#EWF17 RECAP: Nuanced Voices and writing in between languages

#EWF17 RECAP: Nuanced Voices and writing in between languages
Emerging Writers' Festival 2017
Source: emergingwritersfestival.org.au

Voice, in this panel and in writing, is about articulating individual lived experience.

This recap is a guest post by the fabulous Claire Parnell. Claire is a literature x digital media academic currently teaching at the University of Melbourne. Her research focuses on pop culture, genre fiction (Romance, mainly) and digital publishing. It’s definitely not an excuse to just read romance, watch Netflix and tweet all the time. @cparnell_c

Photo credits: Claire Parnell

I didn’t write too many notes or tweets in this National Writers Conference panel because I was too busy listening. It’s not often I do this; I’m a devoted note-taker. But I was absolutely and utterly struck by this Nuanced Voices panel.

As Magan Magan [ T | W ] put it, voice, in this panel and in writing, is about articulating individual lived experience.

Greater inclusivity and diversity is a necessary change occurring in the publishing world. It’s slow and has so much further to go but it’s pushed in part by panels like this.

It was such a highlight and honour to hear the panellists talk of the barriers and challenges they face in their writing. I was practically hanging off every word and towards the end found that I was quite emotional.

2017 EWF Nuanced Voices panel (Photo by Claire Parnell)
From L to R: Alison Whittaker; Magan Magan; Ross Onley-Zerkel; Chi Tran; and Jonno Revanche.

Magan, a Somalian-Australian poet, and Alison Whittaker [ BT | Amz ], a Gomeroi poet, each spoke of writing in between two languages.

Somali, Magan told us, is a language based largely on oral tradition and so relies a lot on sound. When trying to capture languages like this in writing, ‘things are lost in translation’.

It’s not just sound, with it’s obvious difficulties in being converted into English text, that is lost in translation, though.

It’s also the way stories are told or written.

Magan recounted the memory of the first time he returned to Somalia when he was younger and listening to his aunts talk to one another in Somali. They spoke in metaphors, which he barely understood in the context of casual conversation, so used to the structure of English.

Gamilaroi, Whittaker explains, is a language that is and does. English, on the other hand, she describes as a descriptive language. It’s “good at hiding what it does”.

Ross Onley-Zerkel [ W ] is a deaf writer and his primary language is Auslan – Australian Sign Language – and so his experience of written and spoken ‘voice’ is quite unique and very, very nuanced.

Auslan has no written language so everything Ross writes is an act of translation. In fact, every one of his discussion points during the panel was translated. An Auslan interpreter signed questions that were directed at him. He answered by signing and another interpreter – one he uses often – translated for the audience.

Onley-Zerkel described how people often thought it was odd that he chose a woman to translate for him; that it was weird to hear his words in a female tone. Auslan is a 3D language, which relies on expression and body language and doesn’t always have true English equivalents. His chosen translator, he explained, chooses the right words to reflect the intent and context he’s attempting to get across and is more important to him than how his words sound in a female voice.

It’s less about translation and more accurately described as ‘finding equivalency’.

‘Voice is inherently tried to identity for me, but I also know that identity is transient,’ said Chi Tran.

Each panellist noted their experience of power of language and voice. Voice is core to our identity, to our history and homes. It can be a tool of oppression and, for many, a decolonial tool as well.

What do you think?