METM14 presentation

(Not) Making it up as you go along: translating in under-documented niche areas

Melanie Rockenhaus, Pisa, Italy

Many translators work in what would be considered niche areas. In my case, I work with university researchers studying often obscure fields of the Humanities. Recent examples of translations include 9th-11th century Virgilian codices, how they relate to each other and to earlier works now lost, an educational website about ancient Mediterranean scripts and the languages which used them, and research on adultery in 19th-century Italy, a surprisingly understudied area in English.

What these widely divergent fields have in common is that all three have long been studied in Italian (and in some cases in other Mediterranean languages) but less so in English. Although there are numerous publications available in English about these subjects, there is as yet no fully agreed-upon standard for many terms, and often no standard dictionary or glossary.

This talk will present some of my experiences in the three areas mentioned above, looking at language quirks and the issues faced. I will briefly consider some specific questions faced, including how several basic dilemmas in punctuation and terms were solved. In short, although this personal account of translating in under-documented areas will look at very particular cases, hopefully it will be of interest to other translators working in similar niches, and the subject matter itself should be engaging for many.  
Melanie Rockenhaus, a language professional with 25 years of experience, is responsible for the English program for undergraduates and graduates at the Scuola Normale Superiore, a university in Pisa, Italy. She holds a post-graduate diploma in translation in humanities and literature from the Chartered Institute of Linguists, London and is a translator member of the CIOL. She has translated web sites and several books along with numerous academic articles. In her free time she likes to pursue the Italian dolce far niente.