Egyptian Translator’s Day at the BA

translator's day- fina 2012l

Poster by Graphic Designer Reem Noaman, Publishing Department, Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

In pursuit of creating a distinctly collaborative space where determined and creative professionals who are passionate about the art of translation gather, a new festivity has been observed by people all over Egypt. It’s a day that coincides with the birthday of the Egyptian pioneer, Rifa’a al-Tahtawi (1801-1873), in recognition of his role in establishing the first Egyptian school of translation as well as other specialized translation departments for mathematics, physics and humanities. It is the Egyptian Translator’s Day (ETD).

Held on 15 December 2012, the ETD has become a collaborative venture launched by Egypt’s National Centre for Translation (NCT) and organized by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina as one of its dedicated partners all over Egypt. It has now become a unique annual event staging post within the translation community, and marking the efforts of Egyptian translators who bridge language gaps and act as ambassadors of cultures and civilizations. ETD is an opportunity for translators, students, publishers, booksellers, librarians, bloggers and reviewers to gather and debate significant issues and developments within the field, to discuss challenges, and to celebrate success.

In its role as a center of excellence in the dissemination of knowledge and a beacon of dialogue, learning and understanding between cultures and peoples, the BA has always sought to recapture the spirit of the ancient Library of Alexandria. Indeed, it was at the ancient Library of Alexandria that 72 specialists first translated The Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek (the famous Septuagint). Together these scholars promoted rationality, tolerance and understanding, and organized universal knowledge. And it is at the new Library of Alexandria that a Translation section within the Publishing department has been established, and a “Specialized Translation Program” has been adopted by the Calligraphy Center. Furthermore, new major translation-related projects have also been undertaken, such as the Arabic version of “Encyclopedia of Life” (EOL) and the “Re-issuing the Classics of the Islamic Heritage in the 19th and 20th centuries (13th and 14th Hijri centuries); and various publications in myriad fields have been translated into Arabic, English, and French. It is also worth mentioning that the BA launched in 2009 services for deaf-mutes, which include translation of movies, plays as well as lectures into sign languages.

Featuring a book display of all BA publications for different age groups as well as translated and award-winning publications, this year’s Translator’s Day brought industry professionals and students together under the same roof to explore new ideas and initiatives. Under the theme “Translator…Ambassador of Culture”, the BA held three sessions with keynote presentations and intensive discussions and debates on translation experiences and challenges, led by renowned speakers, i.e. Samia Mehrez, Nihad Mansour, Mohamed Abdelghany, Azza ElKholy, and Sahar Hamouda.

In her lecture, Dr. Samia Mehrez, Professor of Arabic Literature and Founding Director of the Center for Translation Studies at the AUC, led a panel discussion with the participation of two of her students Lauran Gribbon and Lewis Sanders IV, who contributed to the translation of her book entitled Translating Egypt’s Revolution: The Language of Tahrir (AUC Press, 2012). It is a unique interdisciplinary collective project conducted by AUC students of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds who continue to witness Egypt’s ongoing revolution. Dr. Mehrez spoke about the Center for Translation Studies at the AUC and its various activities and partnerships in translation studies. Her talk focused on her book as an example of the interdisciplinarity of translation studies and as a model of “thick translation”, in which the task of a translator is to “carry across” a complex set of different narratives of dialectical relationships, be they political, economic, social, or religious.

In her part, Laura Gribbon, who visually translated banners and signs of the Egyptian revolution, highlighted the nuanced role of translators as mediators between texts and culture. The banners and signs were wholly about self-expression and an outpouring of emotions: rage, hope, pride, desire, and grief, which made translating them challenging. In order to deliver an accurate translation of the Egyptian revolution, she had to fully comprehend the Egyptian culture and etymology of some sentences and phrases, as well as tracking the political events that sparked the revolution. Encountering these texts and translating them, moving between language and discourse, and locating then contours of signification allow the translators of the book to reflect on both the stakes and possibilities that lie in translation.

In the same context, Lewis Sanders, who translated revolutionary street art and graffiti of the revolution in the book, stressed that the uprising unleashed a seemingly endless array of graffiti which is an aesthetic product of the Egyptian revolution, providing a resistance of the dominant narratives that have been subjugated other visual and cultural narratives to a minor role, if not abolished them altogether. He added that these visual narratives demand semiotic translation through work groups and discussions as they are heterogeneous and increasingly complex.

Dr. Nihad Mansour, an Associate Professor of Translation at the Faculty of Arts, Alexandria University and  the Acting Director of the Institute of Applied Linguistics and Translation, drew a clear distinction between translation and interpretation in her presentation What is a Translator? What is an Interpreter? to help practitioners gain further insights into the realities of the profession. It is thus an attempt by a practitioner and an academic to unravel the techniques and competencies needed for an interpreter. Far from suggesting a fixed methodology in interpretation, the presentation tackled the debate on interpersonal versus professional skills of trainees in any interpretation training programme. Despite the similarity between interpreters and translators, both being social, cultural and linguistic mediators, interpretation requires some practical training that might not be needed for translators, conveying the meaning of the original speech based on their communication skills, enduring the value or textual integrity of the original text.

Dr. Mohamed Abdel-Ghani, former chairman of the Archeology, and Greek and Roman Studies Department at the Faculty of Arts, Alexandria University, discussed in his presentation entitled “Specialized Translation: Translating History as an Example” the importance of translation in a globalized age, as a bridge between cultures, civilizations, and peoples, highlighting some of the problems he encountered through his long experience in translating historical texts. He focused on specialized translation, drawing an example of the challenges he faced in translating a volume of The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Political Thought in cooperation with Dr. Magdy ElKilany. To him, competent translators should pay much attention to quality and integrity, besides having some knowledge of specialized texts to improve the quality of their translated works.

Dr. Sahar Hamouda, Professor of English Literature at the Faculty of Arts, Alexandria University and Chairperson of the English Department at Alexandria University, discussed in her lecture Translation to Cross Boundaries: Personal Challenges and Institutional Achievements the important role translation plays in bringing cultures together, across both space and time. Dr. Hamouda highlighted her own experience of translating fiction by switching back and forth from one language/culture that she may not even know to another, and the challenges she faced in culture-specific words and concepts in some Arabic dialects into English; while the second part of her presentation tackled the translated works that were published in the Alexandria and Mediterranean Research Center, one of the research centers affiliated to the Library, which undertakes the translation of national heritage from German and French into English, then, into Arabic to reach a wide Egyptian readership in cheaper editions.

In her lecture entitled “Translation: Creating the Right Choice”, Dr. ElKholy, Professor of American Literature and the Director of the Center for Democracy and Social Peace Studies at the BA, focused mainly on her experience in translating literary and non-literary texts, highlighting the dilemma of making the right choice in order to transfer the meaning in the best possible way. Through the presentation, she demonstrated how translation is in itself an act of creation, analysis, criticism, and re-creation of the original text in the target language, rather than a simple process of transferring meaning, which requires thinking, planning and a lot of time. She believes that translation contributes to shaping the world as well as its being part of the continuous process of constructing it; in other words it elaborates new realities.

Sadly, many might not think about how translation affects our everyday life, but in reality, there is hardly anything in our life that is not touched in some way by translation. Only a few know what translation does/can do in/to the world. Translation has been often overlooked, though critical to society as we know it.

That said, the BA in collaboration with the NCT celebrated the role a translator or an interpreter as they are out there, each day, touching our lives in ways that are unseen, but that truly shape our world. At ETD, translators got a sense of a momentum gathering across the translation sector. Providing the audience with plenty of opportunities for debate and networking inside and outside the conference halls, the event acted as a platform for participants to exchange experiences; make the most of this reciprocal learning environment; engage in the new translation movements taking place in Egypt during the Arab Spring; and hit new grounds in the vibrant and interdisciplinary field of translation theories and practices.

Link to the article in the BA Newsletter:  BA Newsletter Issue No. 15 (Dec. 2013)

©2018 Dina Al-Mahdy All Rights Reserved


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