Conference to bring together language scholars, translation professionals

Kimberly Koerth

A conference sponsored by Arizona Humanities and Arizona State University will bring together national and international translation professionals and scholars later this month to discuss the theory and practice of translation and interpretation.


Engaging Translation: Questions of Language and Power in Arizona and Beyond” will be held Nov. 12–13 on ASU’s Tempe campus. The conference is free and open to the public.


Translation is often used as an umbrella term to encompass both translation and interpretation, said Jaime Fatás-Cabeza, a member of the conference’s planning committee and the director of the Undergraduate Translation and Interpretation Program in the Spanish and Portuguese Department at the University of Arizona. When a distinction is drawn between the two terms, translation refers to written texts while interpretation indicates spoken speech, such as in a medical or legal context. 


Translation and interpretation are particularly relevant topics in this state due to its racial and ethnic diversity. Approximately one in five Arizonans lives in a household in which Spanish is spoken at home, and Arizona has nearly two dozen federally recognized Indigenous tribes. 


Despite this, Arizona is the only state in the U.S. with an English-only education law, which bans English-language-learning students from receiving instruction in their native languages. As part of that policy, students are immersed in hours of English classes at a time, often at the expense of other subjects. 


Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, citing research, has written that a more effective instructional model allows students to be taught in dual-language programs that utilize both English and their native language. This format, in practice across the nation, encourages students’ multilingualism and lets them use their knowledge of their native language to boost their English learning. 


Earlier this year, a bill seeking to overturn the English-only law was advanced in the Arizona House of Representatives. The measure would eventually have to be approved by voters in order for the law to be reversed. This political background sets the stage for the “Engaging Translation” conference and the broader issues its presenters intend to tackle. 


The conference includes scholars from ASU as well as other institutions across the country and world. Translation professionals are also represented among the presenters, panelists, keynote speakers and workshop leaders.  


“The event is significant because it brings together academics, professionals and stakeholders to discuss the power dynamics involved in the provision of equal access to linguistic minorities in Arizona through translation, interpretation and cross-cultural services,” Fatás-Cabeza said. “This is a rare and much-needed opportunity to explore venues and strategies to improve cooperation between academia, providers and public and private sectors to better serve the needs of an increasingly multicultural and multilingual society.” 


The conference will culminate in a discussion on “Language and Power in Arizona” moderated by Fernanda Santos, a Southwest Borderlands Initiative professor of practice in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. That panel will feature Arizona state Rep. César Chávez, federal public defender Milagros Cisneros, Valencia Newcomer School Principal Lynette Faulkner, The Welcome to America Project agency director Mike Sullivan and ASU’s American Indian Studies Director Stephanie Fitzgerald. 


"Engaging Translation” is supported by the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators, the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI), Arizona Translators and Interpreters (ATI) and the New England Translators Association. The CCHI, ATI and the American Translators Association will provide continuing-education credits for attendance. 


“We are especially excited to have created an opportunity for scholars and practitioners of translation to engage in conversation over the two days of the conference. Our final panel takes up issues related to Arizona’s multilingualism, from the need for more funding for foreign-language learning to the English-only law that is still in place in the public school system,” said Nina Berman, the director of the School of International Letters and Cultures, which is hosting the conference. 


In addition to the School of International Letters and Cultures, the ASU departments co-sponsoring the conference are the Office of the Dean of Humanities; the Institute for Humanities Research; the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies; the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication; the Department of English; the Melikian Center; and the School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies. 


Robert Tuck, associate professor of modern Japanese literature and another member of the conference planning committee, said the conference represents a collaboration between numerous stakeholders from the diverse array of fields that involve translation and interpretation in some manner.  


“‘Engaging Translation,’ as a conference, gets to the heart of what we do at SILC,” Tuck said. “We’ll explore what happens when the act of translating brings two languages into dialogue with one another. We want to ask what the interactions at the heart of translation and interpreting can tell us about topics such as identity and political and cultural power, both here in Arizona and in a broader global context.”

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