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Durham 2008 Report

ITI Dutch Network Weekend Workshop, Hatfield College Durham, 27 – 29 June 2008

By Hanneke Brand

After my first, and very positive, experience of an ITI Dutch Network Weekend Workshop in Nijmegen last year, I almost immediately decided to participate again in this year’s Workshop, which was to take place in Durham, a picturesque and historic small city situated in the beautiful countryside of northeast England, just 30 minutes away from Newcastle.

According to the well-known travel writer Bill Bryson Durham, more than a thousand years old, boasts among its many interesting attractions the ‘best cathedral in the world’. It also boasts an intricate network of very narrow one-way streets winding their way through the very oldest part of the city centre, making arrival at Hatfield College, the venue for the Workshop, an interesting experience!.

Durham University, the third most respected university in the country according to one of my fellow ‘workshoppers’ welcomes thousands of visitors during the summer absence of its students and so Julian Ross, the organizer of this great weekend, booked us all a room in Hatfield College; beautifully situated in the oldest part of town, a mere 150 meters from the truly magnificent cathedral. Life as a student is not bad at Hatfield College!

On Friday, after a welcome meeting and a chance to say hello to old friends and meet new ones over a drink, everyone adjourned to the dining hall for dinner. Although many of us were tired after a day of travelling, a walk to sample the local hostelries was of course called for after dinner. And, being a student town, Durham offers plenty of choice.

After a good night’s rest for most of us, the next morning saw us up bright and early for breakfast, and then the first serious part of the weekend’s activities got under way, focusing on literary translations. Paul Vincent, a translator and former lecturer at University College London, delivered a talk entitled “Interlingual misadventures”, in which he expounded a number of theses, for example that: the commonly drawn distinctions between commercial versus literary translations are over-simplistic; that there is lots of overlap between the two traditions; that practitioners in each discipline can learn from each other. He also talked about the ‘limits of translatability’, which many of us will perhaps sense intuitively; and mentioned Vincent’s (or Sod’s) law: that familiar feeling to every translator who thinks up or discovers the perfect translation just after having sent off the completed job to the client.

These and other theses were discussed in a lively and stimulating atmosphere, and after a coffee break we continued with a literary ‘sweatshop’. First Paul reminded us of some of the basic principles of translation, which we probably all apply without thinking about them. Despite this, I felt it was very useful to be reminded again of things we take for granted like syntax, register, lexical complexity, and all the other things we have to bear in mind when translating. We then worked on a translation of a book by the Dutch writer Bas Haring, which according to all the ‘judges’ was not well translated at all; it simply did not match the author’s tone of voice.

After this hard labour we were able to relax over an abundant lunch, which offered something for everybody’s taste.

Next on our programme was a guided tour through Durham. Our guide was a local historian, who combined an enormous wealth of knowledge with a lively sense of humour, and he clearly enjoyed what he was doing – and so did we. A 90-minute tour was planned, but at our request our guide happily carried on for a bit longer, after which we were left to enjoy Durham on our own, all the richer for his guidance.

The next item on the programme saw Catherine Greensmith, chairman of ITI, speaking about the importance of Continuing Professional Development and about the recently introduced Chartered Linguist status. This gave rise to some very lively debate; whilst many of those present agreed with the need for Continuing Professional Development (after all, that’s one of the reasons why we all came to Durham), not all of us could see why it was necessary to register this formally – ‘my clients don’t ask for that’ was a frequently heard comment.

The road to Chartered Linguist status is quite a long one, but according to Catherine Greensmith it could one day become a requirement for all professional translators to aim for. Again, this issue sparked off a lot of discussion. Our own Fred Mostert mentioned a Dutch ‘equivalent’, the Kwaliteitsregister Tolken en Vertalers, which could in the future also come to be considered by potential clients as the main source for finding professional translators or interpreters, although at present it is primarily meant for those who work for the police, judicial system, and so on. Another point that didn’t go unnoticed is that becoming a Chartered Linguist is not cheap!

Pre-dinner drinks in the Bar Annexe was followed by a substantial ‘gala dinner’, for which many of the English ladies dressed up, contrary to the Dutch participants; a clear cultural difference could be observed here.

The theme for the Sunday was ‘Shakespeare’, and that offered plenty of possibilities. Julian divided the group into smaller groups, with inspiring names such as ‘Double double toil and trouble’ and ‘Midsummer Night’s Dreamers’, and each group was given its own piece of Shakespeare translate. Not surprisingly, that posed some serious questions: which style, who will be your target audience; should the text be translated in the language of the writer’s epoch, or into modern vernacular, etc. Again, these are often the questions we face in our daily practice as translators. There was some serious sweating, but a great deal of laughter could also be heard echoing through the building. Later in the day we were to perform our translations.

This hands-on workshop was followed by a talk entitled “One up, two down, three to go” by literary translator Wendy Shaffer, who told us how she started out as a literary translator (One up), followed by a horrendous story of what can go wrong when (two down), and concluding with a positive account about her next project (three to go). I think the two down made the biggest impression on all of us.

This was followed by a light interlude; a boat trip on the River Wear, from which we were able to admire the by now familiar Durham landmarks from a different perspective, with our captain adding some further historical information as well as some interesting stories. On board ship the ‘Friends, Romans and Countrymen’ group performed their delightful version of an extract from Romeo and Juliet, in which Bob Symons played a touching Romeo.

Then it was back to Hatfield College for lunch, followed by more Shakespeare: this time performances by the Durham Shakespeare Group, who entertained us brilliantly with theatre and songs from Shakespeare’s days. The youngest of the trio was definitely no more than 18 years of age and he played his part with such enthusiasm that it was infectious! That, as we discovered during this Workshop, is what Shakespeare can do to you.

After this inspiring session the other groups of translators each performed their own pieces of Shakespeare which they had translated earlier in the day. Some of them showed real talent, not just for translating, but for performing, too! And the standard of the translations, especially given that they were produced in just over an hour, was astounding.

The day ended with a closing plenary session followed by coffee and tea and then it really was time so say goodbye. Some, with early trains or plains to catch, had left us a little earlier; others, like me, had decided there was no need to rush home and stayed on another night.

It was a great and inspiring weekend, in a lovely university town, so a BIG THANKS to Julian, who did a great job of organizing this weekend. And my thanks also to all participants, for providing such a lively and convivial atmosphere, some serious ‘sweatshopping’ and lots of fun.

I am looking forward to next year’s ITI Dutch Weekend in The Hague!

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