An engaging, stimulating workshop

Jean-Pierre Mailhac talking on "Translating Cultural References"
at Aston University on 1 December 2012

Jean-Pierre Mailhac is known for his engaging and stimulating workshops, and last Saturday about 12 MWG members and 4 Aston University MA students took part in another of his events, “Translating Cultural References”, which was really more about how to approach the process of translating cultural references.

The very first thing is, of course, how actually to recognise a cultural reference in the first place – and, among the many cultural reference that cropped up over the day, the origin of some eluded even a few English speakers.

Jean-Pierre used an array of sources, ranging from a French translation of “The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 ¾” and a promotional video of Liverpool as the European Capital of Culture 2008, to the Astérix books, a ketchup advertisement, an appliance manual and different gestures used throughout the world, and then to what we in the UK think of as “Europe”, and who we see as Asian compared to who is seen as Asian in Australia and New Zealand.

Jean-Pierre looks at translation in practice rather than at the theory of translation, but he is also strongly of the opinion that people should create their own framework, with parameters that they can use in all circumstances, which will simplify the process for them, allowing them to reach decisions on how to tackle a problem both rapidly and effectively, in the same way that doctors have a theoretical framework within which they can identify what is wrong and recognise how to act when presented with an ever-changing set of circumstances or symptoms.  

One aspect that we looked at in quite a lot of detail was that of invisible shared information as opposed to visible new information, as this was something that came up again and again in the Adrian Mole book.  Invisible shared information involves those things that are a given for the reader so, by providing an explanation (either by expanding in the text or by way of a footnote) means turning this invisible shared information into new visible information, which can totally change the emphasis and, as translators, we will always have to decide whether or not to give this extra information.

While the room was decidedly cold – we were initially sitting around in our coats, and I did pity all the poor students taking exams - we did warm up during the day, and even forgot about any afternoon break and that is always a good sign that things are going well!

by Juliet Hammond-Smith

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