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OCCT Discussion Group - Trinity 2019
In line with the overarching theme of minor literatures and the question of underrepresented and underresearched languages and communities in translation for the 2018-2019 academic year, in Trinity Term we ran sessions on Uyghur literature, Ancient Egyptian and medieval Armenian.
In the first session, which was held in Week Two of Trinity Term, Rahima Mahmut, SOAS, University of London, highlighted the intersectionality of identity and language in Uyghur, drawing on her own translation of modern Uyghur non-fiction, namely the book The Land Drenched in Tears published in 2018 as well as her on-going translation project of one of the most influential modern Uyghur novels Qum Basqan Sheher (The Sand-Buried City). During the session, Mahmut drew on her translation techniques of fiction and non-fiction, the current state of the Uyghur language and literature in contemporary China, as well as on the issues of translating Uyghur literature for/in the diaspora. Mahmut’s session engendered a vibrant discussion especially with regards to the question of sounds and how sounds are captured in translation. Mahmut herself presented her translations as a mode of keeping the Uyghur language alive as an extension of those who speak it.
Like Mahmut, in Week Four Professor Richard Parkinson of Oxford University’s Oriental Institute also drew on his own translation practice in discussing ancient Egyptian and the rhythmical subtleties therein. He showcased his own translation of a poem titled ‘The Tale of Sinuhe’ published in the Oxford World Classics anthology on the theme of death. The poem under study was translated (and retranslated) by Prof Parkinson with the intention of being performed by Barbara Ewing as a podcast. Prof Parkinson began his discussion by offering a brief introduction to ancient Egyptian, its surviving fragments and what is deemed poetic or poetry in that context. As a way of stressing the intricate nature of such renderings, he positioned his own translation alongside another translation of the same poem, in order for the participants to pinpoint their own take on choices and shifts, be they semantic, syntactic or rhyme-related. The discussion proved dynamic and moved towards the ‘elements’ that translators want to keep and preserve in their own translation and those details they are willing to supress and even discard altogether.
In Week Six, the last session of Trinity Term, Dr David Zakarian, also of the Oriental Institute, introduced the discussion group to the considerable challenges of his own translations of medieval Armenian colophons in verse. Dr Zakarian began his session by situating Armenian in the context of wider Indo-European languages while shedding special light on the geographical context of modern day Armenia and its past and present linguistic friction (but also fertilization) with Turkic and the wider Islamic world during the Ottoman empire and modern day Turkey. Dr Zakarian’s articulation of the Armenian colophons as both subsidiary to the main text but also invaluable commentaries on their authors’ readings of culture, politics and religion allowed the participants to engage with these translations directly and with knowledge. Through Dr Zakarian’s sample translations of colophons, participants were invited to comment on nuances, pace, and form therein and if possible to draw comparisons with contemporary commentaries that both depict the personal but also the socio-political.
As a way of concluding Trinity Term, we shared strawberries, Pimm’s and nibbles in a convivial atmosphere, with plans in place for the next terms’ focus to be on comparisons across different media, which will not only stress commonalities and ruptures but also invite us to look at things, textually and visually, through fresher eyes and languages.