Highlights from the 2017 FIT Congress

NZSTI member Peter Tuffley recaps the following highlights from the 2017 FIT Congress.

I should begin with an apology. Space compels this to be a far from adequate selection of memories drawn from an unforgettable three days.

Besides the nominal theme of the Congress, “Disruption and Diversification”, another theme resonating in numerous presentations was the vital link, in a multilingual society, between language and what the US Constitution refers to as “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

This link was emphasized at the very outset in the presentation given by Aboriginal Interpreting Service members, especially in the context of the justice system, in which there is still a troubling number of instances of miscarriages of justice that can be traced back to misinterpretation and miscommunication. For indigenous Australians the problem is complicated many-fold by the huge number of surviving indigenous languages, so that there can be situations in which interpretation is required between indigenous languages, not just between an indigenous language and English – a striking contrast between Australia and indigenously monoglot New Zealand.

I thought it excellent that the programme began with input from indigenous colleagues, thus giving additional substance to the “acknowledgement of the traditional owners of the land” (which I have seen at every AUSIT event I have attended), and making it much more than a ritual token gesture. Acknowledging the local tangata whenua could be a practice worth adopting at our own Conferences.

Another highlight for me was the first keynote address, given by Professor Anthony Pym: “Translators Do More Than Translate”. This provided a refreshing contrast with presentations given by some other members of what may perhaps be categorised as the genus translationologicus, whose offerings (in the humble opinion of this observer) are apt to propound their own arcane formulations of the obvious. Looking into the future, Prof. Pym among much else highlighted the important role of translators as mediators between different cultures.

In “Dissatisfied, Misdiagnosed and At Risk to Die”, US paediatrician Dr Glenn Flores presented detailed case studies of child deaths resulting from misdiagnosis through faulty interpretation arising from failure to provide qualified interpreters and reliance on the use of unqualified family members. Such heartrending cases certainly provide ammunition in the struggle to secure recognition of the vital need to use qualified interpreters in health care; however, Dr Flores did not address the underlying politics, budgetary pressures and other factors that contribute to the life-threatening denial of rights that are supposedly enshrined in law. It would have been helpful to hear what, if anything, Dr Flores and his colleagues have been or are doing to overcome the obstacles that result in such tragic cases.

In another keynote presentation,  “Dissent and Dictatorship in the Digital Age”, US journalist and (among much else) political and human rights commentator Dr Sarah Kendzior told of the use of language as an instrument of power and oppression in both Soviet and post-Soviet Uzbekistan, and the defeat of an attempt by two political activists to use social media (particularly Twitter) as a means of political protest and mobilisation.

However, for me (as no doubt for many others), the most memorable highlight will be the keynote address given entirely in sign language by Professor Jemina Napier.  Quite apart from the content of the address, seeing this sustained virtuoso performance and hearing it reproduced in speech brought home to me as never before an aspect of SL communication that I can only describe as dramatically expressive art.

This has been a necessarily selective account drawn from a wide-ranging and unforgettable experience, and I reiterate my thanks to NZSTI for making it possible for me to attend.

By Peter Tuffley

Photo by Jesse Collins on Unsplash

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