NZSTI Annual Conference 2019

NZSTI Annual Conference 2019


NZSTI annual conference held in Christchurch 1-2 June 2019

I have long maintained that the conferences of our national association of translators and interpreters (NZSTI) are well up with the international field in terms of the variety and standard of the presentations on offer – and this year’s event, staged in Christchurch over Queen’s Birthday weekend (1-2 June), was no exception.

In his opening keynote, Ngahiwi Apanui, Chief Executive of the Māori Language Commission, set out in very clear terms what he and the Commission hope to achieve over next few years, heading towards the aspirational goal of a million speakers of Māori in New Zealand! At the same time, he was realistic about some of the real challenges involved in achieving this.

Given that 2019 is the International Year of Indigenous Languages, my own paper, entitled “Māori as the new Latin?” considered the possibility of creating a dialogue between Māori and English through the medium of comparative grammar, ideally as a subject taught in schools. My analysis found some interesting correspondences between grammatical structures and cultural attitudes, which I hope to explore further.

Guthrun Love talked about the underlying differences between German and English as evidenced by real translation examples. Her comparison between MT (machine translation) versions and her own English translations highlighted the insistence on active forms and greater detail that is often present in English in contrast with German. Fascinating stuff indeed for those of us involved in these matters.

Tim Hayashi then spoke to us as a user of translations. He is a Japanese-English bilingual, but not a translator himself. His role is to coordinate the publication of promotional material for the ARA education institution in Christchurch, across a wide variety of languages. The quantity and quality of the material being translated has steadily increased over the years, and a very sophisticated process of feedback loops and consultation has been developed to do this work. This was cogently and clearly explained, with a clear grasp of the realities of such translation processes – as opposed to the corporate soft soap and flimflam that we are so often treated to.

A definite conference highlight for me was the joint presentation by Professor Nikki Hessell and Dr Karena Kelly entitled “Translating between the lines: translation in the indigenous languages of Aotearoa and the Pacific”. Dr Kelley talked about her translation into Māori of the short story “The Dolls’ House” by Katherine Mansfield, focusing particularly on questions of social class and language register, and Professor Heskell recounted the remarkable tale of a 19th century translation into Hawaiian of Walter Scott’s novel “Ivanhoe”, in which the situation of the Norman conquest’s impact on the Anglo-Saxon culture became an allegory of the American presence in Hawaii!

The presentation of Jupri Zulprianto, a PhD student from Deaken University entitled “Fidelity in translation from English into Indonesian: structural considerations based on systemic functional grammar” sounded rather dry on paper, but was full of interest. He discussed two different translations into Indonesian of “Animal Farm” by George Orwell. The theory of systemic functional grammar (which I understood in terms of the distinction between rheme and theme) provided a clear framework for his comparative analysis, along with aspects of the changing political context and the different linguistic backgrounds of the translators.

Sunday morning’s keynote from Dr Henry Liu, appropriately entitled “Game of two halves”, focused on what technology can and cannot do in our ever-changing linguistic and cultural environment, with particular reference to indigenous languages.

Nora Sautter from NAATI then provided a clear and useful briefing on the new structure of NAATI examinations.

After morning tea, Josaiah Beach treated us to an analysis of all the major scripts used around the world, giving context and meaning to the wall displays of newspapers in languages as well-known as Georgian and Inner Mongolian that had been rather mysteriously gracing the walls of the main lecture room throughout the event – fascinating stuff!

Peter Tuffley talked of “Zen and the art of Haiku translation”, focusing on one of Basho’s most famous haikus. It seemed that over the decades the very flower of the profession had ignored some aspects of the basic grammatical structure of the text in their translations. Peter offered up some alternative versions, including his own, but I was particularly struck by the translation by a British poetess (if I recall correctly), which put the punchline right at the start. Food for thought there, I said to myself, and I am still thinking now.

Jenna Milesi spoke on “getting yourself noticed”, i.e. how to go about setting up a translation business. These matters are not of any direct interest in my case, but I nonetheless found this an excellent presentation, with plenty of really useful, concrete advice on how to get a brand, logo and website without spending a fortune, for example.

Our guest Alison Rodriguez, from Brisbane, then drew the presentations to a close, focusing on the impact of technologies on the situation of indigenous languages.

All in all a highly stimulating conference, and many thanks to the organisers.

John Jamieson

Photo credit: Henry Liu