Translation and human rights in troubled times

Students, faculty, and other members of the UConn community gathered in Konover Auditorium Tuesday evening to celebrate the launch of UConn's program in Literary Translation. The event featured award-winning translators Carles Torner, Edith Grossman, and Esther Allen. (Akshara Thejaswi/The Daily Campus)

The University of Connecticut has recently launched a program in Literary Translation, and held an event on Tuesday evening in Konover Auditorium, part of the Dodd Center. The event featured three award-winning translators: Carles Torner, Edith Grossman and Esther Allen. Each discussed the importance of translation and language and its relation to human rights.

The event opened with Peter Constantine, the director of the Translation Program here at UConn. He discussed how in just three months since the start of the program students have already begun translating literature in several languages and are on their way to being published. “One of the strengths of UConn is the diversity of its students,” Constantine said. He went on to discuss the importance of translations and introduced the guest speakers.

Torner, director of the literary advocate group PEN International and publisher of several poetry books in Catalan, discussed how February 21st is International Mother Tongue Day, a day to reflect on first languages, and how it was fitting that the event was held on this particular day. He reflected on how Catalan is his mother tongue, and went on to discuss the importance of using language freely. He talked about his work with PEN International and how it was formed. Torner discussed the importance of promoting justice and equality for linguistic rights. “No peace can be achieved if there is not linguistic peace,” Torner said.

The next speaker, Grossman, an award-winning Spanish-to-English translator, discussed her love for translating 17th century Latin American literature. “I love translating poetry more than anything else,” Grossman said. She discussed how she translated “Don Quixote”, and the book of poetry “The Solitudes” by Luis de Góngora. She described the poems as “difficult but beautiful,” explaining that de Góngora used a different syntax than other poems of that time. She then read the opening paragraph from the book, first in Spanish and then in her English translation. She discussed her methods of translating poetry, stressing the importance of getting the meter right and that rhyming can be difficult.

The final speaker was Allen, translator and current professor at Baruch College. Allen focused on translation in regards to New York City. She discussed current issues, such as people getting kicked off of planes or yelled at on subways for speaking their native languages and stressed the importance of diversity and unity. She brought up voicesofny.org, a hyperlocal hub dedicated to translation. The website publishes stories from all around the world in a variety of languages and employs journalists with different types of translation skills. She stressed how cities like New York have “complex linguistic realities,” and the importance of equality and representation of all languages.

The event promoted awareness of the significance of translations, and opened many students up to how language affects us.

“It opened my mind to how language brings our cultures together,” said fourth-semester student Andrew Chi.

Similarly, “Carles talked about linguistic rights, something I hadn’t thought about before.. I’m interested in the intersection of how language affects culture perspectives ,” said sixth-semester Haimish Ma.

While the program is new to UConn, translation has been essential to literature for centuries and continues to be prevalent in today’s world.


Melissa Scrivani is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at melissa.scrivani@uconn.edu.