Translation Slam at Thessaloniki Book-fair

Translation Slam at the 13th International Thessaloniki Book-fair

Can the translation of a text be negotiated in public and contribute, therefore, to the opening-up of the difficulties and challenges a translator faces?

This was the aim of the first Translation Slam that has been hold at the 13th International Book Fair Thessaloniki on 14 May 2016 by The Language Project and with the support of Goethe-Institut Thessaloniki. The term was used for the first time in order to describe the meeting of two translators in an open debate, in a battle with the words as weapon. The two translators, who have translated the same original text without knowing in advanced the choices of each other, are called upon to present their translations and to defend or revise their approaches in real time and in front of an audience that may participate actively in the procedure

In the case of our Translation Slam, the excellent translators Despina Lamprou and Christina Papantoni crossed swords in the battlefield of the German book Gehen, Ging, Gegangen of Jenny Erpenbeck. Born in 1967 in East Berlin and having studied Theater Studies, Erpenbeck portrays in her book in a unique style of writing the highly topical and deeply political issue of asylum seekers.

Richard is the main character of the book. He is an emeritus professor and a recently retired widower, lives alone in a house by a lake in the suburbs of East Berlin. Having little idea how to spend his plenty free time, when he sees a news story about the occupation of Berlin’s Alexanderplatz by African refugees, he decides that he wants to learn more. He starts to collect data and to conduct interviews, so that he gradually feels connected to them, learns their tragic stories, helps them in many ways, demonstrates with them, and takes some of them home. These men, who are stranded in Germany without the right of establishment and work, are the first step on a journey that will change his life. The chapter of the book that was discussed in the framework of our slam deals with the beginning of the occupation of the square by the refugees and describes the first reactions of the protagonist to this message.

Vasoula Makri fired the starting signal for the competence by reading in a particular theatrical way the original German text. Then the two translators, Despina and Christina, read each one her own version of it in Greek and the slam took the form of a phrase by phrase battle. The discussion became lively from the very beginning.

Issues, such as if the Rotes Rathaus should be translated as the Red Town Hall or just be written in Greek letters, if the tunnels under it that used to be an underground market in the Middle Ages should be translated as extensive basements or rambling cellars, if the officers working in the building of the Senat in Berlin are governmental or municipal, and how to deal with a German proverb that has no equivalent in Greek, monopolized the debate.

The audience that eagerly participated in the process and took sides for or against the one or the other argument, proved that language and translation were the winners of this slam.

We would like to thank the coordinator of the event, Tasos Ioannidis, the translators Despina Lamprou and Christina Papantoni, as well as Vasoula Makri for giving voice to the text. In addition, we would like to thank the Goethe-Institut Thessaloniki (especially Ms Ute Petkakis) for supporting our idea. Finally, we would like to thank the 13th International Book Fair Thessaloniki, the Translator’s Pavilion of the Hellenic Society of Translation Studies and the Hellenic Foundation of Culture for hosting our event, as well as Ms Eleotriviari from PEEMPIP for the her advice and guidance.


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