LifeinLINCS is very pleased to announce the first ever video interview on the blog. This is an interview with translation scholar, Valerie Henitiuk, just after her guest lecture at Heriot-Watt in November. Transcription is found below.
Please feel free to comment on the content of this video. Do you want to understand more about how people translate and why they translate a certain way? What would you like to learn about translation?
JD: A very interesting talk here at Heriot-Watt on Translation and the Worlding of literatures. Can you give us a kind of 30 second précis of what your argument was?
VH: Well, the précis of course is difficult since you’ve just heard the talk because it ranged from Kipling to Shakespeare to Japanese writing back again, oh and also Harvard and American Indians. But really what I was talking about was the difficulty of understanding translational processes and the importance of looking at that process as a real and meaningful act, that translation is not simply putting words from one language into another, that it is much more meaningful and political and very complex and something well worth examining.
JD: Well, this links in with, I noticed that you said translation is perhaps the 21st century’s eponymous discipline almost. What did you mean by that?
VH: Well, I think I would think about the 21st century, we think of googlisation, we think of the world becoming smaller. Paradoxically, as the world becomes smaller and we are more in contact with one another, our differences, I think are exacerbated and we rub against and we realise how often we don’t understand one another. Some people think “oh no, everybody speaks English today.” Nonsense! All different Englishes; people are speaking different languages. There’s this very superficial sense that we understand one another. Translation helps us understand where we go wrong and where it might be possible to go right; where we might learn to understand one another better and share stories, share information and therefore co-exist in the 21st century.
JD: So this kind of links in with the idea that perhaps could learn from the other disciplines that have borrowed out concepts and terms. Is that the kind of research that you’d like to see new PhD students doing?
VH: Yeah, absolutely. This was a question immediately after my talk, somebody was saying “well, what about these other disciplines? Medicine’s using these translational terms and concepts or architecture, should we be talking to them to find out how they are using the term?” I think, absolutely. I think the idea of translation as a metaphor is fascinating – the way other cultures are talking about translation or have talked about translation, the way other disciplines use the concept. Let’s find out why they are doing it and how they’re using it, rather than just dismissing it as a sort of illicit appropriation of our vocabulary, our discipline. Let’s have a dialogue about that. I think we can learn something as well as teaching something.
JD: And do you think there is great potential for people to be able to cross those disciplinary barriers that can be almost like the Berlin wall at times.
VH: Absolutely. I trained as a comparativist, Jonathan and my discipline is Comparative Literature and my training and so I don’t believe in barriers. I don’t believe in them. I work around them. I think they’re all arbitrary, all you have to do is figure out how to do it.
JD: Okay and just to finish the video off, what advice would you have for someone who’s considering perhaps coming from the professional world into the research world or has perhaps just finished their masters degree and is wondering whether perhaps they should come and do a PhD somewhere?
VH: Ooh well! Erm, yes! Do it. I came to PhD study very late. I did my PhD just in 2005. I did many things in the professional world as a technical translator for the government of Canada. Another mention of Canada. For many years I did that and I went back into academics because I thought, “No, I want to understand more about what I am doing rather than just doing it.” I love to do it too but boy, I want to know how it works and so yeah, we need more research. Translation is, for all of its core activity, the meaning of being human, it’s not studied enough. There’s lots of learn.
JD: Valerie Henituk, thank you very much. And this is Jonathan Downie for the LifeinLINCS blog, see you later.