Usually the visit of a guest speaker on a campus is an opportunity to learn more about the world at large. That of Prof. Loredana Polezzi from Cardiff U (U.K.) in mid-October allowed Montclair State U students to learn more about their own world and, more specifically, about the many languages it is made out of. Her lecture started with the astonishing data coming from The Salzburg Statement for a Multilingual World reporting that “all 193 UN member states are multi-lingual.” That also includes the U.S., a country with no official language, where English plays a pivotal part in communication often at the expense of the richness coming from different languages and cultures. This richness is often registered (800 languages are spoken in NYC with Queens being the multi-lingual capital of the world!) but not necessarily activated as part of a process of self-reflection and storytelling. This instead is what Polezzi, Prof. of Translation Studies, triggered in our students. After a quick survey, whether in the large hall where she gave her lecture or the French Translation class where she offered a workshop, it became clear that Montclair State U students are speakers or learners of dozens of languages and they move across them with different levels of agility at home, at school, at work, or … in their love affairs.
“We live in a multi-lingual world since every day we interact with people, signscapes and soundspaces that prompt our engagement across languages and cultures. As knowers of two or more languages in some cases, we shuttle back and forth among them in an operation called translanguaging. Our relationship with languages, and the cultures they represent, is much more dynamic and creative than we are aware of, ” Polezzi convincingly stated.
“There is a translator hidden in all of us,” she concluded, to both demystify the image of the translator in a glass booth and to encourage students to undertake the fascinating career of translating.
In reminding us that translation is not just the transfer of an oral or written text from one language to the other, but a multi-faceted operation that has to do with borrowing and lending in complex ways, she shared examples of this fluid passage coming from literature, dance, music, and the arts in English, Italian and French. Polezzi’s unique take on translation and multilingualism consequently complicates the notion of “mother tongue” and “native speaker” in a world of heightened mobility, easy communication, sophisticated technology and cultural mixing like ours.
Her counter-intuitive approach to these concepts – “what if your mother tongue is your father’s?” she asks with the intent to challenge the “biological” formulation of language acquisition – grew in incisiveness when a Montclair State University alumna, Dragana Bozinova, who came from Macedonia to the U.S. at the age of 14 and now works in Spanish Translation, explained how in some instances employers assign jobs to “native speakers” in the conviction that they can provide a more accurate translation of technical texts, but then realize that whom they need is somebody like Dragana who has studied Translation, even though without the “requisite” of being a “native speaker” of Spanish!
Supported and organized by the Inserra Endowed Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies, Polezzi’s multi-part program was presented in collaboration with the Italian and French programs with the aim of joining forces in bringing attention to the growing role of Translation Programs on campus in response to the increasing demand of translation in our globalized transnational and interconnected world, even at a time of national retrenching in many regions of it. Teresa Fiore (Inserra Chair) added: “Inviting Polezzi has also been an opportunity to learn more about a U.K. government-supported collaborative project called Transnationalizing Modern Languages, which re-configures nations within a framework of mobility prompted by migrations and colonialism/imperialism, and languages as part of translation-based exchanges (see video about the Italian portion of the project). This is increasingly the future of Modern Languages Departments, and on a campus like Montclair State U which is more and more mixed it is a model to seriously consider in order to revitalize interest in languages in dynamic and, mostly, interdisciplinary ways”.
For more information:
Webpage for event “National, Transnational, Translational: Re-Thinking Italian in a Multilingual Landscape”
Full footage of Oct. 15 lecture
The Salzburg Statement for a Multilingual World
Transnationalizing Modern Languages
Montclair State U Italian Translation Project
Montclair State U French Translation Programs (Post-BA Certificate and MA Concentration)
Photo by Christopher Boncimino