Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The travelling translator ...reporting from the University of Johannesburg, South Africa

Our next guest is Stefanie Dose, a lecturer from the Department of Linguistics at the University of Johannesburg. Our interview revolved around the Department, South African languages, local identity and finding work in South Africa as a linguist.

Hello Stefanie, could you please introduce yourself to us?
I have been a lecturer at the Department of Linguistics since January 2012. At undergraduate level, I teach a first-year module in linguistics as well as the interpreting section of our third-year module. At postgraduate level, I teach three honours modules: Translation Theory, Interpreting, and Research Methodology. I love working with our first-year students, most of whom are entirely new to the field of linguistics, but my real passion is all forms of interpreting. (Some people believe that “obsession” is a more adequate description...)

Bursary holders with Linguistics t-shirts
Before joining the Department of Linguistics, I worked as an (educational) interpreter at a South African university for six years, where I interpreted academic lectures from Afrikaans into English. During that time, I also completed an MA in Applied Linguistics with a dissertation on – of course – interpreting. I’m originally from Germany and my mother tongue therefore is German, but I have been living in South Africa, with minor interruptions, since 2001, when I came to the country as an au pair. My stay in the country was so much fun that I decided to complete my studies here as well and am now – after more than ten years – still working in South Africa. I have, in the meanwhile, learned some South African languages as well: I speak Afrikaans fluently and have some knowledge of Zulu.

How old is the Department of Linguistics at the University of Johannesburg? What courses and languages does it offer?
Departmental staff at the university's 2013 open day
The Department of Linguistics is the host department of the undergraduate course BA Language Practice. This course aims at training editors, translators and interpreters. Students who are enrolled for the course have to take three majors modules up to third-year level: Language Practice and Linguistics, both offered by the Department of Linguistics, and a language of their choice, offered by the relevant language department. The Language Practice module aims to instil the necessary practical skills required by the editing, translation and interpreting professions. (Our course includes training in the use of the translation memory software Wordfast.) More theoretical concepts (such as sociolinguistics and psycholinguistics) are dealt with in the Linguistics module. The languages offered up to third-year level at the University of Johannesburg currently include Zulu, Northern Sotho, Afrikaans, English, French, and Modern Greek. The Linguistics and Language Practice classes are taught in one group but students’ practical assignments (such as translations) are marked by translators with the relevant language combinations.

Depart. staff and student at uni's 2013 open day
We furthermore started an exciting internship programme for our undergraduate students this year: During their winter holidays in June/July, third-year students complete a three-week internship as a language practitioner. Students have the choice between any of the three language professions to which they have been exposed thus far, i.e. editing, translation or (court) interpreting. The internships started last week Thursday and I can’t wait to hear about students’ internship experiences after the holidays!!
At postgraduate level, students can study (full- or part-time) towards a BA Honours degree in Applied Linguistics. This year, we offer the following modules, of which students must choose five in order to complete the honours degree: Research Methodology (compulsory); Translation Theory, Criticism and History; Language in Practice; Interpreting; Multilingualism in Training and Education; Linguistic Theories and Applications. Masters and doctoral degrees are also offered. 

The Department of Linguistics has existed at the University of Johannesburg (then the Rand Afrikaans University) since the early 80s. However, it only became the “Department of Linguistics” in 2012 and was, before then, the “Department of Linguistics and Literary Theory”. Since 2012, we have become more specialised and now focus on linguistics only. 

Research project on language & identity in Overwacht
How many languages are spoken in South Africa?
South Africa has eleven official languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, South Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu. These languages are given official status in South Africa’s Constitution, which states that “[r]ecognising the historically diminished use and status of the indigenous languages of our people, the state must take practical and positive measures to elevate the status and advance the use of these languages” (Act 108 of 1996, section 6(2)), and that “all official languages must enjoy parity of esteem and must be treated equitably” (Act 108 of 1996, section 6(4)).
It’s interesting that many of these languages are not, in fact, spoken in even distribution across the entire country, but instead often concentrated in certain regions of the country. Zulu, for example, is mainly spoken in the provinces KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng, and Xhosa speakers mainly live along the Eastern Cape. Furthermore, the Constitution stipulates that the use of official languages may, amongst other things, be based on considerations of practicality, and most South African provinces have therefore 
selected three or four “provincial languages” as working languages from the official languages, depending on the demographics of the relevant province.

Auckland Park Kingsway Campus
Of course, these official languages are not the only ones spoken in the country or provided for in its Constitution. Languages commonly used by communities in South Africa (such as Greek and German), used for religious purposes (such as Hebrew and Sanskrit), South African Sign Language, as well as those languages usually lumped together under the label Khoi San are supposed to be promoted and further developed. 

Sadly, in practice we often find that not all languages do in fact enjoy parity of esteem and often, English is considered the language of success.

Do minor languages play an important role in South Africa? (eg. can you get a job speaking one of those languages?)
Yes, South African institutions employ language professionals for South Africa’s indigenous languages.

A poster advertising studies at UJ
For finding work outside the language industry, it will often not be considered sufficient if you speak only an indigenous South African language. Normally, either English or Afrikaans, or both, are required. 

What does the Department of Linguistics do to preserve and protect South Africa's minor languages?

We are currently trying to promote South Africa’s indigenous languages by offering an internship that aims to train editors, translators and interpreters in these languages. The internship is sponsored by South Africa’s Department of Arts and Culture and pays students’ full tuition fees and study material for the three-year undergraduate course if students choose an African language as their third major. (The African languages offered at UJ are Zulu, Northern Sotho and Afrikaans.) This bursary condition ensures not only that the relevant indigenous languages are being studied at tertiary level, but also that professional editors, translators and interpreters in the indigenous languages will be available to assist the government and other institutions in complying with the Constitutional requirements of promoting their use by communicating through them. 

Are there a lot of native South Africans enrolled in your courses?
Yes, most students in our course are native South Africans. Our current third-year group consists of an exciting mix of different students who represent almost all of South Africa’s official languages: We have native speakers of Afrikaans, English, Northern Sotho, South Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Xhosa and Zulu in this class.

We also have a few postgraduate students who come from other African countries, such as an honours student from Zimbabwe and an MA student from Cameroon, and we sometimes have students from overseas such as Germany or the USA in our first-year modules. 

What are some of the career choices native South Africans have after graduation?
After graduation, students can work as editors, translators, interpreters, language planners, copy writers, copy editors, or language teachers. Possible employers are: 

For editors:
·         The South African government, for example the Government Communication and Information Service, the Department of Education, the Department of Arts and Culture, Statistics South Africa, employs editors.
·         Parastatal organisations, such as Eskom Language Services, require the services of editors.
·         Statutory bodies, such as the South African Bureau of Standards, employ editors.
·         Some editors work for the major South African banks, such as Absa, Nedbank, and Standard Bank.
·         Editors also work in the higher education sector (i.e. for language units at universities). 
·         NGOs and civil organisations, such as Afriforum and the Solidariteit Kommunikasieafdeling, employ editors.
·         Private language agencies employ editors on behalf of their clients.
·         Many editors work for publishers such as Oxford University Press, or for newspapers, magazines, and in the online environment.
·         Finally, many editors work as freelancers, which means that they do not have a fixed employer but determine their own work load and income.
For translators:
·         The South African government, for example the Department of Science and Technology, the Department of Agriculture, and the National Language Service, employs translators.
·         Parastatal organisations also require the services of translators. These organisations include Eskom Language Services.
·         Statutory bodies employ editors.
·         Some translators work for the major South African banks, such as Absa, Nedbank, and Standard Bank.
·         Translators also work in the higher education sector (i.e. for language units at universities), for example at the University of Johannesburg. 
·         NGOs and civil organisations, such as Afriforum and the Solidariteit Kommunikasieafdeling, employ translators. 
·         Private agencies, such as Dilicom and ST Communications employ translators.
·         Many translators work for publishers of literary, academic or other material, or for magazines such as the Huisgenoot and the You, as well as in the online environment, including the translation of web sites.
·         Finally, many translators work as freelancers, which means that they do not have a fixed employer but determine their own work load and income.
 For interpreters:
·         The South African government, for example the Department of Justice, which employs a large number of court interpreters, as well as the South African Police Service’s Language Management unit.
·         The provincial legislatures, such as the Gauteng legislature, require the services of interpreters to conduct their sessions.
·         Interpreters also work in the higher education sector, i.e. for language units at universities. These units employ interpreters to facilitate a multilingual teaching environment, such as at North-West University and Stellenbosch University. 
·         NGOs and civil organisations, such as Afriforum and Solidariteit, employ interpreters at their meetings. 
·         Interpreters may work at major state-organised conferences.
·         Parliaments, such as the Pan-African Parliament, employ interpreters on a full-time and on a part-time basis.
·         Private agencies, such as Bohle Language Services, employ interpreters on behalf of their clients.
·         Finally, many interpreters work as freelancers, which means that they do not have a fixed employer but determine their own work load and income.

Could you please tell us a few things about the Department's current and future projects?
The head of our department, Prof. Anne-Marie Beukes, is currently involved in a fascinating research project that looks at a community of native Afrikaans speakers living in Overwacht (near Pretoria). Although Afrikaans has traditionally been considered a “white” language, these Afrikaners happen to be black speakers of the language. The project focuses on the intricate connection between language and identity. 

Thank you Stefanie!

Facebook: Linguistics @UJ, Twitter: @Linguistics_UJ

1 comment:

  1. AT&T Translator— the real-time, clound-computing-backed speech translation system — is now enjoying pilot testing by some of the company’s biggest teleconferencing clients.