Inspired by my most recent CPD…

23 February 2019, Dundee, lecture “Researching Multilingually: Languages as Social Category and Performance Art” organised by CIOL Scottish Society and delivered by Professor Alison Phipps.

In the age of dominance of English as the “global language” it was a real privilege to be able to listen to Professor Alison Phipps who gave us an opportunity to see the world through the prism of multilinguality. I wholeheartedly thank the speaker Professor Alison Phipps and CIOL Scottish Society, in particular Eneida Garcia Villanueva and Paul Kearns for organising and delivering this absolutely unique and incredibly memorable talk.

Coming to Dundee on a cold February Saturday, I was beginning to have doubts if this CPD was worth my while. An alternative would be to have a nice translation session or a reading afternoon at home with a heart-warming cup of hot tea or coffee. Instead I was on my way to uncertainty.

As I left the train station in the city-centre I was immediately overwhelmed by the sight of RRS “Discovery” — which dominated the view onto the Firth of Tay.

RRS Discovery, Dundee, Scotland — a magnificent vessel built to carry the first ever scientific expedition to Antarctica. The captain of the ship Robert Falcon Scott successfully returned to the UK in 1904 to bring back ground breaking discoveries that changed the world.

That stunning image kept coming back to me and I am still haunted by its marvel. The ship was a discovery, the story of the ship was my personal discovery and the lecture was an amazing discovery — the day enriched me spiritually, intellectually and professionally.

To even attempt re-narrating the talk would be an insult to Dr Phipps as the whole experience included not only a set of slides with carefully compiled facts and images but also her powerful delivery, accompanied by poetry and the colourful energy of her voice. It was meant to make an impact and it did.

I can but try to summarise in a humble way what has stayed with me after I came back to my warm and cosy “translation den”.

These are facts, as I discovered that 70% of migration occurs across the Global South where “colonial languages” are not widely spoken, that speaking one of the half-a-dozen of the “privileged few” languages from the Western world does not get you far if you step outside that “comfort zone”, that not only words can talk, but also music, dance and fabric.

These are emotions as I discovered that any “non-colonial” language is referred to quite condescendingly as a “community” or an “indigenous” language but also that language is not something systematic and pragmatic as our grammar books would claim, but that it is a “creative confusion”, a “performance” and… “experience of the Other” while overcoming “the problem of I”.

These are new ways that move away from the “extractionist methodology” and focus on a language “within a form of expression”, i.e. music or another forms of art.

These are the electric waves that went through my body and soul as I was listening to poetry, songs and watching footage demonstrating the devastating power of destruction and the creative power of art.

The day reminded me that a language does not start at the “high quarters” of academic linguistics —it starts at the grassroots of the nation, as folklore. That folkloric element needs to survive the polish of education and to be interwoven like a colourful thread into the fabric at every level of our mother or any other tongue “of proficiency”.

Without this it will be impossible to build a bridge between cultures — and that is what we, translators, are paid to do!

View across the Firth of Tay, Dundee, Scotland

It is the folklore in the language that is so different and yet so uniting across borders and boundaries!

View of Tay Rail Bridge across the Firth of Tay, Dundee, Scotland

Thank you, Dear Professor Alison Phipps for making me realise it!


Liudmila Tomanek
Russian Translation World Ltd

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