Fairfield University received a visit from Christopher D. Mellinger, Associate Professor of Spanish Interpreting and Translation Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, on Feb. 27 for a day of lectures regarding translation in the healthcare field and as history. 

His day at Fairfield started at 12:30 p.m., when he participated in a workshop that, when translated to English, is titled “Access to the Healthcare System through Translation and Interpretation: Challenges and Opportunities”. 

After his workshop, he continued his event series with a lecture at the DiMenna-Nyselius Library Auditorium in which he discussed the topic of “Translation as History in the Caribbean: Competing Perspectives”. 

Mellinger started his lecture by stating that translation as a tool and a service goes beyond the idea of changing a text or conversation from one language to another, but rather is a complicated job that holds an immense amount of influence on how people perceive the world and their surroundings. 

“I think a lot of times we think about translation or interpreting as a practice or something that we are doing as a representation from one language to another,” Mellinger said while adding that “translation is something that can be complicated, that can be used in different ends and for different means and can influence a lot of what people do, think or feel.”

The event, which was sponsored by the Departments of Modern Languages and Communications, the Humanities Institute and the Latin American & Caribbean Studies program, was centered around the topic of translation as history in Puerto Rico.

“Believe it or not, there was a significant print culture for a long time throughout the world. Newspapers are not only a place to get news but also a way to share ideas and exchange ideas,” the professor from UNC mentioned while describing bilingual newspapers’ role in historical moments, like Puerto Rico in the early 1900s.

He described how translation, in the way of written text being translated between languages, can be used and analyzed in at least two different ways: translation in history and history of translation.

According to Mellinger, “translation in history” serves as a mechanism to examine the role of translation during historical periods and how it was used, while “history of translation” serves to explain how history contributes to translation studies and the people and culture of a certain place. 

“Unfortunately, one of the challenges, when we think about this topic, is that there have been some translation historians who have said that these are incompatible approaches and therefore we should think about them separately. Unfortunately, the world is not that easy and in fact, they collide with each other.”

Additionally, he emphasized that translation doesn’t use the same approach in different places and thus, it helps us to better perceive and understand cultures and people.

Using Puerto Rico as his case study, Professor Mellinger highlighted that because of the colonial political situation that Puerto Rico underwent during the 19th and 20th centuries, there has not been as nearly as much academic work as compared to other countries, like Cuba, which is one of the reasons he has done research in translation in the US territory. 

In the period from 1898 to 1917, Puerto Rico underwent a language transition period that forced all aspects of society to incorporate translation between Spanish and English, which is exemplified by how the island experienced seven different policy changes in regard to the language of classes. 

The most critical, according to Mellinger, was the change of the island’s name from the Spanish “Puerto Rico” to “Porto Rico” which reflected how the English language would pronounce the original name. 

He also talked about how translation in newspapers can serve to either build distrust or respect and credibility between the newspaper and the audience and the newspaper with other competitors. Additionally, he described how during this period of time, the territory’s newspaper used the incorporation of translation to the island as part of their news, with one of the main papers giving the interpreter of a criminal court case one entire paragraph. 

Mellinger closed the event by inviting students and faculty to immerse themselves in discovering how translation has influenced the creation of words in Spanish and saying that he would like to keep studying translation but in the bilingual diaspora out of Puerto Rico.

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