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Who translates? Introduction

Watch this video, introducing week 2. This week we are going to explore the people who make translation happen.
Who is the translator? Is it the lonely scholar sitting in his study surrounded by his dictionaries and reference books? Or the Nicole Kidman-like interpreter overhearing state secrets while sitting in her booth at the United Nations? Or perhaps it’s one of our colleagues here at Cardiff Crown Courts, one of the interpreters who work here. They do an incredible job. They make it possible for judges and barristers to understand the testimonies of foreign murderers and drug dealers. But they also make it possible for witnesses and victims of crime to have their voices heard and access justice even if they don’t speak English.
There is a wide number of people who translate as part of their jobs and yet they’re often not even aware that they’re translating. A powerful historical example of this is Queen Elizabeth I, who reigned over 400 years ago. Elizabeth was also an avid translator and a very precocious one at that. At age 12, she had already translated the first chapter of one of the key texts of Protestantism, John Calvin’s Institutions of the Christian Faith. Now what is interesting about Elizabeth’s translation is the fact that she often used them as gifts. She used to gift them to her royal relatives. Interestingly, she used to choose the Catholic relatives.
And scholars suggest that these translations and these gifts were actually attempts at converting her relatives to Protestantism. What Elizabeth’s example actually shows us is that translators have linguistic skills, but they also require other knowledge. In Elizabeth’s case for example, religious knowledge, political knowledge, and philosophical knowledge. And they also develop different skills, more hidden skills– for example, diplomacy and persuasiveness. And these are key to the role of the translator, because they allow them to be adaptable in each and every role they play, in each and every context that they encounter. This week you will learn that translators, just like Elizabeth, come in all shapes and sizes, from professional interpreters to multilingual speakers, from monarchs to migrants.

Welcome to Week 2 on ‘Who translates?’

This week we are going to explore the people who make translation happen and we will consider the important role translators and interpreters have played throughout history, as well as the multiple functions they perform in today’s multilingual world.

We will also look at bilingual and multilingual people, and reflect on the ways they negotiate between languages and cultural traditions in their daily lives.

Through multiple examples and activities, we hope to help you reflect on your own experiences as translators and interpreters but also, more broadly, as language users.

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Working with Translation: Theory and Practice

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