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Translation and linguistic landscapes part 1

In this video, we introducing notions of space in translation and the concept of linguistic landscapes.

In Week 2 we talked about translators, who they are and how they work. But what about the spaces in which translation takes place?

In this video, two translators and an interpreter talk about the importance of space for their work. And all three try to dispel some of the stereotypes about their professions: the two translators describe how they work mostly from home, alone, but in surroundings which are meant to be both comfortable and well-organised.

There is no chance of them working on the beach and most of the time they have no direct interaction with others: no busy courtrooms or police stations appear in their professional practice. Perhaps more surprisingly, the court interpreter too stresses that she works mostly on her own: in this case, being alone means not having any colleagues with whom to share her thoughts, her long hours and her responsibilities.

Translation is indeed often portrayed as a solitary task. Yet both as an activity and as a product it is far from being confined inside a room: it inhabits our streets as much as our computer screens, our theatres and museums as well as our schools or our hospitals. And the space occupied by translation can be transnational, but it can also be contained within one nation.

As we saw in Week 1, translation can work both within a single language and among different ones. Similarly, translation can ‘move’ texts and meanings across the boundaries that separate nations, but it can also inhabit the space of a single city, or a single institution.

We tend to imagine nations as monolingual, or sometimes perhaps bilingual, but in fact most of them incorporate multiple languages, whether these are spoken by different indigenous groups, by established minorities, or by recent immigrant communities.

How those languages are made visible – or invisible – and how they are treated – with equal dignity, or as an unwelcome necessity, or perhaps even as a bit of an afterthought, makes a substantial difference to the way in which people feel about space. Whether we feel ‘at home’ or experience a sense of belonging in a place is closely linked to our ability to ‘read’ the space that surrounds us.

Here you can watch the trailer for the documentary ‘Africa Is You: The Somali-Dutch Community in Birmingham UK’ As you watch the trailer you will hear two languages: English and Dutch.

Many members of the Birmingham Somali community moved to the UK after spending a substantial period of time in Holland, hence Dutch is a language they frequently use. Through the Somali community Dutch therefore enters the space of a major British city. And for many members of that group it functions as a marker of shared identity, belonging and memories.

This example stresses the importance of recognising multilingualism as a common trait of contemporary society and the need to treat the many languages spoken in our communities with equal dignity. This means ensuring access to education, health, justice and many other services and rights in languages that children and adults are familiar with.

Translation and interpreting have a fundamental role to play in ensuring that access and in supporting social inclusion. If you want to know more about these issues, you could start by checking the Salzburg Statement for a Multilingual World, published on February 21st 2018 (International Mother Language Day) and available in more than 40 languages.

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Working with Translation: Theory and Practice

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