In other words

21 June 2012 | This 'n' that

Wordworkers meet: the translators' congress in Helsinki, 11–14 June. Photo: Hannele Jyrkkä

From Finnish or Swedish into 32 languages: in mid June FILI (the Finnish Literature Exchange) held the biggest international meeting of translators of Finnish literature of all time.

The congress, entitled Kääntäjän sana/Översättarens ord (Translator’s word) was planned with one eye on the Finnish theme of the 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair.

The former Lisa Hagman School, now the House of Learning, offered the premises for workshops and lectures for 120 professional translators and almost 70 scholars of language and literature.

Participants translating from both Finnish and Finland-Swedish were offered opportunities to meet writers, listen to lectures from experts in language and literature and gain feedback from other active professional readers.

On a city tour: Maria Turchaninov reads her book Underfors (‘Underville’), about the mysterious city beneath Helsinki, to Philippe Bouquet and colleagues. Photo: Johanna Sillanpää

Among the guests at the conference were writers from Sofi Oksanen to Rosa Liksom and from Monika Fagerholm to Claes Andersson. Strong winds grounded Jari Tervo’s plane in Italy, but his speech was lent wings by the voice of radio journalist Seppo Puttonen. Thrillers, non-fiction and poetry received their own workshops. Two groups of ten translators visited the Comics Centre. on the Finland-Swedish side, there were literary walks and expeditions following the urban tracks of, among others, Maria Turchaninov and Philip Teir. The evenings were taken up with poetry readings and socialising.

Over the years, FILI has organised many different translation seminars, but this time the large and multilingual group of participants provided a challenge of its own. The participants – 90 translators from Finnish, 30 from Finland-Swedish – convey literature in a total of 32 different languages. In direct encounters, they did not necessarily have a single language in common – not even English. The simultaneous interpreters at the lectures were applauded warmly for their efforts.

One of the conference’s aims was to overcome the apparent invisibility of the translator – at least for a moment. As Mikko Lehtonen, professor of media culture at Tampere University, remarked: ‘Translating is not the sending of messages in a bottle from one island to another.’ The identities of the original text and the translation were discussed in many of the conference workshops. Maria Pakkala, who translates into Arabic, found connections between the Baltic pirates of Lukkarinen and Juha Ruusuvuori’s comic strip Nicholas Grisefoth and the raids of the Bedouin tales of the Arab peninsula. The hero’s surname, Grisefoth (‘Pig’s trotter’) was translated in this context as Camel’s foot. 

The four-day conference was a plentiful buffet supper in which participants were free to put together the meal they wanted – and they will go on bringing Finnish delicacies to their native cultures in the form of translations of Finnish literature; some two hundred appear worldwide each year.
Translated by Hildi Hawkins

(More photos and text, in Finnish only, here.)

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