Friday, October 27, 2006

ALTA Conference -- The Host Chair's View Part Two

This conference was filled with so much activity that I am still trying to take it all in. As Host Committee Chair, I was constantly on the move, directing people hither and yon, welcoming people, making sure that people found the coffee, the room, the keynote speakers. I left off the last posting half-way through the conference activities I attended, and so will pick up in the middle of Friday afternoon.

I attended the talk "Reading and Writing Chinese" where there was much conversation around the use of the computer in learning to read as well as discussion on using the computer for composing written documents. I was happy to hear Geoff Waters recommend the Unicode Unified Han pages, which can be found on-line at, since my husband has devoted so much of his life to the Unicode Standard.

Many of us filed in to hear the guest speaker Joseph Butwin give an interesting talk on how his parents became Yiddish translators, and it was beshert that they ended up translating Sholem Aleichem. Fate, or the Heavens, does seem to play a role in translators falling into the profession, and his description won nods of recognition from the audience.

Niloufar Talebi gave a beautiful rendition of contemporary Iranian poetry with the help of two musicians who drove up from Portland. It was a moving, heart-felt and amazing evening of music and recitation. If you weren't there, you missed a wonderful evening. (Let's just say that the musicians made brisk sales of their CD afterwards -- I think they sold out their stock! I bought three of them, one for me and two for friends).

Saturday October 21

After the ALTA breakfast, I headed out to the Danish, Norwegian and Icelandic Voices for the American Reader panel. Ingrid Lansford moderated a panel with Tara Chase (Norwegian) Randi Eldvik (Old Icelandic) and Thom Satterlee (Danish). The discussion grew lively and heated (again, you just think we Scandinavians are cold fish. HA!) One theme that came up was the difficulty in convincing Scandinavians that American English is good enough, compared to British English. As Tara Chase pointed out, "If you want to sell to an American audience, why not translate into American English? There are now 300 million of us and only 60 million of them." Randi Eldvik thought that it should not be a problem, since educated Americans do read British English and watch Public Television, and that the American audience need not and perhaps should not demand translations into American English. I pointed out the fact that American translators can lose work to British translators, due to this prejudice, and that eating is also a very nice thing to do (with example of lost book). Which is better, a real American translation or a "Mid-Atlantic" translation? I noted that the British translators had no qualms about using Britishisms and that we Americans had just as much right to our English as the Brits do. I also told the story of the discussion Niklas Rådström and I had concerning the bird blue titmouse, to much laughter. The question becomes "who do we translate for" -- the English-speaking world as a whole, Americans, to please the Scandinavian authors, who do like to put in their own two cents using dictionaries biased towards British English to butress their arguments? It is a unique problem that Scandinavians do know quite a bit of English, and therefore often have opinions about the translation of their work, which can be quite misguided. We would have kept going, but we were kicked out of the room.

From Scandinavia back to Asia, where I listened to a fascinating panel on the Prose Poem in East Asia. Brian Clements, publisher of Sentence, the prose poem journal, put together a wonderful selection of panelists: Jeffrey Angles, Steve Bradbury, Don Mee Choi (together with the poet she translates Kim Hyesoon) and Andrea Lingenfelder. I was brought up to speed on the history of the prose poem in Asia, and the changes in page layout which made the prose poem possible in Chinese, Japanese and Korean. The prose poem is a new development in Asia, and exciting things are happening as poets work with this, for them, new mode of expression. All of these translators are beyond excellent -- BUY THEIR TRANSLATIONS, you will not regret it. Or look for the upcoming Asian prose poem feature in Sentence.

Since I wear another hat as Secretary-Treasurer of the Association of Swedish Translators in North America (STiNA), I had to leave Asia and go find out practical information that could be of use to STiNA members. That is to say, I went to hear all about Awards, Grants and Funding, and took notes so that I could inform the STiNA membership of upcoming deadlines and requirements for various grants. From this panel, I went to ALTA and the World, where the various translation organizations met to discuss mutual projects and working together to benefit translators around the world. I learned, and I did not know this, that ALTA is a member of the international translator's organization FIT, and that we as ALTA members can get an international translator's identification, which has similar privledges to an international journalist ID. See the FIT website for more information on the international translators ID.

By the time keynote speaker Ch'oe Yun was on stage, I was finding myself feeling a bit dizzy, so I was gripping my seat to keep myself from fainting and making a scene, but in spite of this distraction, I found what Ch'oe Yun said (with Bruce Fulton's translation) a fascinating insight into the contact between Korean and French, and the problems associated when two such different languages meet in the translator's mind and on the translated page.

I was beginning to feel ill and debated whether or not to just call my husband to take me home, but decided that I would attend the Declamacion, since that is the highlight of an ALTA event for me! I love to hear people reciting and singing, and the evening is always filled with laughter and good times. This was my fourth ALTA and hence my third Declamacion (I sat the first one out because I didn't realize that it was in languages other than Spanish), and I also led the group to a rousing chorus of Helan går! So now many dozens of ALTA members can sing one drinking song with the best of the Swedes, which, if you ever win a Nobel Prize yourself, may come in handy. (And special thanks to Liz Henry for "straightening out my bosum" ie, making sure that my folkdräkt and I could be seen in public!)

The words to Helan går:

Helan går nu hopp fa la ra la fa la ley!
Helan går nu hopp fa la ra la ley!
Den som inte helan tar
inte heller halvan får
Helan GÅR (pause to drink)
Nu hopp fa la ra la ley!

A fine conclusion to a good conference.
See you in Dallas! And practice your Swedish drinking song for next year!

Your (now FORMER) Host Committee Chair Laura


Liz Henry said...

Laura, this is a fabulous post!

I have many responses and questions, but for now, am curious about this:

"ALTA is a member of the international translator's organization FIT, and that we as ALTA members can get an international translator's identification, which has similar privileges to an international journalist ID. See the FIT website for more information on the international translators ID."

I'm looking at the FIT web site, , and can't find information on this FIT identification. I did find a charter of rights and responsibilities, but nothing about an international identification as a translator. Also, on their site of affiliate associations, ALTA is not listed!

Liz said...

I just found the ID card information, here on the FIT download page:

Thanks again, Laura!

The Mandarin said...

You can even get a ringtone of the Helan går song....

/Geoff Waters

The Mandarin said...

I asked my Swedish Saab mechanic (we've had eight Saabs and two Volvos, Laura) about the song and he gave me an alternate spelling of some of the words:

Helan går sjung hopp faderallan lallan lej!
Helan går sjung hopp faderallan lej.
Och den som inte helan tar han heller inte halvan får.
Helan GÅR.... (pause to drink all of your glass) sjung hopp faderallan lej!

He also metioned that Laurel and Hardy were called Helan and Halvan in Swedish, the full one and the half-full one.