SEPIDEH MOUSSAVI: TRANSLATOR AND TRAILBLAZER

Sepideh is a native of Iran. She began her career translating and interpreting Farsi to and from French and English in her native country where Iranian companies were engaging in substantial trade with the US and Europe. She subsequently moved to France to continue studying French where her long-time interest in medical sciences also led her to enroll in a French pharmacy school for three years.

In 1992, she moved to California where, in addition to working as a translator and interpreter, she obtained a degree in Accounting and a Master’s Degree in Health Administration. Ten years ago, she relocated to NYC and started her own Farsi translation practice. Sepideh is a member of the Circle and participated in last year’s Languages of Lesser Diffusion meeting. She considers the Circle to be a valuable part of the development of her business, particularly as regards networking opportunities.

After arriving in NYC, Sepideh applied to become a Farsi/English interpreter in the New York State court system. It was there that she first identified the absence of a language certification process for Farsi. After she passed the court’s written exam, she was surprised to learn that the State did not have an oral exam to test for Farsi language proficiency. In order to become certified to work in the courts, one had to submit letters of reference to the Court which the Court also had to approve, a process which could take as long as two years.

As her business developed, Sepideh continued to see evidence of how the lack of a formal Farsi certification vehicle could limit the ability of qualified Farsi translators to serve their clients effectively. She recalls a situation in which she was helping a family member to obtain a payment from an insurance company by acting as the family member’s interpreter. The insurance company’s policy was not to accept family members as interpreters and brought their own interpreter into the conversation. That interpreter spoke a slightly different dialect and it became an even bigger challenge for the family member to get her questions/points across to the insurance company.  This process delayed and complicated an already sensitive transaction for the family member.

In 2015 Sepideh attended the ATA annual conference in Miami and took part in a ATA Certification workshop. David Stephenson, the chairman of the committee, mentioned that the committee was seeking volunteers. Sepideh volunteered and was able to speak to Mr. Stephenson about the need for a Farsi certification exam. She was immediately thrust into the complex and time-consuming world of ATA certification as the chairperson of the ATA’s Farsi Workgroup.

The ATA sent her a document on how to establish certification for a new language pairing. One of the main requirements was to prove that there was a demand for the certification. Sepideh was required to build a team of four or five qualified Farsi translators who would then be charged with obtaining the signatures of fifty other qualified translators to advocate for the new certification. The team members and the fifty qualified translators all had to be approved by the ATA.

The team building exercise took more than two years and involved sending out massive numbers of emails, tapping her contacts in the community and using platforms such as Word Reference. Many emails were never responded to and some responses were received from translators who lacked the skills and qualifications necessary to be effective advocates for the exam. In 2018 a team was put in place but was eventually dissolved. In 2019 a new team formed, consisting of a PhD in translation, a highly qualified linguist and Farsi Translator and two other highly qualified Farsi/English translators. The qualifications of the new team members were submitted to the ATA and approved.

The next hurdle was to obtain the signatures of the fifty additional qualified translators, twenty-five of whom had to be ATA members. A call to action went out from the team who also reached out to their contacts in the language community, to ATA members and to online language forums. By the beginning of 2020, the necessary signatures had been obtained and were subsequently approved by the ATA.

The team is now working on establishing the certification test and developing materials on how to prepare for it. Eventually the date and locations of the test will be announced by the ATA. It is hoped that this will take place in the next six months to a year.

Sepideh’s story reflects her lifelong commitment to the Farsi community and to  the professionalization of the role of the translator/interpreter in our society. She is a true trailblazer. Thank you, Sepideh, for sharing your inspiring and multi-faceted journey with our readers.

 

 

 

 

Letter From the Editor

Welcome to the first edition of the 2020 Gotham!

I started off the new year by attending an interesting translation reading sponsored by Pen+Brush, a not-for profit organization currently celebrating its 125 anniversary. Three very diverse translations of literary works written in three different languages were read.

I’d like to thank Elias David Jacob for his enjoyable look back at famous translation mistakes throughout history. As you know, the Gotham is always looking for original content. I’d like to encourage members to submit any original work on translation or interpretation for eventual publication. My email address is: gotham_editor@nyctranslators.org.

.As part of our Meet the Translator series, I am also including an interview with long-time Circle member and former officer Meg Shore, who shared details of her distinguished career with us.

Finishing up this edition are some photos from our very enjoyable Holiday Party which took place at Salaam Cafe’ in December 2019.

Wishing all our members and happy and healthy 2020!

 

Patricia Stumpp

 

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The January 2020 JILL! Reading of Translated Works

 

On January 16, 2020, Pen + Brush hosted the second reading in the new bimonthly Women+ in Translation series entitled JILL!  The series is dedicated to showcasing the works of women or nonbinary translators as well as translations of the work of women and nonbinary authors. As the series founder, translator Larissa Kyzer, explains, the title Jill! was chosen to suggest the absence of “Jacks” in the series and also serves as an homage to the American writer, poet and literary translator Suzanne Jill Levine who translated numerous seminal works by prominent Latin American authors such as Julio Cortázar and Manuel Puig. 

The event was held at the Pen + Brush gallery on East 22nd Street, a marvelous venue which is currently housing  the organization’s first art exhibition of 2020 entitled “The Now.” The exhibition features the works of Hannah Layden, Felicita “Felli” Maynard, Rowan Renee and Beatrice Scaccia. Their work shares a common theme, that of the search for identity, and explores other issues as well such as what it means to be “Other” in the world and whether it is possible for human beings to come together in a community of shared empathy and commonality.

For those of our members not already familiar with Pen + Brush, it is a publically supported not for profit currently celebrating its 125th anniversary. The organization is dedicated to showcasing the work of women artists and writers who so often are the victims of gender bias and exclusion in the marketplace of art and literature. It seeks to bring the work of emerging and mid-career artists and writers to the attention of the general public.

The three translators whose works were showcased at the event were Nora Carr, Mike Fu and Sharon Rhodes. Ms. Carr  began the event reading her sparkling translation of Luis Humberto Crosthwaites’s Estrella de la calle sexta, published in 1992, a collection of three novellas which take place in the Mexican city of Tijuana.  The voice of the narrator is that of a Mexican man who has returned to Mexico after years of residence in the U.S. The question of identity is prominent in this work; the author questions whether he is or isn’t “a gringo” as he describes the vibrant street life of the city unfolding around him. While the description of the “calle” is filled with humor, the work also touches on poignant themes such as memory and loneliness and addresses other issues as well such as how one comes to terms with one’s place in the particular world in which one finds oneself.

Mike Fu’s translation of the late Taiwanese writer Sanmao’s Stories of the Sahara has just been published by the Bloomsbury Press. This is a semi-biographical account of the author and her husband’s life during the 1970’s while they were living in the contested territory of the Spanish Sahara, the last vestige of the Spanish empire, which is still administered by Morocco. Filled with charm and humor, the work describes life in the territory against the background of the impending marriage of the author and her soon to be husband.  Again the sense of “otherness” is present in the work as the couple navigates their own personal path to marriage against the backdrop of the customs and regulations of the territory in which they find themselves living.

Sharon Rhodes then read from her translation of Danish write Hanne Højgaard Viernose’s HHV, Frshwin: The Deathknell in the Amazon.   The protagonist of this work is a woman anthropologist who journeys from the Amazon jungle of Peru to her husband’s native Iceland.  The excerpt that Ms. Rhodes read was filled with  dramatic events as the author grapples with her transition to Iceland, the  strains of her husband’s madness and the need to care for her two small sons.

The reading was notable for the diversity and vibrancy of the three translated works. Members may want to access Pen + Brush’s website http://www.penandbrush.org to check out the next installment of Jill!’s bi-monthly readings of translated works. Please also note the Facebook link for the Jill! readings: https://www.facebook.com/JillReadingNYC

 

Translation Mistakes Throughout History

 

By: Elias David Jacob

The art of translation has been around for centuries, but unfortunately so have translation mistakes. In this article I’d like to describe three such errors which led to surprising and humorous results.

The origin of the theory that there is life on Mars actually stems from a mistranslation of an Italian word by Italian astronomer Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli. In 1877, he used the word “canali” to refer to a dense network of linear structures he observed on the planet’s surface. The most common translation of this word in English is “channels”, but it was translated into English as “canals” instead, suggesting some kind of artificial construction. If the word “channels” had been used, the essence of the Italian word would have been preserved and there may not have been any thought given as to who could have possibly built canals on Mars. The theory about intelligent life on Mars survived for decades and inspired numerous stories, folklore and science fiction.

While Valentine’s Day is generally celebrated on February 14th, in some Asian countries like China, South Korea and in particular Japan, it is celebrated with a twist: women are the ones that give chocolates to men. In the 50s, a Japanese chocolate company started encouraging people to celebrate Valentine’s Day. However, there was a translation mistake in one of the advertisements of one of the Japanese chocolate companies which led people to think that women were the ones supposed to give chocolate to men. So that’s what they started doing and the tradition is still going on to this day. Japanese chocolate companies then started encouraging the celebration of another day exactly a month later, every 14th of March, when “White Day” is celebrated. On that day men are supposed to gift women something white like marshmallows, white cake or jewels. The Japanese word okaeshi is usually used on this day to express the idea of a gift given as thanks for receiving another gift. 

American author Mark Twain had the habit of reading those of his works that had been translated into other languages. One of his earliest popular works was “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” Twain himself had translated this story into French. Some years later, he read an article in Revue des Deux Mondes in which the author said that since he didn’t see what was funny in Twain’s text he translated it himself into French. Twain thought that translation so bad that he translated it back into English, word for word, thus making fun of back translation and illustrating its limitations. He maintained the French word order and grammatical structure so the result didn’t make much sense and looked like something a machine translation tool would produce. Twain ended up publishing his back translation in a later edition of his short story which he named “The Jumping Frog: in English, then in French, and then Clawed Back into a Civilized Language Once More by Patient, Unremunerated Toil.”

To summarize, even if they started as simple errors, translation errors can still impact us today. For example, a simple Google search shows that many newspaper articles about life on Mars were published this very week. Moral: translators should be very careful about their work and be aware that even little translation errors can have a big impact on the future. Who knows, maybe in a few years life on a previously undiscovered planet might be traced back to a translator’s mistake?

Elias Jacob is finishing his bachelor’s degree in Translation at Instituto Nueva Formación in Córdoba, Argentina. Some of his interests are academic research in linguistics and translation and software and tools for translators. �֕<@�

Meet the Translator: Marguerite (Meg) Shore

 

I recently met with long time Circle member Marguerite (Meg) Shore to discuss her distinguished career as a translator. Meg translates Italian and French texts into English, her specialty being art, art criticism, architecture and literature.

Meg’s interest in art was nurtured by her education and her years of living and teaching in Europe. As an undergraduate at Vassar with a major in art history, Meg studied with Linda Nochlin, a prominent art historian and an important feminist voice of that time. She recalls that Professor Nochlin questioned why there have been no great women artists. She put forth the theory that this was largely due to the lack of apprenticeship opportunities for talented women artists. After receiving her B.A. in art history from Vassar, Meg moved to Europe, eventually living in Rome for a number of years.

In 1993 translator Marta Schmidt introduced Meg to the Circle. She remembers how gratifying it was to find a community of translators which greatly helped to alleviate the solitary nature of the translator’s work.  She remembers the collegiality of the group in those days, particularly the monthly dinner meetings and members such as Marion Greenfield, Tom Snow and Alex Gross.  She served as Program Director and President of the Circle.

In 2003 Meg was introduced to the publisher George Braziller whose firm George Braziller, Inc. was known for publishing literary and artistic works as well as the work of foreign authors. Mr. Braziller chose Meg to translate the 15-year old author Randa Ghazy’s controversial book Sognando Palestina (Dreaming of Palestine). This is the story of the lives of Palestinians living under the Israeli occupation which the author based on news reports and her own research.  The book was a sensation in Italy, coming under fierce criticism from Jewish critics who believed it contributed to acts of hatred against Jews.

Palestinian affairs continued to intersect with Meg’s life when in 2005 the American radical attorney Lynn Stewart was convicted of smuggling messages to imprisoned Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the so-called “Blind Sheikh,” who was accused of inciting terrorist acts in New York City.    Lynn Stewart’s interpreter, Mohammed Yousry, was also sent to prison at that time simply as a consequence of doing his job as an interpreter. Meg protested this action and pressed the ATA and the Circle to publically condemn his imprisonment. Her efforts in this regard included organizing an evening at the Circle about Yousry’s imprisonment which featured former Attorney General Ramsey Clark as a speaker. When the condemnation of this action was not forthcoming, Meg resigned from both organizations. In hindsight, she believes that it would have been better to stay in those organizations and fight for the causes that she believed it. She eventually re-joined both groups. Meg was also a grader for the ATA’s certification exam.

Meg has worked for many prominent art publishers, art galleries and museums such as the Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, the Frick Collection, the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Denver Art Museum.  One of her favorite projects is the book of photographs by Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri entitled It’s beautiful here, isn’t it. She is currently finishing up a translation of Giorgio Verzotti’s book on Mario Merz, a prominent artist of the Italian Arte Polvera movement, which will be published by the Magazzino Italian Art Foundation.

Meg’s advice to fledgling translators is to read the newspapers of one’s target language every day to become better acquainted with the idioms of the country. She noted the excellent opportunity that the Circle provides to new translators for personal interaction with older and more experienced translators. In the future, Meg believes that organizing meetings around cultural topics such as art and travel could also benefit Circle members.

Thank you , Meg, for sharing your inspiring career with the Circle membership.  

Holiday Party 2019

     

The Circle celebrated the holiday season on December 7, 2019 at Salam Cafe’ and Restaurant in the Village. We were able to sample a wide variety of delicious Middle Eastern delicacies at this charming restaurant while enjoying the company of our fellow Circle members and friends.

Our new officers Matt Goldstein, Secretary, Serene Su, Program Director, and Sepideh Moussavi, Treasurer were introduced at this enjoyable event. The outgoing slate of officers was also thanked as well for their dedicated service to our organization.

I hope you enjoy the attached photos of the event.

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LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

Welcome to the Fall Edition of the Gotham.

I hope you enjoy my write-up of our gala 40th anniversary celebration which was held on September 28, 2019. Many thanks to all the Circle members who attended, to our sponsors and panelists and to our outstanding keynote speaker Renato Beninatto. A special thank you to Laurie Treuhaft for her contribution to this article.

Please make sure to review the biographies of our candidates for Program Director, Treasurer and Secretary who will fill those positions during the 2020 to 2021 term. They bring wide experience and great enthusiasm to these positions and we are indeed grateful for their willingness to serve. Please remember to vote.

Looking forward to seeing everyone at the Holiday Gathering and Happy Holidays to all!

Patricia Stumpp, Editor

 

 

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