METM21 Online presentation 

Language professionals as cultural mediators: whose style matters?

Kate Sotejeff-Wilson, Jyväskylä, Finland; Alice Lehtinen, Mäntsälä, Finland

Whose style matters? As “global” English overtakes local languages in academia and public life, what is our role as language professionals working in and into English? We can be cultural mediators but also cultural imperialists, unintentionally supporting the rise of our own language above others.

First-language interference is inevitable in texts by multilingual authors. Editors and translators fluent in the author’s first language may know what they mean, but often when their words are taken outside their cultural zone, they can sound strange, make no sense or, at worst, be embarrassing.

How can we present our authors in the best light without losing their native voice or intended tone? In our professional context, how can we retain the richness of the author’s first language in their English? For instance, Finnish can do away with the doer altogether (“zero-subject” expressions) to shift the focus onto the doing and the experience. This is why an English editor often has to put the person back in (does that remind you of anything you’d like to tell me about?). (See this book review for an idea of how Finnish and English interact.)

Yet we should be able to make changes like this while retaining the author’s voice and style in English. But what kind of English is this, and who is it for? Is it "good" or "bad" English?*

The presenters draw on three decades of editing and translating for researchers. Looking at specific cases from our work, we ask how language professionals can give voice to their authors in English while still respecting and promoting their first language. If you are concerned about what English is doing to your source language, especially in academia, come and join our search for solutions.

*See Elizabeth Peterson's Making Sense of "Bad Ënglish". An Introduction to Language Attitudes and Ideologies.

About the presenters

Kate Sotejeff-Wilson enjoys midwifing people’s texts into being. She translates from Finnish, German and Polish, edits for multilingual authors writing in English, and runs writing retreats. Born in Wales, she did her history PhD research in London, Berlin, Poznań and Warsaw, and is now also a Finn.

Alice Lehtinen is an editor at heart, but also translates from Finnish into English. In-house editor at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health for 11 years, she started freelancing in 2017, mainly with academics in health-related subjects. Welsh-born but half Finnish, she has lived in Finland for 25 years.