We have found our voice
We work with language, yet are often lost for words when trying to explain what it is we do to people on the outside. Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche have solved this problem for us with their book “Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World”, published in October 2012. It is a wonderful way to introduce laymen to “the biggest industry people never knew existed”.
The book has been enthusiastically received by translation professionals all over the world – accurate and expert reviews are easy to find online – and it deserves all the praise it has been given. With a lump in my throat, I read about the interpreters saving lives in rescue operations, risking their own in wartime situations where their countrymen see them as traitors or giving a voice to victims of atrocities and helping to build international pressure to intervene before it’s too late.
I laughed aloud at the story of IKEA product names. Apparently, a Danish academic study managed to prove that the Swedish furniture giant often uses Swedish names for its high-end products whereas the names given to cheaper products such as doormats tend to be Danish. Did you know that IKEA sells a toilet seat called “Öresund”?
The book is made up of real-life anecdotes that make it accessible to the masses and gripping for insiders. Luther translated the New Testament into German at a rate of 2,760 words per day in 1521. The Finnish TV subtitler of The Simpsons received a personal thank-you note from a fan who had tried to watch the programme in the US without subtitles. Cirque du Soleil have more than 20 interpreters on staff.
My grown-up bilingual daughter, after a life-time of watching her parents labour in the translation industry and vowing that she would never end up there herself, listened avidly to me reciting paragraph after paragraph about how relevant and just plain cool translating and interpreting is as a job. My excitement about this book is not merely as a private individual, but also because of the deep delight I feel that Nataly and Jost have given us a voice as a profession. The voice that we have been longing for, in order to raise the profile of the industry, to attract talent and to defend reasonable working conditions for our people.
Let’s pass a copy of this book around family and friends to enable them to finally grasp how very important and interesting our work is. And let’s have a spare copy for those new acquaintances who ask – for the third time – “What was it that you do for a living?”