To commemorate International Translation Day, celebrated every year on 30 September, the Translation Services of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management (DGACM) of the UN Secretariat are pleased to announce the launch of the 12th St. Jerome Translation Contest.
The Contest is open to the following constituencies:
Current and former United Nations staff members in all offices and departments, irrespective of occupational group, contractual status or duty station
Delegates from all accredited missions to the United Nations
Students from MoU and partner universities.
The test piece for contestants translating into English is a Spanish text entitled “Don de lenguas”. The test piece for contestants translating into Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, Spanish or German is an English text entitled “We are only one day apart in age, but our generational differences killed our relationship”.
Participants should paste the text of their entry into an e-mail (rather than sending it as an attachment) and attach the registration form to their message. Participants who are on short-term contracts are asked to use a personal e-mail address so that they can be contacted later.
Contestants are requested to download the texts for translation and the registration form under the REGISTRATION tab.
Entries should be submitted to the following e-mail address no later than 31 January 2017: SJTC_DGACM@un.org, along with the registration form.
The entries will be evaluated by a panel of two to three judges for each language. Judges will pay particular attention to accuracy in conveying not only the meaning, but the nuances of the source text, and to style. As in previous years, each submission will be identified by a number and not by the name of the contestant in order to ensure anonymity in the selection process. The winners names will not be disclosed until the official announcement at the awards ceremony, to be held at UN Headquarters in New York in the spring of 2017. The exact date and venue will be announced in due time.
About the St. Jerome Translation Contest
Launched in 2005 by the English Translation Service at UN Headquarters, the Contest has been held each year to commemorate International Translation Day, which is officially recognized by the International Federation of Translators. The Contest also serves to celebrate multilingualism within the United Nations, and highlights the important role that translators and language professionals play in the work of the United Nations and in the world at large.
On 11 May 2016, the winners of the eleventh annual St. Jerome Translation Contest were announced at an awards ceremony attended by almost 200 United Nations staff members and officials from accredited missions to the United Nations.
The contest began in 2005 at Headquarters and is sponsored by the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management. Although it is traditionally launched on International Translation Day, the event celebrates much more than just the delicate art of translation; instead, it promotes multilingualism and serves to highlight the important role that language professionals play in the work of the United Nations and in the world at large.
The competition is open to all current and former United Nations staff members, delegates from all accredited missions to the United Nations and students from MoU and partner universities. This year, the test piece for contestants translating into English was a French text entitled “Loués soient les poulets”, while the piece for contestants translating into Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Russian or Spanish was an English text entitled “Yesterday’s sweetmeats”. The original texts, winning translations and full list of winners are available here.
This year the awards ceremony was hosted by Ms. Catherine Pollard, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management. Also present were Ms. Cristina Gallach, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information and Mr. Movses Abelian, Assistant Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management.
As in previous years, the ceremony included presentations by the judges for each language category that were both witty and insightful. Mr. Steve Sekel, one of the English judges, remarked that some translators had fallen into the trap of “trying to be cleverer than the author”, adding that “the translator must be self-effacing and must subordinate himself or herself to the author.”
Along similar lines, Mr. Michel Gainet, French judge, referred to the need for the translator to be invisible, pointing out that “good translators must be like good criminals in that they must leave no trace”.
Mr. Miguel Sáenz, a Spanish judge and member of the Real Academia Española, put forward an opposing view, however, and in his comments read out by Ms. María Nóbrega, the other Spanish judge, he remarked that translators are not invisible, since they manifest themselves in every choice made in a translation.
One judge remarked that the test pieces had almost been chosen to dissuade people from tackling the challenges posed by the texts, which were littered with cultural images, local references and tricky idiomatic phrases. However, despite the numerous pitfalls in both texts, 147 entrants had taken on the challenge, including well-seasoned translators, other staff and university students. Some had fared better than others but all had demonstrated great creativity.
The text that won first prize in the Russian category was particularly noteworthy, as the contestant had crafted the text into a poem. The Arabic, Chinese and German judges all commented on how the humor in the English text had proved a major stumbling block, while the French text had tripped some up with its word play and poultry-related puns.
Ms. Pollard extended her thanks to all volunteers who helped to make this year’s contest a resounding success, including the cocktail reception featuring the UNSRC Jazz Society Band, and the use of interpreters in all official languages for the first time. For details of how to enter next year’s competition, contestants should consult the website of the St. Jerome Translation Contest.
Next year’s contest will comprise a text in English and a text in Spanish, and suggestions for test pieces are encouraged.
Started in 2005, the St. Jerome Translation Contest is an annual event that offers UN language staff, amateur linguists and language lovers alike the opportunity to explore the limits of the art of translation. While the 11th annual contest is in the process of receiving entries, we interviewed the originator of the Contest, Mr. Michael Ten-Pow (Acting Director of the Documentation Division of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management), to learn more about the story behind the Contest.
Q: In 2005, the Contest began as a small, informal competition for English translators only. Over the years, it has evolved to include all six official languages plus German. What was the intention of the Contest when you initiated it in 2005?
Mr. Ten-Pow: UN translators are passionate about language. That is why we chose this vocation. For us, it is not just a job, but a love affair.
In 2005 I happened upon a Spanish poem composed by a former translator in the Spanish Translation Service in honour of St. Jerome, the patron saint of translators and interpreters, who in the fourth century laboured and produced the Latin translation of the Bible that became the standard for a thousand years. I was struck both by the literary quality of the poem and by the possibility it offered to launch a contest among my colleagues to see who could create the best English rendering of the poem. I thought that my fellow translators would welcome the opportunity to do a bit of literary translation instead of the UN-style texts they translated on a daily basis, while at the same time raising the profile of Saint Jerome.
The Chief of the English Translation Service at the time, Stephen Sekel, was very supportive and donated a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne for the winning entry.
Q: As the Contest now enters into its 11th year, what has changed and what remains the same?
Mr. Ten-Pow:For several years after its launch in 2005, the Contest was open only to English translators. In 2009, however, the then Director of the Documentation Division, Vivian Lewis, suggested that it be expanded to include all six official languages, plus German. Since then, the Contest in its new multilingual format has grown from strength to strength, attracting entries and also winners from all over the global United Nations system. Distinguished figures from academia and the world of letters have been invited to serve on the panel of judges and have given us in their remarks a fascinating new perspective on the art of translation. Interestingly enough, not all winners have been translators. For four consecutive years, an English editor, the redoubtable Kathryn Pulver, kept winning the English Contest until the organizers hit upon the bright idea of co-opting her to be a judge of the Contest instead of a contestant. This year for the first time, staff of diplomatic missions accredited to the United Nations have been invited to participate and it will be interesting to see the impact their participation will have on the Contest.
Q: In her essay Why Translation Matters, the esteemed translator Edith Grossman, who masterfully translated Don Quixote and the works of such writers as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Carlos Fuentes, expressed that: “Translation expands our ability to explore through literature the thoughts and feelings of people from another society or another time. It permits us to savor the transformation of the foreign into the familiar and for a brief time to live outside our own skins, our own preconceptions and misconceptions. It expands and deepens our world, our consciousness, in countless, indescribable ways.” As an experienced translator yourself, how do you see the role of translation in the context of the United Nations and multilingualism?
Mr. Ten-Pow:Without the services of translators, the intergovernmental negotiating machinery of the United Nations would grind to a halt. While the six official languages are the first or second language of less than half of the world’s population (2.8 billion people), they are official languages in more than half the nations of the world. This is extremely important, as Member States would be disadvantaged if their representatives to the United Nations were forced to engage in often highly complex and sensitive negotiations in a language they did not fully master. From the point of view of language, therefore, multilingualism evens the playing field for negotiators from different linguistic groupings.
You quoted Edith Grossman. Interestingly enough, we were honoured to have as a judge of the Contest in 2010, I believe, another equally famous literary translator, Gregory Rabassa, who translated some of the earlier works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, including the epic “One Hundred Years of Solitude”. I vividly recall how he captivated the audience at the Award Ceremony with his insightful reflections on the art of translation.
Q: Since the deadline for submitting entries for the 11th St. Jerome Translation Contest is 31 January 2016 and there are three more weeks left, what tips can you give the contestants this year?
Mr. Ten-Pow:Read and re-read the test piece again and again over time, make notes and jottings, but do not attempt your first complete draft until you’ve fully understood and assimilated the passage, including all of its complexities and nuances. Then do the same with your draft translation, i.e. re-read and re-work it until it’s time to finally release it and send it off to be judged by your peers.