In Search of Military Translation Cultures

Translation and Interpreting in World War II in Finland

Conference activities

In April, our project made a “full-front attack” to the City of Vaasa and presented three papers at the 10th Symposium on Translation and Interpreting organized by the Finnish Association of Translators and Interpreters and the University of Vaasa (20-21 April 2012). Päivi introduced different war-time translator and interpreter profiles on the Finnish side of the Continuation War (1942-44), whereas Svetlana looked at the roles of Soviet military interpreters as experienced by Finnish prisoners of war held by the Red Army, i.e. a view into to other side of the front. Finally, by using archived records, Pekka looked at the interpreting and translation activities of Finnish army liaison officers in the “Finnish-German Zone” of Northern Finland.

This topic was taken up again a couple of weeks later in Forli at the 1st International Conference on Non-Professional  Interpreting and Translation (NPIT1, 17-19 May 2012). The fascinating and well-organized conference offered a very relevant forum for discussing the mediation practices of Finnish liaison officers working as non-professional interpreters and translators between Finnish civilians and authorities and German troops. As maintained by Brian Harris in his excellent keynote on different areas of non-professional interpreting and translation, research on linguistic mediation in the military and in wars is still very scarce – despite of its undeniable importance, whether we look at it from the point of view of military operations, of journalists reporting of them, or of humanitarian questions in general. Of course, the very interesting projects run e.g. in Great Britain (Languages at War) or by individual researchers like Franziska Heimburger make an important exception. At Forli, however, there were only two papers moving in this specific field: in addition to our above mentioned presentation, Michaela Wolf read an interesting paper on translating and interpreting in Nazi concentration camps.

In July 2012, the International Association for Translation and Intercultural Studies organized the 4th IATIS Conference at Queen’s University of Belfast (24-27 July 2012). In this conference, Pekka presented a methodological paper on the use of fictional texts in historical research on the mediation practices in WW2. It was a joint paper with Kaisa Koskinen, University of Eastern Finland. Although I very much enjoyed the conference, I must admit that I was rather surprised (= disappointed) to observe that the question of T & I in military conflicts was, again, almost totally absent in the otherwise very attractive and huge programme (there were six parallel sections!). Of course, Hilary Footitt’s keynote on different cultures of language knowledge in crisis zones made an excellent exception in the programme.


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