ITA Conference 2019 - and where were you?

Yes, I'm talking to you, my translator and editor buddies. I missed you.
If there was anything disappointing about this conference, it was the size of the audience. Everything else was fine: good speakers, interesting talks, comfortable chairs, relatively short sessions, unlimited coffee and other drinks, the standard cakes and pastries. Not sure about the parking facilities, but then I had a ride to Kfar Maccabiah, and caught a bus home.

For old-timers like me, who remember 3-day conferences with two hundred(?) participants, the current event was a mite depressing. The in-house advertising for the event made it clear that it wouldn't be that type of conference. The wording clearly attempted to re-define expectations:

But still: forty-odd participants?...
Yes, we were a good, attentive and appreciative audience. Honestly.
And yes, the small-but-involved audience contributed to a relaxed, friendly, intimate atmosphere. Comments or questions didn't come across as rude interruptions, nor did they did seem to throw our speakers off their track.

Okay, enough kvetching. You wanna know what you missed? Here's the program, and below is a brief(?) report:

1. Keynote speaker Dr. Gabriel Birnbaum, senior researcher at the Academy of the Hebrew Language, spoke about the Historical Dictionary Project -- a fascinating topic, as is turned out, and I kid you not. I wonder whether, had I been mainly a translator into Hebrew, and/or a Hebrew editor, I'd know more about the Academy and about this project. To quote the Ma'agrim page in English, "The aim of a historical dictionary is to relate the history of the words of a language by answering questions such as: When did the word first enter the language, and is it still in use? What were the word’s original form and meaning and how did they change over time?" 
Dr. Birnbaum's description of the process of gradually putting together such a database, his examples and answers to questions from the audience, were enlightening and amusing. Though he was speaking to a relatively knowledgeable group, he easily stumped us with his questions. I bet you didn't know that the noun tayir means fortune telling based on patterns of birds' flights. Or that the horrible-sounding word ma'arufia (reminiscent of the verb la'arof, as in "Off with his head!") actually means clientele.  Well, the origin of both words is Arabic, so if you know Arabic, you probably figured out these two words easily. We live in the Middle East, guys! Wakey wakey! Time to learn Arabic!
To find out more about Dr. Birnbaum and his work, read this Jerusalem Post interview (though I doubt that it captures his low-key, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor).

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Coffee break. Chatting. All's well, but then comes my usual conflict: Shall I go to Track A or Track B? Track A offered a longish session by one Alfie Gelbard on a subject that I know nothing about: Poetry slam in Israel; Slam Poetry; Spoken Word. Sure, I've heard of these. I'm just totally ignorant on the subject. Okay, so people write poetry and recite it aloud. Big deal. What's so special about that? Hasn't that been around, like, forever?.. Since Ancient Greece, or The Song of Deborah?.. Had I gone, I would have found out. But I didn't, so I might just make the effort and look into the subject. Instead, I chose Track B, which had at least two sessions which are of current relevance to me.
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2. I knew I wanted to hear Shira Leibowitz Schmidt, because I'd liked a previous lecture of hers [at the AGM of June 2018]. In this talk, titled Can a Rabbi be a Muslim, she shared with us some of the difficulties and conundrums encountered in a translation involving different cultures. Specifically in this case, the translation of subtitles for the documentary by Eyal Datz, Hidden Face (Hebrew name: Astir Panai אסתיר פני). It's not easy to communicate the world of Israeli Orthodox Jews to foreign viewers Leibowitz-Schmidt refers to, for the purposes of translation of course, as "a gentile in Georgia". (The U.S. Georgia.) Terms that are obvious by now to most Israelis, such as rogalach, cholent, shma, kapota, and plenty more, have to be very-briefly explained, wherever there is no simple English equivalent. 
The audience was -- how shall I put it -- easily countable by my 5-year-old grandson; but I think about half were from a religious background, so unsurprisingly they had encountered similar issues, and were quite adept at suggesting solutions, e.g., respectively: pastries, stew, the basic Jewish prayer, Hassidic coat, and so on. Other issues were less straightforward. But hey -- that's exactly what the session was all about!

3. When I first saw Dr. Michal Fram-Cohen, while mingling and nibbling, I didn't realize she was one of the speakers. I'd never heard of the novel The Vale of Cedars nor of its author, Grace Aguilar. So I had no idea what to expect. But as is often the case, the ITA conference provided a pleasant surprise. Dr. Fram-Cohen, in a brief talk, managed to illustrate the huge difference between the two translations of the novel, each guided by the ideology of its translator, in accordance with the mores of the time. Most of us are familiar with early translations of classic stories or novels, say from English and from German, into Hebrew. As a pre-teen and a teenager, I read Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe in Hebrew, without realizing to what extent it had been "scrubbed clean" of any obvious Christian motifs. Similarly, I read Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace several times as a teenager, in Hebrew. The original subtitle, "A Tale of the Christ", most certainly did not appear anywhere on or in the book; the plot was, apparently, also similarly adapted to the Hebrew readers of that era. According to Wikipedia, there are no fewer than 8 translations into Hebrew, done between the years 1924-1979, and in all of them the Christian motif was "censored". Considering the centrality of this motif to the novel, it's amazing that it was so totally eradicated. I'm sure that reading the original and reading one of the Hebrew versions is simply a different experience. Fram-Cohen did a good job of selecting and presenting a novel where this type of  "localization" is both amusing and disturbing.
Hebrew readers might find the following page interesting:

4. & 5. Yael Valier spoke about translating lyrical and rhyming children's books from Hebrew to English, which is more difficult and requires more creativity and ingenuity than the average Israeli writer/poet realizes. Tzivia MacLeod picked up more-or-less where Valier left off, addressing the challenges of translating children's stories (Hebrew to English), and the $$$-question of how to promote and sell such books on the American market.  
These two presentations were very relevant to me, since I've been involved recently with translating stories for children, written in Hebrew by a friend. A couple of these stories contained some rhymed stanzas, which I passed on to my friend and colleague Linda Yechiel, since poetry and rhymes are not my forte. As for the rest, I translated the stories as best I could, but remained dubious as to their chances of ever selling on the American market. On Amazon, to be precise. I did share my doubts with the author, a kindergarten teacher by profession, and a darn good one, too. Her (didactic) stories are adored by local preschool teachers, and kids love her. So far, so good. But selling children's books on Amazon is a different story altogether, and requires an understanding of the market and of how Amazon works. I may not be an expert, but I know the basics, and MacLeod's talk reinforced what I knew and gave me additional pointers.

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Lunch break. The usual buffet. More food than anyone could eat, and cute little petit fours which, being parve, are seldom as tasty as they look. (But I didn't want the extra calories anyway, did I?..)

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Three out of the four post-lunch sessions weren't of great interest to me, mainly since I am retired and have the luxury of being very selective about the work I undertake; I'm definitely not attempting to attract any more business. And so I easily skipped Stephen Rifkind's session, which was about accessing the world market; and Q-Lingua's session, which was about ISO standards and certification. If you're interested in these sessions, pop over to Ruth Ludlum's blog, where she reported on both.

6. Instead, I went to the other track, where Dikla Abarbanel of The Knesset Chronicles, explained and demonstrated what the editors are up against when editing transcripts of Knesset sessions. This is a very specific type of editing, where you must be precise and neutral, obviously; yet you have guidelines of what to omit. After all, not every hesitation, repetition or guffaw merit documentation handed down to posterity.

7. Well, I can attest that traffic in the region was rather horrid that day... which may be the reason that the speaker for this session simply never made it. Udi Hershler was supposed to talk about "Studying and the Yeshiva Language". Glancing at Hershler's Facebook page, he comes across as an interesting fellow. Maybe there'll be a "next time". (Though I don't promise to attend.)

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Coffee break. Then the last session, where I was pleased to see and hear a well-known top-notch artist of the written word, whose work every Israeli probably knows, even if they're not aware of it:
8. Dory Manor - Translating the Untranslatable - Ruminations on Translating Poetry. Manor opened his talk with a well-known quotation of Robert Frost, who wrote in 1959: "...I could define poetry this way: it is that which is lost out of both prose and verse in translation." Not a pleasant thought for translators, especially translators of poetry, I expect. Which is why Manor goes to great lengths to re-create the poesy, the tone, the music, when transforming poetic works from French, English, Spanish (and I'm not sure which other languages) -- into Hebrew. I say "transforming" rather than "translating" because, as Manor says and as other translators surely know, translating poetry means writing it anew in a different language.

What never ceases to amaze me is that some of my favorite writers wrote the most beautiful poetry in a language other than their mother tongue: Leah Goldberg, Rachel, Jacques Brel, and Nathan Alterman - to name but a few. Why, as a student at Tel Aviv University (er... some 50 years ago), I was floored by Joseph Conrad's mastery of the English language, considering he did not speak English fluently until his twenties (says Wikipedia.)

By the time Manor's lecture was over, I couldn't wait to get home and check out some French poetry, read it aloud and savor its beauty, feeling thankful that this beauty is also accessible to readers in other languages.

C'est tout pour aujourd'hui. Au revoir!