Translation in Action
Clarity of Thought.
Courage of Conviction.
Issue 01
July 2020
In this Issue:
Introducing Translation in Action
Life Sentence: An Interview with Clive Stafford Smith
Translation and Ideology by Yazid Haroun
Translation in Poetry: Everything We Say by Feliu Formosa
Connections: Responding to the COVID-19 Crisis
Hello, and welcome to Translation in Action, the brand new Magazine published by Alpha.

Our aim with this online publication is to educate, enthral and entertain with all things translation, localization and language without the ties of commercial and industrial gain. We have a huge team of linguists, experts and friends, all eager to share their knowledge and passion on any subject related to language, from complex courtroom vocab to the names of international foods and how they came about.

In this age, especially considering the recent global events, it’s important we understand the significance of language. Not just in business - advertising products all over the world or encouraging international trade ventures - but in the world in general. The COVID-19 pandemic that changed the entire globe has taught us just how key communication is; how the digital age has grown into something not just used every day, but something essential for everyday life.

Here, we are celebrating language, literally Translation in Action: how it features in the everyday lives of different people. We want to champion the use of language responsibly, give a voice to all those areas it is taken for granted but where it is truly important. In this non-commercial publication, we are excited to welcome people from all sides of modern life, including doctors and human rights lawyers, and experts in publishing, politics, science and more across the world.
Language, as we all know, is multifaceted; differing not just by country but by county, city, culture. We aim to get into the ‘meat’ of how and why language is important for human beings, and what incredible things can and do come from it.

Though TiA is powered by Alpha, we want to stress that any opinions, values and beliefs expressed in this magazine do not necessarily reflect those of Alpha as a company. They are the opinions, values and beliefs of the individual authors only, and may have nothing to do with the business and services Alpha performs. We wish to highlight and discuss the complexities of language here, with people who know it best of all, and to give anyone,  people from all walks of life, the opportunity and platform to write about something they, themselves, are passionate about, regardless of profession and/or employ.

We will be producing this magazine every two months, bringing you unique content from original perspectives with courage, conviction and clarity. In this global age, and these uncertain times, we want to bring people together just as translation does, bridging the gaps between language and culture.

Please enjoy this very first edition of Translation in Action, and if you would like to contribute, or to discuss a contribution you’re considering, please click here to contact the Editor-in-Chief, Daisy Walker.
Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash
An interview on the power of language with human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith.
Clive Stafford Smith OBE is an international human rights lawyer who has worked to overturn death sentences for convicts in the US, and represented more than 100 of the detainees held as “enemy combatants” by the US Army at Guantánamo Bay.

He talked to Translation in Action about the complex role of language in the judicial system and the myriad challenges of translation in the field of human rights.
Translation in Action: You’ve represented many prisoners at Guantánamo Bay – do you have any examples where translation has gone badly wrong?

Clive Stafford Smith: There are so many. So I’ll this choose one, about a confusion between different dialects of Arabic, as an example.

In the early days of the “War on Terror”, which Borat called the “War of Terror”, the US was very short of Arabic translators. So, they would use anyone who said they spoke Arabic, without having the slightest idea of the nuances between the different types of the language. They were interrogating a 14-year-old kid [...] from Saudi Arabia, who had just been sold to the US as a bounty.

The US interrogators were asking him questions through a translator, who spoke Yemeni Arabic, while [the boy] spoke Saudi Arabic. The word “zalat” in Saudi Arabic means “salad” or “tomatoes”, and the word “zalat” in Yemeni Arabic means “money”. The interrogators were asking [him], when he went from Saudi Arabia to Karachi, about how much “zalat” he had with him. And he thought they were talking about tomatoes.

He was a bit surprised and replied: “I didn’t have any ‘zalat’ with me”. And the interrogators got really angry with him and said: “You had to have ‘zalat’ with you, you couldn’t cope without ‘zalat’”. He thought they were mad. And he said: “No, no, I could get ‘zalat’ anywhere I needed it in Pakistan”.

At this point, the interrogators got terribly excited because they thought he was talking about money. They immediately leapt to the conclusion that this kid, who was 14 and had gone to Karachi to learn English, had to be an al-Qaeda financier, maybe in his mid-20s, because he said he could get money anywhere he wanted.

So they started asking him: “Where could you get ‘zalat’ in Karachi?” And, naturally, he listed a series of vegetable stalls that he had frequented. And they wrote this stuff down and they deemed him an al-Qaeda financier.

In this case, it’s so ridiculous it sounds funny. But this stuff happens all the time. If you look at Guantánamo Bay, the quality of translation is dreadful because they can’t even find a translator who speaks the right dialect. It illustrates everything that goes through Guantánamo Bay [...].
TiA: In the world of professional translation, you almost always have a quality assurance stage where the translation is checked for accuracy. Obviously, there are very rarely two interpreters involved in any aspect of the judicial process, so the quality of translation can never be assured. Do you see any solution?

CSS: You’re right, we can’t assure accuracy in such circumstances. And the cases are legion where people get it wrong. One of the interesting aspects of Guantánamo Bay has been that these poor guys, who have been locked up there now for 18 years, have gradually come to learn English. So, they speak English OK and they now recognize when the translators are making mistakes. And it’s all the time.
TiA: If you need to use a translator, does it impact how you interact with your clients?

CSS: Massively. The problem with translation is not just that nuances of meaning can change, but that it’s very difficult to establish a relationship with the person if you rely on a translator. When I go to Guantánamo Bay, I only speak English, or French, or incredibly bad Italian. So, if we need to use a translator, it has an immense impact on how your discussion or questioning of a person goes.

For example, I would be visiting a prisoner in Guantánamo Bay and I’d ask an anodyne question like: “How are you doing?”. The translator and the client would go on for about five minutes and the translator would then turn around and say: “Yes, I’m well”. It’s ridiculous – you don’t know what has happened.
TiA: Tell us about the impact of having to use a translator in the courtroom.

CSS: Well, it helps to think about what actually happens in the courtroom. When you’re questioning a witness, for example, an awful lot of what goes on in the courtroom is a psychological to-and-fro. When you’re dealing with someone who is lying, part of the strategy is to out-think that person into getting them to admit the lie.

One of the ways you do this is by asking your witness questions where you have them on record saying something in the past. If they lie, you can confront them with a piece of paper that shows they’re lying. But, once you’ve done this, you can confront them in another area where you think they might lie and ask a question while waving a piece of paper around. Actually, the piece of paper contains no relevant information, but they think it does – and they’ll be less likely to lie as a result.

So cross-examination is very much a psychological contest. It is a really important process in trying to get to the truth. And it’s very difficult to use these kinds of techniques when you need to use a translator.
TiA: So, how do you personally deal with the situation of having to use a translator?

CSS: If possible, I try not to use one. I try to limit myself to representing people who speak English or French so I can speak to them in these languages directly. Sometimes you can’t, and I make mistakes like anyone else – I’ll give you an example.

I speak really bad Italian. But I needed to use it to speak to a Tunisian prisoner – actually I was telling them the story of Br’er Rabbit and Tar Baby. The reason for this is it is the key to dealing with the US. [In this case,] the US is represented by the big bully, the stupid Fox, and our client must be the small, clever, slightly arrogant Rabbit. When you are stuck to a Tar Baby (a prison cell), you need to come up with a good way out of your predicament, which rarely involves charging at the guns like the Light Brigade.

I represented a lot of prisoners down there, and I told this story to all these different people. When it came to my bad Italian, I could not remember the word for rabbit until much later (corniglio) so the story was probably fairly incoherent. But, inevitably, the tale made its way back into the prison camps and circulated among all the many prisoners who were trying to work out what the hell I meant by this, a task made more difficult as the process of “Chinese Whispers” muddled it further.

Then, this fairly innocent story started to take on a life of its own. A couple of years later, it came round that the CIA and the intelligence agencies in Guantánamo Bay thought that there was a big plot going on codenamed “Rabbit” that was designed to do something dreadful. Those things are just funny because it’s just the fact that people have totally got the wrong end of the stick. But it goes to show: things can escalate through a bad translation.
TiA: Do you have any more thoughts on the role of translation in the area of human rights?

CSS: It’s part of a bigger picture, and we’ve got a long way to go in terms of human rights in general. I think it’s very important that we try to learn from other languages and other cultures in this field. In the Anglo-American world, we tend to think that we somehow own all of the language of human rights. We don’t and we shouldn’t. There are lots of things that other people think that, perhaps, we don’t see. Language is obviously a big part of that.
TiA: Finally, do you have any advice to linguists thinking of going into the field of courtroom interpretation?

CSS: My advice to them is that they should call me up and volunteer to help me out! Of course, that’s purely self-interested advice because we always need help in terms of people from different linguistic backgrounds.
Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve, a non-profit organization that uses the law to fight extreme human rights abuses like the death penalty.
By Yazid Haroun
How does ideology shape translation?

Ideology is a feature of language, and translation is no less free of ideology than any social activity. Ideology’s workings in translation relate to the transfer of linguistic items from language to language, where meanings, beliefs and values are negotiated. From women taking matters into their own hands, to translators being violently targeted, ideology can be a volatile subject but remains very important all over the word.

Ideology, quite an elusive concept in the social sciences, has as many definitions as there are scholars of ideology. The term “ideology” was coined in 1796 by the French philosopher, Antoine Destutt de Tracy, in the hope of establishing a science of ideas. Hopes of this were dashed by Napoleon Bonaparte, who gave the term a political twist[1] and, as a result, it was often associated with manipulation and deceit.

This negative meaning was later popularised by Karl Marx, who spoke of ideology as a distorted view of the world, indissolubly connected with the ruling class’s ideas. It was only in the 1960s that the influence of this meaning seemed to grow less present, with Louis Althusser’s inclusive definition of ideology as a structural field wherein people make sense of their lives, and where “there is no practice except by and in ideology”.
[1] For further details, see chapter I, Twisted Preliminaries: The ‘Idéologistes’ and Napoleon, in Jan Rehmann’s Theories of Ideology (2013).
Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash
The constraints imposed on people by ideology are so strong that sometimes they appear as something “obvious”. For example, if you go to the supermarket for grocery shopping, you never think that the food might be poisoned: the “fact” that it won’t be is obvious to you. There is an established trust between the consumer and producer, a taken-for-granted assumption that produce is regulated by a broader consumerist ideology.

So, how does our understanding of ideological assumptions and what is “obvious” (and often unnoticed) apply to translation? Let’s take the concept of fluency, for example. Some translation reviewers praise fluency in translation (a smooth reading experience), only imperfectly aware of how fluency as a style operates as a literary market-driven ideological strategy in large parts of the Western publishing world.

This is often referred to as a “domestication” strategy, which strips the text of its original nature. The use of this strategy can lead to a distorted image of the cultural discourse from which the source text originated in the eyes of Western readership.
The ideology of translation style has a great impact on how we perceive the translated work and, indeed, the source culture. A recent study on the translation of Portuguese academic discourse describes how a linear plain-prose academic style in English has replaced the neo-romantic non­linear style that can be found in the source material. This type of translation seems to have annihilated a whole system of thought, as though the Portuguese academic discourse could all be swept away by the dominant English scientific dialogue[1].

What’s the role of translators in all this?  As translation is the product of sociocultural settings, it is also conditioned by the agency of the translators involved. Questions like how translators, positioned within networks of power, are useful in forming a coherent idea about contexts and purposes.

Translators use several strategies to challenge power relations within their reach. For example, some feminist translators denounce the dictatorship of patriarchy, demanding an immediate conclusion of patriarchal language, and advocate the freedom of women from the linguistic shackles of tradition. In doing so, they may go against the grain, challenge assumptions and endanger their professional and personal lives. For instance, some feminist translators revised the translations of key cultural texts, such as the Bible.
Handwritten draft of chapter II of The Woman's Bible (1895)
Bible translations, as shown in many studies, generally reinforced believers’ misogynist attitudes over time, interpreting texts to define women as the root of evil, deficient and incapable, and consistently casting the male in God’s image. An early example of rebellion against this norm is The Women’s Bible, 1895, produced by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the most outspoken contemporary critics of Bible translations, and a committee of women. This work was intended to question the sexist traditions of existing Bible translations, striving to raise awareness of the ideologies that had informed them.

Sometimes translators may end up in the firing line, however. Some translators have even been violently targeted for their work, particularly while dealing with derisive religious subject matters. Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, a novel widely criticised in ultraconservative circles of the Islamic faith for blasphemy, portraying elements of the Prophet Mohammed’s life and implying the Qur’an was the work of the devil, resulted in several attacks, bombings and the book being banned. The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran even issued a fatwa calling for the death of Rushdie, though the successive Iranian governments no longer support the order.
Photo by Jens Johnsson on Unsplash
The Italian translator of the novel, Ettore Capriolo, survived a knife assault; the Japanese translator, Hitoshi Igarashi, was stabbed to death; and the Turkish translation’s commissioner, Aziz Nesin, mysteriously escaped a bomb attack which killed 37 people and injured many more. These assaults are not necessarily directly related to their translations per se, but more to the fact that they even tried to translate Rushdie’s text, bringing the controversial material to other cultures.

Despite the danger that Rushdie’s translators faced, very few of us working in industry-led translation companies face similar threats for symptoms of resistance. However, literary and ideological power relations are all around us and will continue to influence who gets promoted, who gets the next job, and who gets dismissed. How some literary, political, and nationalist ideas gain currency cannot be separated from the way we perceive the world – it’s all in ideology.
Photo by Bethany Laird on Unsplash
Feliu Formosa is a Catalan poet, translator, playwright, essayist, actor and theatre director. He has translated and adapted many works from German by authors including Bertolt Brecht, Georg Trakl, Heinrich Heine, Thomas Mann, Joseph Roth, Friedrich Dürrenmatt and Frank Wedekind.

His poetic career, which began with Albes breus a les mans (Brief Dawns in Hand) and Llibre de meditacions (1973) (Book of Meditations), is brought together in the volume entitled Darrere el vidre. Poesia 1972-2002 (2004) (Behind the Glass. Poetry 1972-2002). He has been awarded many prizes for his poetry, translation and theatre, noteworthy among which are the National Translation Prize from the Spanish Ministry of Culture (1994), the Spanish National Culture Prize for Theatre (2002), and more recently, the Premi d’Honor de les Lletres Catalanes (2005).

As Feliu Formosa writes about his poetry: “When I began to publish poetry, I was soon seen as an outsider and I still consider that I am that. I believe that my poetry has become increasingly stark and spare (clear, but not simple or facile, I hope). Someone has spoken of ‘intensive realism’. Someone else has mentioned ‘expressionism’. I have no choice but to move between Trakl’s daydreams and Brecht’s realities”.
Tot allò que diem by Feliu Formosa
Tot allò que diem
ha estat dit per un altre.
Ho sabíem de sempre.
A cada pas que fem,
se'ns oblida l'ofici
i cada vers ens sobta,
tot i tenir-lo dintre.
El secret és saber-ho,
talment com quan sentim
des de llocs oposats
el galop dels cavalls
per les rieres seques.
Aleshores cal prémer
(dins la vall plena d'ecos)
el llibre ben obert
contra la pana: un llamp
es clavà al cor cremat
del vidre ..., confirmem.

Translation by Paul Mangell
Everything we say
has been said by someone else.
This, we’ve known forever
But with every step we take,
we forget the craft,
and so every verse surprises us,
Even though it’s held within.
The secret is to know it deep,
just like when we hear
from opposite places
the gallop of the horses
by dry streams.
Then you have to open
(in the valley full of echoes)
the book wide open
against the fabric: a flash of lightning
is bolted to the burnt heart
of glass. This we confirm.
Across every industry sector, the impact of the global pandemic has been sudden, profound and intensely disruptive. Translation in Action asked a range of businesses working with Language Service Providers about the role of language (and translation) in a crisis, what they hope to learn from the current situation, and their hopes for the future.
How have you responded to the new almost exclusively digital environment?

“It’s a case of ramping up existing digital strategy.”

“It really depends. You ramp up the digital solution mainly because you don’t have another choice. If you don’t do it, others will.”
Photo by Dominic Plaza from Pixabay 
Do you think it is more important now to localize these digital channels for different markets than it was before?

“Yes. People will choose local brands once this is over. Local was already in our future, but corona speeds that process in such a way it’s not in our future anymore, but it’s in our present way of doing things. We need translations to reach those customers.”

“For us, there was a push to localize some of our marketing materials since we were seeing an uptick in downloads and app store visits. Our app is already fully localized but we did include some additional messaging for all languages.”

“Yes. The main communication channel became digital – the ROI is much higher than before.”
Can the way you communicate with customers/employees help the situation?

“You have to calm people down, and you do that by using your voice. As long as you communicate calmly, you can lead people through the most difficult of times – even remotely. My colleagues know they can reach me if they need my help. I know I can do the same thing with them. That communication brings peace to us all, and the knowledge that no matter what we need, there is always a listening ear, creates a team.”
Are there any lessons your business can learn from this difficult situation?

“That there are different ways to reach the same goal. That we can change what we do and find new paths and new ways to do what we need to do.”
Finally, what gives you hope – professionally and/or personally – during this challenging time?

“It is going to pass eventually and important capabilities are developing now, rapidly, which can serve us and improve our business in the future.”

“Professionally, I’m in a very impactful industry that many people rely on for peace of mind. It’s been great to connect more deeply with customers during this time. Their messages of gratitude have been quite motivating. Personally, I see a lot of good shining through during this time which helps me view it as ‘glass half full’. The work I’m doing makes a positive impact – so I’m motivated to keep pushing forward.”

“From a professional point of view, I’ve always said that working from home is the future. That future came very fast and very thoroughly. We work at home and I discover there are some issues there – especially making sure you maintain a good work–life balance. Either way, in general I discover that I have more time to work and more free time, which is good.

“From a personal level, my first fiction book will appear in a couple of months. It’s published by a traditional indie publisher in the US, which thrills me since this is one of my dreams I’ve always tried to make come true.”
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