Congress 2017 in Brisbane
FIT Congress 2017 in Brisbane
The keynote addresses may be a good place to start, in view of their consistently high quality and impact. Immediately following the official opening there was a presentation on the interpreting of indigenous languages in Australia. Colleen Rosas provided a useful outline, but the real highlight here was the personal statements of three indigenous interpreters, describing how and why they were working to keep their communities well informed, and above all to ensure the survival of their respective languages. I doubt that anyone in the auditorium will forget the video showing the speaker’s mother teaching kids to read, illustrating the letter “m” as two anthills, and then getting the pupils to write it with their fingers on each other’s backs. This was indeed diversification with a capital “D”.
We then launched into the “disruption” side of things with Eric Yu’s presentation on “big data” based language services in the AI age. However, these and other presentations focused on future developments provided little to convince the translators in the audience of impacts here and now, and were mainly confined to impressive PowerPoint slides and statistics. I, and probably many others present, would have welcomed some examples of output and actual case studies.
More interesting to me was the point where Professor Pym argued that the subject of translation studies was coming ever closer to translation practice. The group of translators I was sitting with begged (silently) to differ, and I was right with them. There was ample evidence during the congress of theory taking the high road while practice takes the low road, with little indication of any common destination.
Then Dr Glenn Flores presented on health interpreting, and the dramatic positive and negative consequences of getting things right and wrong respectively in this area. Even though we have heard all this before, his address was more packed with facts and figures than most, including one extremely interesting statistic – a study showed that after 30 years’ experience, health interpreters were still making the same categories of mistake as when they started out, yet with as little as 100 hours’ training – yes, just 100 hours – the incidence of errors was cut dramatically.
The next keynote highlight was the anthropologist Dr Sarah Kendzior, a committed pro-democracy activist focused particularly on recent developments in the US, and more particularly the extremely difficult situation for those seeking human rights and change for the better in Uzbekistan. She highlighted the importance of using the local language, yet the difficulty of communicating widely in that language when it is not yet translatable by Google and similar tools. And more particularly, social media – formerly a tool for the promotion of freedom and human rights – are increasingly being used by the authorities to crack down on dissent, she argued.
Meanwhile, there was also much to reflect on in some of the individual sessions. Interest in literary translation at the FIT Congress has diminished over the years, yet, true to form, it was here that some of the most fascinating discussions of practitioners grappling with everyday problems were to be heard. My personal highlights included Eva Dobos speaking on translating the understated tone of Norwegian fiction into the loquacious and eloquent Hungarian tongue, of which I am hoping to see some examples in the near future!
In discussions of the use of translation memories, I found that freelancers are generally well disposed towards them, which is understandable given the major difficulty of managing the large volumes of text arising in larger agencies. Trados remains a firm favourite with many, although MemoQ continues to make inroads, it would appear, largely on the basis of very good customer relations.
So overall my feeling was that the future is not quite here (otherwise it wouldn’t be the future, I suppose). I was unable to attend the presentations on “how to survive in the future translation environment”, of which there were quite a few. However the mood was convivial rather than apprehensive, and I remain convinced that as the ongoing development of translation technology will continue to open up niches for smaller operators to work along more subtle and creative lines.