Growing up, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by a variety of different languages, both within my own family as well as our broader community. Somewhat unluckily, I never managed to learn any of these languages properly. Not that I’m completely hopeless! I can contribute to conversations and (much more importantly) understand all of the family gossip, but neither of these feats is particularly impressive in a family full of polyglots.
My linguistic failings aside, constantly being around several languages had a lot of wonderful effects, including the fact that I was constantly witnessing and experiencing countless moments of informal translation. Whether it was trying to explain the American grading system to my grandparents in India (who still aren’t entirely sure whether getting an ‘A’ is a good or bad thing) or attempting to understand the complex family tree of my Lebanese neighbors, informal translation has been a staple in my life for as long as I can remember.
Not that I ever really realized this fact, as these sorts of mixed interactions are ubiquitous in any multicultural family or community. It wasn’t until I started taking classes related to my minor in Translation Studies that I began to regard my experiences in a new light. In these courses, I encountered the theories and techniques utilized by translators for the first time. Although the material was primarily aimed at translating literature, the discussions of the obstacles faced by translators — how to preserve cultural context, literal vs. metaphorical translations, engaging a completely new audience — applied to so many of my own experiences.
The more I looked, the more I saw translation at work in almost every imaginable context. I was fascinated by the translation spectrum I began to see emerging. These interactions ranged from extremely formal to quick informal explanations of cultural practices in my ESL class to the months-long intensive translation projects I saw taking place in the Comparative Literature department.
In an effort to explore the sides of translation that are so often overlooked, I will be publishing a month-long series of reflections and interviews with people engaging with translation in new and innovative ways. I hope you’ll enjoy joining me on this exploration of translation across campus!