It has been such a pleasure to serve as our chapter’s president for two years and be a part of this professional community. Prior to running for president-elect and then president, I felt that I had greatly benefited from my membership and being mentored, and wanted to give back. I met inspiring linguists at the Circle, in my translation certificate programs and during my first forays into translation agencies. I had many ideas and got to work on large events and projects with hardworking collaborators who contributed great ideas of their own. In addition to my fellow board members, I had a strong support network of former officers, volunteers and longtime members. In turn, I’ve enjoyed supporting our energetic and reliable incoming board members in 2016.
The 2016 board made an incredible and lasting contribution to our chapter. We strove to offer a varied slate of programming focused on a number of translating and interpreting specializations. Our Program Director, Ana Lis Salotti, hit the ground running by organizing professional development panels and presentations, as well as our very first literary translation open mic. Not everyone can make it to the ATA conference’s After Hours Café, so this was a great opportunity for many talented members to shine and showcase their work. Who knew that our treasurer translated Russian Silver Age poetry? In March, we brought back a favorite ATA conference speaker on transcreation. I only regret that I couldn’t attend every single event!
Our spring events also included a second annual all-day literary translation conference organized by outgoing Vice President and current Acting President Alta Price. The Professionalization Symposium was expanded into an all-day event with three concurrent afternoon sessions and lecturers from institutions all over the tri-State area. While I had been involved in the 2015 Symposium, I have to give all the credit for planning and executing last year’s event to the 2016 Symposium Committee: Administrator Louise Jennewine, Ana Lis Salotti and former president Leonard Morin. More than170 people attended! In the fall, I helped our Program Director plan a second iteration of our speed-networking event. Some of my favorite project managers attended and said they met very interesting prospective collaborators.
In addition to her regular responsibilities, Secretary Lisa Rodriguez proctored two sittings of the ATA certification exam, initiated the design and production of a new brochure and created a new record-keeping system. We took some time off in the summer, but continued to support our Webmaster, Gigi Branch-Shaw, who worked daily to address inherited website and database glitches and to find a new website designer before we settled on WP Blogsites. To date, we have been happy with their services and responsiveness. Our treasurer Andre Kononenko had the arduous task of rebuilding and maintaining our financial records and advising us. As for our Nomination Committee, volunteers Michael Bittoni and Martin Hoffman combed through member lists to identify and contact potential candidates for the election. Linkedin Moderator Soraya Riera posted interesting content and recruitment announcements in our LinkedIn group.
This winter, we are still looking for candidates for president and hope to hold our regular election for other positions later in the year. I encourage anyone who feels ready to reach out to Michael Bittoni and run for this position. We are one of the smallest and most active chapters in the country, and our vibrancy is the direct result of the work and creativity of our volunteers. We already have some exciting events planned for this spring and I encourage you to get involved!
Our organization is at a critical juncture. Within the next three months, we will either elect the next president or opt instead to close our local chapter.
As you’ll have read in recent e-mail announcements, 2016 was a banner year for the Circle. We held eight monthly meetings, two networking events, and two full-day professional development workshops. Three of our 2016 board members and all three special-projects managers are already hard at work preparing activities for the coming year.
As I write this, however, no one has stepped forward to run for president, and our nominating committee has been unable to locate a prospective candidate for the 2017–2018 term.
Both Valeriya and I are grateful to have served our two-year terms as president and vice president, respectively. Empowered by the trust granted us by the Circle’s board and general membership, we had the honor of building on past accomplishments, expanding membership to include new communities, and setting a solid trajectory for the Circle’s future. Our ongoing professional commitments prevent us from running for reelection, and we both feel the health of our organization stands to benefit from new leadership.
During my term as VP, aside from assisting Valeriya with her duties, I had the pleasure of working with program directors Kate Deimling and her successor, Ana Lis Salotti, to run our first two annual literary translation conferences, bringing in speakers and panelists from the fields of book and journal publishing, editing, translation, and reviewing. We also organized the inaugural open-mic night at Cornelia Street Café, and provided support to former President Leonard Morin and other past board members as they ran two annual outreach conferences at John Jay and Hunter colleges. The National Language Service Corps invited me to speak on behalf of the Circle at their local chapter meeting, helping spread the word about our outstanding association. While members working in Indo-European languages remain very active, we’ve seen an increase in members working in African languages, and a massive boost in the number of members working in Asian languages, which is exciting. Working with the entire board, we established financial guidelines and protocol for protecting the Circle’s accounts and ensuring transparency for the sake of all members. We have also begun liaising with other venues and organizations to broaden professional opportunities for our members, as well as reach new populations in need of our services.
I couldn’t have done any of this on my own. My successor will have the full support of program director Ana Lis Salotti, treasurer Andre Kononenko, secretary Lisa Rodriguez, newsletter editor Margarite Heintz-Montez, webmaster Gigi Branch, and administrator Louise Jennewine. Each of our events and initiatives is a team effort.
After much reflection, I agreed to serve as acting president through April 30, 2017, simply because I do not wish for our local chapter to go dormant or close down entirely. Because prior commitments preclude me from serving another full term, I hope to devote this time to identifying, training, and supporting our next prospective president(s). Normally, the new president would have been elected in December and started the term this month—but we all know that very few things in the world feel “normal” right now.
How much service experience did I have previously, you ask? Scant. I had volunteered as an ESL instructor, and was a member of several professional organizations in both language services and the arts, but had never held a leadership position. I didn’t even have ATA certification, nor was I a voting ATA member. When I decided to run for the NYCT board, I had recently joined the board of directors at an arts publication, but still hadn’t learned the ropes there. Becoming an active voting member of the ATA so that I could run was an easy process. I certainly didn’t assume my candidacy would result in victory, so was both exhilarated and slightly scared at the prospect of becoming the Circle’s VP.
And now, a confession: for several years I was a lapsed member. After a friend and fellow linguist introduced me to the Circle in 2004, I joined for the first time in 2005. I liked that the Circle didn’t require ATA membership, and at $50 per year it was a bargain compared to its parent association, which cost over twice that amount. I set up my directory profile, attended a few meetings, met some fellow members, skimmed the print copies of the Gotham Translator that periodically arrived in my PO box, and didn’t do much else. Over the next couple of years, my impression—due in great part to my own lack of interest and involvement—was that the Circle didn’t have much going on. And so, although the NYCT had been instrumental in helping me launch my own business, I didn’t bother to renew.
Fast-forward to FY2010–2011: I’d finished my master’s degree, was still an independent language service provider, and decided it was time to expand my reach. I decided to join the ATA because I liked what I’d seen of their magazine, and that’s when the NYCT returned to my radar. The ATA’s rates had gone up, but the Circle’s hadn’t, so I renewed my membership for the first time in over five years, and was pleasantly surprised. Over the next few years I saw that the new board was more active, and as the Circle adjusted to the times with a new website, more detailed directory, and better networking opportunities, each year it seemed more vibrant.
In 2012 A client of mine requested a translator recommendation for a language pair I didn’t cover, and I used the Circle directory to get back in touch with a member I remembered having a good conversation with at one of the meetings. I had a look at her work, touched base regarding her availability, and passed her info along. She got the gig, my client was pleased with the project, and she’s since gone on to publish the very first English translation ever of a novel from one of the former French colonies in Africa—garnering critical acclaim as well. That’s just one anecdote out of many. All this is to say that my fellow NYCT members continue to inspire and impress me with their significant contributions to our field.
Now, five years down the road, the Circle still hasn’t increased its membership fees. Organizing meetings, lining up speakers, and running workshops on a shoestring budget while still providing modest honoraria for visiting presenters is a stimulating challenge. Having been on the board, I got a behind-the-scenes view of what a bargain the NYCT is. Speaking with many of you, my fellow members, at each of our events helped give me ideas for what the Circle could do better, and ultimately underscored the vitality of what it offers.
As I look back on my stint as VP, I can also say I feel as though I’ve gained as much (if not more) from you—our experienced, talented members—than you have from me. Although it would be a real shame, I’ve made my peace with the idea that our chapter could close. It surprises me to think that one of the most populous, most international, and most diverse cities in the United States of America—not to mention the country’s publishing capital—wouldn’t have a local ATA chapter, but a lot of surprising things are taking place. During this time of major change, local engagement is more important that ever. While volunteer board work does take time and energy, the rewards are immense.
As I prepare to step down, I encourage each of you to consider what the Circle means to you and your career. If you feel that the NYCT hasn’t lived up to your hopes, consider becoming an active part in realizing those possibilities—after all, the board and organization exist for you, its members. If you feel it could or already has helped you in your important work, consider giving back to our community. Rest assured that your volunteer work for the Circle will pay off in the form of a stronger network, heightened visibility, and increased impact on our profession in all its facets.
To read more about the responsibilities of the NYCT President, go to http://nyctranslators.org/nyct-bylaws/. Advise the board of your interest or submit nominations to the NYCT Administrator by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I send each of you my heartfelt thanks for being an NYCT member, and for your active commitment to the future of our association. Instead of letting this key part of our local translation and interpretation ecosystem be extinguished, let’s work together to ensure it continues to distinguish our vital work in bringing together this increasingly divided world.
Alta L. Price
Your outgoing VP and Acting President
The Board was introduced by the outgoing President, Valeriya. who proceeded to give details about the past year’s activities.
Alta, the acting President then spoke. Alta reminded all members that the Minutes of all Board Meetings are available to members. She also discussed the new brochures and membership efforts. A lively discussion ensued about ATA exams for certification with a couple of members asking questions. The role of Secretary was discussed and Alta noted how extremely helpful, Lisa, our current Secretary has been.
An urgent appeal was made to members for the post of President so that NYCT does not close.
Besides the role of President other volunteer opportunities that are available to members are submitting ideas for events and programs, submitting articles for the NYCT Gotham and there is a need for a Procter for the ATA certification exam sitting that is scheduled for Saturday, April 8th in NYC.
Ana, the program director. Thanked all for attending n being members.
She highlighted some new events for the Chapter which were the Open-Mic event at Cornelia St. Café, and a literary panel and workshop. Also in 2016 were the Second Annual Symposium at John Jay College of Justice and speed networking event. All these new programs were well attended and received rave reviews from the membership. Our standard Annual picnic and Holiday party also made the list of favorite events.
Upcoming for 2017 is a meeting featuring a U.N. interpreter and a meeting about translating Human Rights. The Open-Mic is scheduled for March and we will send out information about the Symposium at a later date.
Gigi, our webmaster discussed the website and our administrator Louise discussed more member’s issues.
Afterwards, members had an opportunity to socialize with each other at the mixer that followed.
Reprinted with gracious permission from the author Maha El Metwally and the ITI newsletter.
Last academic year, I was invited to participate in a careers day organized by one of the inner city schools in Birmingham. Men and women representing different professions sat at tables where they would receive ten students to talk about their work and after ten minutes the students would move to another table till they have covered all represented professions. The students came with a list of questions which they would pose to the professionals to help them guess what they did. One of the questions was: is your work dangerous? I found myself saying yes, while up till that moment, I had never really considered my work to be dangerous. Maybe I gave that answer because that careers day was soon after the Brussels attacks which targeted places that are very familiar to me. But come to think of it, is it plausible that conference interpreters are among groups that are more at risk since they frequent airports and board planes which are likely targets for terrorist attacks? However, conference interpreters are not targeted. The situation is quite different for interpreters in conflict zones.
Western forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, notably the US and UK troops, used hundreds of interpreters. Those in charge never anticipated that the military would need so many interpreters. Yet as both countries shifted into post-invasion stability operations, the majority of combat units increasingly found themselves interfacing with the local civilian population and for this, interpreters were crucial. “According to a 2011 Congressional Research Service report, at both conflicts’ height of hiring, the United States employed 82,534 Iraqis—including 9,268 interpreters—and 80,725 Afghanis, with a similar proportion of interpreters as Iraq” (Denn, 2014). Due to the enormous risks these interpreters were taking, the US was able to recruit them in part “by making explicit promises of a path toward earning visas and naturalization” (ibid). The UK Government equally pledged to offer safety to Iraqi and Afghan staff who worked with UK armed forces.
Many of these interpreters assisted foreign troops because they believed that they were helping their countries get rid of extremists and start the reconstruction process. This brave move not only put them at risk during army operations, but it also exposed them and their families to retaliatory acts by extremists since they were seen to be cooperating with the ‘infidels’. This is what Maya Hess, Founder and CEO of Red T, a non-profit organization dedicated to linguists at risk, coined the “Translator-Traitor Mentality”. Many of these interpreters and family members lost their lives as a direct result of working for US and UK troops, and significant numbers had to flee their homes and go into hiding.
But despite these harrowing circumstances, resettlement programs often leave to be desired. For instance, while the UK had a welcoming policy towards its Iraqi interpreters, it changed its stance with Afghan linguists. In fact, only a fraction of Afghan interpreters have been granted visas and the Home Office even tried to return those who made it onto British soil and sought asylum there. Fortunately, the courts stopped the Government from deporting them by issuing a ruling that Afghanistan was too dangerous. However, the case was taken to the Court of Appeal and the interpreters in question now risk getting kicked out after a ban on returning them to the war-torn country was lifted.
Until recently, interpreters in conflict zones did not have any organizations to represent them and publicize their plight. This changed in 2009/2010 when the AIIC project to help interpreters in conflict zones was founded in Europe and Red T was formed across the Atlantic to act as the voice of this voiceless group. Red T, the only organization exclusively dedicated to this cause, advocates worldwide on behalf of translators and interpreters in high-risk settings and seeks policy changes across the globe that promote their safety.
In 2010, Red T partnered with the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC) and the International Federation of Translators (FIT) to issue a “Conflict Zone Field Guide”. This Guide, which exists in 16 languages, outlines the rights and responsibilities of the translators and interpreters on the one hand and those of the organizations using their services on the other.
Red T also initiated the Open Letter Project with the same partners. This project, which now additionally includes the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters (IAPTI), Critical Link International (CLI) and the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters (WASLI), aims to research cases of linguists in dangerous situations and advocates on their behalf by writing letters to relevant authorities. So far, this initiative resulted in 15 open letters addressed to various governments.
Unlike journalists who also work in conflict zones, linguists do not enjoy protected status. To remedy this omission, Red T, together with its five partner organizations, is seeking a UN resolution that grants protected-person status to civilian linguists in conflict zones. To obtain popular support, the coalition launched a change.org petition. The current goal is 50,000 signatures and, so far, 41,416 signatures have been collected. As professional translators and interpreters, ITI members are invited to sign this petition.
I joined New York Circle of Translators about two years ago at one of the NYCT’s annual meetings. I remember my first time coming there. It was so exciting to meet like-minded people, share my experiences and feel that I am a part of the huge New York translation community. Like a sponge I absorbed this friendly, inspiring energy and learned so much while attending networking events, seminars, conferences and mingling with the Circle’s members – translators, interpreters, editors, and transcribers. Needless to say, the translation industry was not new to me. I had been translating for a number of years as an in-house translator, part-time and online in my home country, Russia. I knew the rules and procedures, and how the translation process and the provider/client relationship worked. But after moving to the United States, I had to start all over. Fortunately, I already had my specialization which was legal, business and marketing translation. With time I found clients, had projects and everything seemed well. However, the volume was inconsistent and, on top of that, the relationship between Russia and America worsened. Consequently, I started receiving less work. I joined professional organizations, attended seminars and webinars, and worked on my marketing. But I knew that something was missing. I needed guidance to move forward.
It was very important for me to find an organization which could help me grow professionally and give me opportunities to build connections within my field. The Circle offered me what I was searching for. This remarkable group of people provided me with an enormous amount of support and knowledge. After I joined NYCT, slowly things started to shift, but I still wanted significant progress. Therefore, when NYCT offered to participate in their mentoring program, I signed up immediately.
I was paired with Angela Benoit, an English <> French translator and interpreter, who was also a member of the NYCT. Angela was offering translation services on a freelance basis and had an impressive experience in the translation field not only as an in-house translator/interpreter but also as a project manager. She was also very active and energized and I knew that she would be a great mentor for me.
Since we lived and worked quite far from each other and had busy schedules, face-to-face meetings were out of question. Therefore, we agreed on communication via email and Skype calls every other Thursday. We also decided that to make this experience more efficient and productive, we needed to set a timeframe and made it a 6-month program with two follow-ups in 3 months each. Angela took a very professional approach and suggested that I think about the goals for our mentee-mentor relationship, and reflect on my professional and financial goals for the period of the program. It gave me an opportunity to think about what I expected from this experience, to analyze where my business was at the moment and what I wanted to achieve within 6 months and after. It also allowed me to see the perspective and what I would like to focus on. Based on that, we drew up a plan containing goals, detailed steps and deadlines I needed to follow.
For example, one of my goals was to gain a certain amount of regular clients and consistent work. To reach this goal, I had to find and contact new clients. Also, I needed to follow up with the clients I contacted recently as well as in the past, and we agreed on a number of these contacts per week. Also, my mentor gave me some guidelines on creating a new resume and a cover letter. I needed to remove less relevant information and focus on my skills and experience in my specialization areas. Since Angela used to work as a project manager, she was able to give me a few valuable tips on how to make my resume look concise and professional, and attract attention of the project managers. As a result of this cooperative work, I had a great cover letter and a resume that stood out and emphasized my professional strengths, credentials and experience in specialized areas. Other goals I set for myself referred to marketing, establishing a new specialization, increasing my level of income and other areas, very important to any freelancer.
Our Skype meetings consisted of two parts: my progress and Q&A. During the first half of the meeting I shared about what happened during the last two weeks, how many clients I contacted and followed up with, who of them replied back, and if there were any issues. Then we would discuss a certain topic, such as contacting potential clients, CAT-tools, professional development, time-management, online presence, marketing tips, advertising materials, etc. Sometimes we would talk about a complicated situation with a particular client and together we would try to find a solution. If I had a question I needed Angela’s opinion on off the schedule, she would always do her best to help. Without any exaggeration I can say that her support was tremendous.
Certainly, there were times when I had very limited time to fulfill my commitments as a mentee. But I knew that if I devoted at least half an hour a day towards developing my business, eventually it would all pay off. I continued following the plan and learned a few valuable lessons along the way. For instance, I learned that the best way to establish connection with a potential client is to have a face-to-face meeting. The more meetings I initiated, the more opportunities for long-term business relationships I had. It was quite a challenge for me at first, and it definitely helped me leave my comfort zone and practice my communication and negotiation skills. Another critical lesson was to carry business cards with me at all times.
As the mentoring program was coming to its end, I started to see the results of my hard work. I was receiving better job offers, by “better” I mean interesting projects at the rates I was comfortable to work with, gained new clients and had consistent work from the current ones. Contacting perspective clients and follow-ups became my daily routine. I updated my website and was receiving calls and emails from agencies and direct clients. I developed a new specialization and added it to my new resume. My time-management significantly improved, as well as my income.
Participation in the program gave me an opportunity to receive a fresh perspective on my business and to see how to improve it. Regular meetings with the mentor helped me challenge myself and do what needs to be done, without procrastination and overthinking. It also helped me overcome my limitations, re-think the value of my time, and see different ways and possibilities for my future professional development.
In conclusion, I think this program will be helpful to anyone who just started off as a translator or whose business is not developing as successfully as they want it to. My advice to the NYCT’s members who need guidance and professional opinion – sign up for the Circle’s mentoring program.
Again, I would like to thank my mentor, Angela Benoit, and the NYCT’s team for this insightful and valuable experience.
English to Russian translator specializing in legal, business, marketing, and healthcare
Note from the mentor:
From this experience, I learnt that for a mentorship relationship to work its magic, mentor and mentee must be well matched. Anna and I were an exceptional fit: the areas she sought to improve matched my experience. It was a pleasure to share this 6-month experience with her. I am proud of her progress, her dedication and the milestones she reached on her quest to improve her freelance practice.
The NYCT mentorship program offers several interesting features: a local relationship, a formal commitment in a casual setting and the ability for the pair to set their own terms. The success of the program wholly depends on the individuals that participate, which is why I encourage both mentors and mentees to come forward. If you have experience in a particular area and are looking for ways to volunteer or give back, tell someone at the Circle. If you are looking for guidance, tell someone at the Circle!
Angela Benoit is an English<>French translator and copywriter focusing on marketing, business communications and brand image.
Please follow the guidelines below to streamline the process. Epiphany staff readers and editors will read submissions and choose a shortlist of ten stories. Ann Goldstein will read the top ten selections and choose a winner and a runner-up, both of which will be published in our Spring 2017 Contest Issue.
RULES & GUIDELINES:
• TRANSLATED FICTION ONLY
• 4,000 – 8,000 words
• Double-spaced, 12 pt font
• If you would like to include two or more short pieces that fall within the word count, that is acceptable
• Work must be previously unpublished in the United States
• If work is submitted by translator or publisher, permission of the author must be confirmed
• Submissions will be read blind, PLEASE REMOVE ALL IDENTIFYING INFORMATION (author’s and translator’s) from submission pages, including file name.
• N.B. Submissions that include identifying information of author or translator will not be read
• Multiple submissions welcome
• Winners will be notified by May 1, 2017
*If you are already a subscriber and would like to submit, please email managing editor Moss Turpan at email@example.com
This review has been reprinted with gracious permission from the ATA French Language Division newsletter,
À Propos and the author.
The translation world has been abuzz about the film Arrival since it was released on November 11, 2016. Translators have been intrigued, and some would go so far as to say flattered, by the elevated position a language expert is given in a Hollywood blockbuster. On top of that, the starring translator is tasked with saving the planet!
The film is directed by Denis Villeneuve, who is originally from Québec and likely no stranger to malentendus and the trickier aspects of communication. His work is a carefully crafted narrative about memory, love, and the future of humanity. The film’s protagonist, Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams, is a linguistics professor at an unnamed university. She is fluent in English, Farsi, Mandarin, and other languages. She is contacted by an Army intelligence officer played by Forest Whitaker when aliens arrive on earth. She has top-level security clearance from previously working on a Farsi translation project for the government. When they meet in the film, Whitaker’s character says, “You’re at the top of everybody’s list when it comes to translations.”
This, as every translator and linguist knows, is a common misconception about our respective professions. Despite language services industry jargon that refers to translators as “linguists,” linguists—i.e. theoreticians of language—are not necessarily interested in translation at all, nor are they necessarily good translators for that matter. The likelihood that a linguistics professor would be tapped to translate Farsi for the government is essentially nil, but Louise nevertheless winds up being the perfect choice to decipher the alien visitors’ language. Her work both saves the world from certain destruction and unites the human race at a critical juncture.
The film’s central issue is finding out why the aliens have come to Earth. As Louise points out in one scene, the sentence “What is your purpose on earth?” is fraught with issues for a linguist in her situation. A translator might compare it to asking a third-year French student to translate Pascal’s theorem or Perec’s La Disparition into English. Just take the word you: what is the alien word for you? What is the possessive form? Is there a separate word for the singular you, the plural you or a general “all of you aliens” you? And how in the world do you convey an abstract concept like purpose when even the word you is elusive? Translators are used to, and relish in, analyzing complicated sentences, but no translator should ever be called upon to decipher a language that he or she does not know. That is indeed the work of a linguist. Viewers should not get hung up on this distinction for too long, however. The film is science fiction after all, and what follows is a poignant, thoughtful, and suspenseful rendering of what Louise’s field work into the aliens’ language looks like. This has implications not only for her personally, but for the entire planet.
Louise quickly realizes that since the aliens’ spoken sounds are not reproducible by human vocal cords, she should focus on their written language, dubbed Heptopod B after the aliens themselves are dubbed heptopods. Heptopod B is written in billowy streams of ethereal black ink emitted from the aliens’ squid-like arms. It resembles the milky clouds of cream in your morning coffee. The ink materializes into a circle like the drips of the brush of a clumsy calligrapher. It is displayed on the luminous barrier that separates the humans from the aliens within their giant black pod of a spaceship. Louise determines that, due to the circular nature of the writing, the aliens perceive time in a non-linear way—with no beginning and no end. Once she makes this discovery, the plot delves deeply into the ramifications of a linguistic idea called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, also known as the theory of linguistic relativity.
Readers who are fluent in more than one language will undoubtedly identify with the idea that, to a certain degree, learning another language can change the way the world is perceived. This is, in many cases, what draws translators to the profession in the first place: the joys and challenges of translating not only words, but different cultures, world views, and realities. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis states that a speaker’s very thoughts are determined by the language that he or she speaks, and consequently, becoming fluent in a different language could alter the learner’s thoughts in profound ways. Arrival explores this idea to the extreme as Louise starts to experience the side effects of learning Heptopod B.
It is safe to say that translators and other language professionals will view Arrival differently than the general population. There are myriad parallels between Louise’s experience and that of many translators. Some, such as the role that technology plays in decrypting the heptopods’ language, are glaring and resonant. Deciphering Heptopod B without a computer in such a short amount of time would have been impossible, and while the programs Louise’s team uses are more like CAT tools on steroids, they nevertheless echo the use of increasingly sophisticated and computerized tools in our everyday work. They also mirror the increasingly important role that technology plays in translation. Other parallels are subtler and may resonate more or less strongly depending on the viewer. Many translators will empathize with the fact that Louise’s work, much like our profession, is misunderstood by outsiders and the fact that those who are unfamiliar with what we do often hold us to unrealistically high expectations. Why can’t Louise just waltz in and ask the aliens why they are here after merely hearing an audio recording on someone’s phone in her office? Translators will commiserate with the long hours Louise spends alone at her desk, poring over a text into the darkest hours of the night—though her task is to avoid an impending global war or potential alien takeover, whereas a translator would likely be working merely to help a client with an urgent request. Others still will relate to the introversion and subtle loneliness of Adams’ character, coupled with an underlying, quiet confidence. She may have been content to work alone on her academic papers and Farsi translations in her office but was forced into the world to share her talent with those who needed it.
The film’s most powerful aspect for translators is that it allows us to imagine what it would be like if our skills bestowed super abilities—as if being able to read and translate one or several languages in a single day was not super enough. What if the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis were true to the extent that it is portrayed in the film? Being a polyglot would suddenly become much more desirable, and our roles as conduits of culture and communication would become infinitely more complex and critical. We will likely never have the gift of omniscience, no matter how many languages we speak or write, and most of us will not be called upon to save humankind, but we will all continue doing our part to ensure that we keep communicating and that we, hopefully, understand each other just a little bit better.
Ben Karl is a French- and Mandarin-into-English translator specializing in marketing and finance. He is based in Reno, NV.