Friday, June 1, 2012

Back from Forlì

I'm back from the Forlì conference, having spent a few days on the way in the beautiful old city of Bologna. Apart from its buildings - we visited three churches each the size of a cathedral - it boasts the oldest university in Europe, founded in 1088. At 4:05 am on May 20 we were wakened by the first of the two earthquakes that have hit the region. But the tremor only lasted a matter of seconds, the hotel shook but settled back to stability, so we went to sleep again and only learnt about the damage elsewhere the next morning. Fortunately for us and for the city, the epicentre was some distance away (Bologna is a province as well as a city) and in the city itself life went on as usual.

The conference gave great satisfaction. It wasn't large (some 60 participants) but they came from 18 countries, so it was truly international. As its chief organiser, Rachele Antonini, says in a post-conference email:
"I think that having a conference where we can all present and discuss our research in this field without being relegated in sessions that have little to do with our work was something that we all enjoyed and treasured, and certainly an experience to be repeated."
For me, it was a particular pleasure to meet some of the readers of this blog in person.

That said, it's also noticeable that the spread was far from even. Of the 60 participants, all but six were from Europe. That's easily explained, of course, by logistics and cost. Low-cost airlines have revolutionised travel within Europe. There are days when you can fly from Valencia to Bologna for 10 euros plus tax! For people from afar, perhaps the future lies in streaming conferences by internet - but then we wouldn't have the pleasure of meeting like-minded people in person.

And the topics of the papers likewise showed an uneven distribution. We can't yet say that non-professional translation studies are in fashion, but they have their own fashions. One is language brokering, whose relative popularity has been, as Marjorie Faulstich Orellana showed in her paper, mainly due to people from other disciplines like sociology. There were 10 papers on child language brokering (CLB). Only one, a 'spin-off' to quote its author, was on language brokering by adults; although there were one or two others that might be classed with it even if they didn't use the term. In part the imbalance in this case can be attributed to the fact that the Forlì people have their own CLB research project, called In medio PUER(I), and that “CLB is extremely common among all the linguistic groups living in Emilia Romagna” (the region around Forlì).

Another prolific subfield was crowdsourcing, especially for subtitling videos and films (aka fansubbing). There were eight papers on this theme. The activity itself is now very widespread.

In contrast, some equally important fields were under-represented. Religious interpreting and translating brought only two papers. And there was only a single paper - a historical one at that - about military interpreting, something that was surprising given all that is known about the interpreters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hopefully these imbalances will be redressed in future conferences.

Anyway, there was a lot to be learnt at this pioneer meeting and some of it will be taken up here in coming posts.

The title of the conference was non-professional interpreting and translation. This roughly corresponds to natural translation in its broad sense, i.e. the translating done by people who have had no specific training for it. (For the narrower sense, enter essential definitions in the Search box.) In fact natural translation was widely used in the broad sense in the papers, so it seems to be established.

Child language brokering. This term, along with its abbreviation CLB, was also so much used that it's clear it's become established. That's a good thing because it leaves an earlier version of it, language brokering without the child, free for a broader meaning that also covers the language brokering done by teenagers and adults.

Rachele Antonini. The study of child language brokering: Past, current and emerging research. mediAzioni 10, 2010. Click here for the text.

The conference programme is still available here.

The Neptune fountain, Bologna. Source: Wikipedia.

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