More than 800 translators and interpreters attended the XXI World Congress of the International Federation of Translators (FIT) in Brisbane from 3-5 August, which was opened by a colourful welcome ceremony from the Nunukul Yuggera Aboriginal Dance Group.
After that, the dancing was over and it was on to the business of words. Each day featured one or two plenary keynote sessions and a choice of eight presentations every half hour by professionals working in many languages.
The Congress specifically addressed the theme Disruption and Diversification in our profession, which is coming to terms with technological changes.
One speaker demonstrated that interpreters save lives – Dr. Glenn Flores, Distinguished Chair of Health Policy Research at the Medica Research Institute, Research Affiliate in the Department of Health Sciences Research at the Mayo Clinic. In his keynote address entitled Dissatisfied, Misdiagnosed, and At Risk to Die, he specially warned against the dangers of using family members – especially children – as interpreters in medical settings. He strongly advised that all medical services around the world should employ interpreters, as this would save both lives and money.
Prof. Jemina Napier of the Heriot University in Edinburgh gave an impressive keynote speech in Sign Language in a speech interpreted simultaneously by capable AUSLAN interpreters who worked in 15 minute segments interpreting every keynote speech. Napier signed on Disruption and Diversification in the Deaf World and its Impact on Sign Language Interpreting.
Dr Anthony Pym of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Spain, who is now teaching at the University of Melbourne, told us the Translators do more than translate, as we are also teachers, writers, editors, language advisers and mediators. In days of growing accessibility to machine translation, the human translator has extra value for trustworthiness and capacity to advise clients.
After many years abroad, Dr Pym said he is favourably impressed by the growth of translation and interpreting services in Aboriginal languages in Australia. Even so, Annette Kogolo and Diane Lightfoot of the Kimberly Interpreting Service state that a large part of their service consists of lobbying for the engagement of interpreters for speakers of Aboriginal languages faced with legal and medical problems. Kogolo and Lightfoot gave several examples of police authorities insisting on proceeding with legal cases without interpreters.
Dr. Sarah Kendzior, journalist and anthropologist, spoke on Dissent and Dictatorship in the Digital Age, referring especially to the varying powers of different languages in the Internet. Her example of two women tweeting in Uzbek made it very clear that some languages have less impact than others. After three weeks on hunger strike, the women had only 65 followers on Twitter. Kendzior studies how the internet, once viewed as a promising medium for the expression of dissent, has now also become an essential tool of oppressive governments.
Michael Cronin of Dublin City University challenged us with his questions around Why Translation Should Not Cost the Earth: Towards Geocentric Translation Studies. He said that human beings are now akin to a force of nature in our capacity to affect all life on the planet. However he did not make it clear to this listener how translators specifically should act “as we think again about what it is to be human” in this new geological era called the Age of the Anthropocene.
Other discussions covered literary translation, how translation helps strengthen minority languages in danger of disappearing, translating music, Kriol and Creole languages in Australia, and multiple aspects of interpreting.
The Congress was organised by the Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators (AUSIT), in collaboration with the Australian Sign Language Interpreters Association’s (ASLIA).