Language as a Fusion of the Common and the Unique

September 30 is International Translation Day, on the feast of St. Jerome, the patron saint of translation. He became secretary to Pope Damasus, who commissioned him to translate the Bible from Hebrew into Latin, which took him 15 years.

When the International Federation of Translators (FIT) was established in 1953, it launched the International Translation Day. The FIT decides the theme and publishes a poster, which is chosen from among a group of professional designers. Past themes have included “Translation: Bridging Cultures,”, “The Changing Face of Translation and Interpreting”, and “Translation and Diversity” in 2017. On May 24, 2017, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution declaring September 30 as International Translation Day, to recognise that professional translation, “as a trade and an art, plays an important role in..bringing nations together, facilitating dialogue, understanding and cooperation, contributing to, developing and strengthening world peace and security.”

The 2018 theme is “Translation: promoting cultural heritage in changing times” recognising, as The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) notes, that “cultural heritage does not end with ‘monuments and collections of objects’. It includes intangible cultural heritage such as knowledge, beliefs, and practises concerning people, nature, and our relationship with the universe…An understanding of the intangible cultural heritage of different communities helps with intercultural dialogue, and encourages mutual respect for other ways of life.” The 2018 theme was selected to prepare for the FIT and United Nations collaboration in 2019, which was declared the International Year of Indigenous Languages.

The American Translations Association conference will be held in New Orleans, Louisiana from October 24-27 and will celebrate International Translation Day on September 28. The ATA wants to “change the way the world views translators and interpreters just by being bold and sharing more about our jobs. Debunking the unfortunate myths and misunderstandings about translation and interpreting will help pave the way to a better future for our profession.”

Conferences relating to International Translation Day also cover related topics. The University of Texas at San Antonio’s Department of Modern Languages and Literatures will host a colloquium to “highlight the importance of effective translation and interpreting in our global community” focusing on “how language disparities affect already vulnerable individuals (victims of human trafficking and sexual assault, victims of gang violence, and unaccompanied minors) as they navigate healthcare and justice systems.” Speakers include Ludmila Golovine, CEO of MasterWordServices, on “Interpreting for the Vulnerable: Language Access and Cultural Mediation for Survivors of Human Trafficking”, and “Ineffective and Inaccessible: A Closer Look at Language Access for Unaccompanied Children in the U.S. Immigration System,” by attorneys Carlos Iván Hernández and Katherine McCoy, who work with unaccompanied minors on the border. There will also be a workshop on “Human Trafficking and Sexual Assault in a Healthcare Setting: Best Practices for Identification and Intervention” by Manuel Higginbotham, president of the Texas Association of Healthcare Interpreters and Translators” and “Interpreting for Victims of Gang Violence in Central America” by Janis Palma, federally-certified judiciary interpreter.

The National Seminar on Translation and Nation was held at the National Translation Mission (NTM), Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL), Mysuru, on Sept. 26 and 27. The seminar “deliberate[d] issues about the role of translation in relation to nationhood, nation-building, transnational identities, globalised national etc.” Topics included “Machine translation and machine aided translation,” “Training and pedagogy,” and “Translation and social balance.”

“A Librarian is not a Legal Process”

banned books

Banning books is an old phenomenon. One of the first examples was during the Chinese emperor Shih Huang Ti’s reign. From 259 to 210 B.C., he allegedly burned 460 Confucian scholars alive to control how history was written during his life. In 212 B.C., he burned all but one copy of each book, which were kept in the Royal Library. But those too, were destroyed before he died.

In 35 A.D., the Roman emperor Caligula opposed Home’s The Odyssey, written more than 300 years before, because he thought the Greek ideas of freedom dangerous. In 1807, Dr. Thomas Bowdler published his revised edition of Shakespeare’s plays, in which he had removed “everything that can raise a blush on the cheek of modesty.” One hundred and fifty years later, it was discovered that it had been Dr. Bowdler’s sister Henrietta Maria who had exorcised the texts. The Bowdler name led to the word “bowdlerize,” meaning “to expurgate (something, such as a book) by omitting or modifying parts considered vulgar.”

In 1933, months after the Nazis took power, the main courtyard of Humboldt University in Berlin was used to burn books by “Jewish, communist, or ‘degenerate’ authors.” In Munich, over 25,000 books “unGerman” books were burned. This event is still commemorated today, when many of the books are read in public.

Even children’s books were not immune. During the 1980s, the London County Council banned Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny from all London schools because the stories only portrayed “middle-class rabbits.”

Banned Books Week is the “annual celebration of the freedom to read” and draws attention to the harms that censorship creates. While many books have been banned over the years, they remain available through the efforts of booksellers, librarians, teachers, and others. It was launched in the 1980s, after the 1982 Island Trees School District v. Pico Supreme Court case, which ruled that “school libraries enjoy a special affinity with the rights of free speech and press. Therefore, the Board could not restrict the availability of books in its libraries simply because its members disagreed with their idea content.” That year, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) BookExpo America brought attention to the issue by placing more than 500 challenged books locked metal cages, with a sign cautioning that some thought the books dangerous.

The successful event led the ABA to invite Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) Director Judith Krug, and the National Association of College Stores to join the new Banned Books Week. This led to institutions, stores, and other businesses hosting similar events, with PBS and the New York Times covering it. Political leaders issues proclamations in support.

In 1933, The United States v. One Book Called Ulysses led to a new legal interpretation of the First Amendment. Judge John M. Woolsey overturned the federal ban of James Joyce’s Ulysses, because it did not meet the legal definition of obscenity, “[t]ending to stir the sex impulses or to lead to sexually impure and lustful thoughts.” Woolsey ruled that the ban could be lifted, as Ulysses, “did not tend to excite sexual impulses or lustful thoughts, but that its net effect on them was only that of a somewhat tragic and very powerful commentary on the inner lives of men and women.”

The case set precedent, but the Comstock Act – passed on March 3, 1873, which “ defined contraceptives as obscene and illicit, making it a federal offense to disseminate birth control through the mail or across state lines” – was not overturned until 1957 in the Supreme Court case Roth vs. The United States. The plaintiff, writer and bookseller Samuel Roth, was convicted of mailing pornographic magazines to subscribers. The court ruled that obscenity was not “”within the area of constitutionally protected speech or press” and that the First Amendment did not protect materials that were “utterly without redeeming social importance.” The test to determine obscenity, was “whether to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to prurient interest.” This excluded books that depicted sex and violence.

This year’s Banned Books Week will be from September 23–29. The 2018 theme is “Banning Books Silences Stories,” “a reminder that everyone needs to speak out against censorship.” The BannedBooksWeek coalition has relevant materials. The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom also has resources, including a “Top 10 Most Challenged Books List” from 1990 to the present. 

What’s your favourite banned book?