Translation Studies

Event Synopsis

On Friday the 15th of May, nearly 70 professionals, academics, students and laypeople attended the event “Whose Voice is it Anyway?” at Edinburgh University, to discuss the issue of voice in translation and interpreting.

The event started with a speech by Rebecca Tipton, University of Manchester, who talked about interpreting in situations of conflict. Interpreters, especially in training, choose a voice that represents another person, an impartial voice. However, sometimes the voice of the interpreter can overshadow that other person, and thus, loses its impartiality. Tipton concluded that the voice an interpreter adopts in sensitive situations should be given more consideration, as it can have a significant impact on the outcome of negotiations, or problem resolutions.

Then, Charlotte Bosseaux, University of Edinburgh, talked about the issue of voice in AVT with a focus on dubbing. In this field, it is not only about what the character says but how they say it. Bosseaux emphasized that different features of voice, such as tone, rhythm and volume can influence the experience of the audience. Amongst others, she supported this view by using an example of the American actress Julianne Moore, who is dubbed by many different French voice artists across her recent movies.

Finally, Theo Hermans talked about positioning translators, explaining that translation enables authors to speak and express themselves in another language, thus making their voice heard. However, it is sometimes the translators’ voice that is being heard, through the various decisions that they have made when approaching a certain text. Some can decide to censor the text for example, overshadowing the author’s original voice. Hearing the author’s voice or the translator’s one depends largely on how translators approach the texts. While translators can position themselves in a certain way by choosing to be loyal to the source text, indifferent to it, or critical about it, the position of the translators can also be determined by the readers who decide whether or not they want to be aware of their presence. The voice that is heard through a translation thus depends on how the translators position themselves in relation to a text, but also on how the readers decide to position the translators.

A session of question and answers followed the talks. Concerns were raised about the difficulty of dubbing regional voices, and Bosseaux answered by explaining that despite various attempts to deal with this issue, it was still a particularly complicated task.

This issue was highlighted more specifically in the second part of the event, during the conversation between Chris Brookmyre, author of crime fiction, and Hannes Meyer, German translator of some of Brookmyre’s novels. As a Scottish author writing for a Scottish audience, Brookmyre uses a slang which is deeply rooted in a specific environment and translating this type of work can be a real challenge. Meyer gave some interesting insights into the intricate task of translating slang and humour in literary context. He said that sometimes, even consulting Scottish friends did not give the right answers immediately, and that he had to be more thorough in the search. Besides slang, humour posed some problems too. It was not always possible to retain the humorous tone of some passages, and to compensate for this, jokes had to be added somewhere else in the text.

Brookmyre insisted that voice was one of the starting points for him when writing. Despite the fact that it is a non-standard from of speech, slang holds a certain power, and it is this innovative slang that he intends to celebrate in his novels. Much information on his characters is contained in the speech he uses, such as age, social class and background, etc. He however realises how challenging it can be to translate slang and dialectical speech.

Among other things, Brookmyre shared a memorable anecdote with the public about the Hungarian translation of his book “One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night”, which had become “Paradise Fucked”. Earlier in the evening, Bosseaux had played a video clip showing the actor Zac Efron's reaction to his Spanish dubbed voice, which to his surprise was much higher pitched than he expected. These moments highlighted the reactions of original actors and authors when they are first presented with their foreign voices, and realise how different they can be from their own. As Brookmyre pointed out, a story can be universal, but the way it is told is a different matter.

The event was met with great success, and highlighted the importance of voice in many different settings, from interpreting to translating, acting to writing. After the event, the public was presented with refreshments and canapés, and given the opportunity to converse further with the academics, translators and authors present at the event.

(synopsis written by Lucie Madranges and Natalia Jurcackova)