International Women Day: Meet Two Incredible Female Language Experts
Fluence Translations wants to pay homage to two great women figures in the profession:
Sacagawea was one of the first woman interpreter, playing a great role in ensuring the safety of the cartographers charting the unknown western mountains of the US.
Patricia Crampton, an English translator versed in more than 10 source languages, who translated more than 250 books into English and was a devoted fighter for translators’ rights.
Who was Sacagawea?
Let’s start by travelling back to the early 1800s America, explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark arrived with their specialist unit, The Corps of Discovery, to the territories occupied by Sacagawea’s Native American Tribe. She soon proved herself useful acting as an interpreter between the parties. The explorers understood the value of having an interpreter join their mission and asked Sacagawea to travel with them. Unfaced by the unknown, she joined them, acting not only as an interpreter but also as a guide and private relations ambassador!
As a child Sacagawea had been kidnapped from her tribe and taken to a rival tribe. As a consequence, she was able to speak both languages, a skill that came in extremely useful on this mission. But her intervention went further, as with her knowledge of the local plants and herbs she was able to cook and prepare medicines that saved the explorers lives. She also possessed negotiating skills, that ensured their safe passing through different territories.
Their trip lasted two years, Sacagawea travelled 6,400 kilometres on foot, horseback and by boat and by the end of it, Lewis and Clark had formed such a bond with their interpreter, that they saw her as an equal, something extremely rare for a woman back then!
There were several forms of recognition for her value on the mission, for example, the Captains named a river, Sacagawea River in Montana, in her honour. But her recognition travelled further in time, as, for example, she was chosen to appear on the first series of the Native American Dollar coins. Most interestingly, she was also used as the symbol of independence and women’s worth by the National American Woman Suffrage Association during the early 20th Century.
Who was Patricia Crampton?
Now, let’s travel to the England of the Mid 20th Century. Patricia Crampton was studying French, German and Russian at Oxford University. She had proven that she was extremely skilled at languages, having mastered Latin studying by herself during the summer months. She was born in India where she had learnt Hindi, the family travelled back to England when she was still a child. Later in life she also learnt Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Spanish and Portuguese, most of them self-taught!
She is now widely recognised as a proficient Literary Translator, having translated more than 200 children’s books and 50 adult books. Her style is magical and she is acclaimed for making the worlds authors’ invented come alive and real for English children through her great rendering of their text into English. She is responsible for the much love felt in the UK for characters such as Miffi, who she translated from Dutch, and Pippi Longstocking, translated from Swedish.
But Patricia started her career translating in a very different field. She was appointed as an English translator responsible for translating the Nazi documents for the Nuremberg trials in 1947. She travelled to Germany as a young woman, age 22, and endured an awful lot by going through all the horrors described in the documents, while living alone in a foreign country. Really interestingly for history today, is a series of interviews that she recorded for the Imperial War Museum in London describing her role during the trials. The harrowing descriptions of doctors’ experiments marked her till the end of her days. The descriptions of her feelings and what made her carry on, the idea that what she was doing was vital to ensure justice, really serve to illustrate the delicate and powerful position of translators and, of course, interpreters in war-zones, a side of the profession not always regarded.
Patricia was also a great advocate for translators’ rights. She had prominent roles both at the Institute for Linguists and the Institute of Translation and Interpreting. She was also the Chair of the Translators Association. It was during her time in these roles that she advocated for translators’ recognition and proper remuneration. She secured, for example, the translators right to receive a share of the Public Lending Right when it was set up in the UK in 1979.
The lives of these two very different women are marked by the same traits: their flare for languages and most importantly perhaps, also their dedication to helping others and how they use their intuition and gifts to make the world a better place.
Josefine Murray: Winter Snow and Pink Champagne: a translator’s letter home from the Nuremberg War Trials
Kate Pankhurst: Fanstastically Great Women Who Changed the World