On Nov. 11, 2021, a group of excited students gathered at Vollum Lecture Hall for a night of reading and oration: the Translation Symposium. Students were given the opportunity to display their prowess in various languages as they translated short pieces from a language of their choice into English. At the symposium, these works were consolidated and presented to an audience that bore witness to a linguistic diversity that is very rarely paid attention to.
Professor of Spanish and Humanities Libby Drumm, who serves as the chair of the comparative literature program and the organizer of the symposium, began holding this event in 2019 after working in the field of translation herself. Given the diversity of languages taught at Reed, as well as the various traditions from which students come, the translation symposium was envisioned to be the coming together of students from different backgrounds, interests, and fields of study with the shared love for the voice of language and a hope to impart stories.
Nineteen translations were compiled in a booklet, with the original texts side-by-side with the students’ translations. One by one, each translation was given the spotlight for five minutes, as students stood at the front of the stage, expressing their interest in translating, highlighting the context behind their translations, and, finally, reading both the original and the translation out loud.
What emerged was a night that celebrated the sheer breadth of linguistic ability at Reed, with translations that encompassed six different languages: Spanish, French, Russian, Chinese, Kazakh, and Filipino*. Additionally, translations explored wide ranges of genre, from poetry, to prose, to even rock songs, as well as a range of themes contemplating love, loss, life, and ultimately, the human experience.
The beauty of the symposium lies in its capacity to change through time, as new students bring their linguistic knowledge and literary passions to the stage. As the symposium has developed into an annual event, Reedies can look forward to participating in the event next fall, whether by submitting their personal work or by attending and enjoying the students’ presentations.
*Tagalog is the primary language spoken in Manila and is native to the area, while Filipino is the official language of the Philippines. Filipino evolved from Tagalog, but it also includes words with Spanish, English, Chinese, Malay, and other foreign roots largely due to colonial influences.