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Foreword (Outi Paloposki)

The Electronic Journal of the Department of English
at the University of Helsinki

ISSN 1457-9960

Volume 4, 2009

Translation Studies



The inspiration for this publication was Ritva Leppihalme’s own gift for radiating inspiration. We wanted to mark her retirement in a way that would highlight this special gift. Ritva has invested much time and energy in developing teaching methods and also in research and supervision, and has always been ready to encourage younger scholars and teachers in translation studies. Hence the theme of this publication: contributors reflect on their career paths as scholars, teachers or students, with particular reference to the field of translation. The theme reflects Ritva’s own interest in the different stages of a scholar’s career development. We also wanted to bring out the importance of the teacher’s role and illustrate the variety of paths leading to a career in teaching and/or research. One aspect of this is the perspective of those taught and supervised: some of Ritva’s own undergraduate and graduate students have also contributed their views.

The only instruction given to the writers was:

The theme can be adapted in any way desired, from any angle. Indeed, we hope that each contributor will allow their personal voice to be heard, and offer their own subjective perspective on the various stages and key events marking their career path.

From the editor’s point of view the work has been most rewarding: I have been surprised and delighted by the range of contributions which I have had the pleasure of reading. As you might guess, they are all very different. For this reason, we have not standardized documentation conventions etc.; writers have been free to cite as they wish.

The language choice in this issue of Helsinki English Studies is exceptional in that English is not the sole language used: there are articles in Finnish and Swedish as well. This decision was made since many of the Translation Studies contributors work with languages other than English. Also, the idea of personal history is often more naturally realized in one’s mother tongue. The preface is in English and Finnish, the list of authors in English.

Personal reflections

The Finnish radio runs a series on ”How I became me”, scholars and scientists write essays about their career choices, and politicians write blogs about their life histories and the factors affecting their decisions. From a professional point of view, it is interesting to wonder whether personal backgrounds or choices leading to a particular profession share any special features – professional autobiography research has actually been done in the social sciences – or whether paths leading to an academic career, for instance, have something in common. Anni Peura, who completed her PhD last year, studied the doctorate process and the preceding academic career-paths of a number of informants (of whom Ritva was one). In one’s personal life too, there come turning points at which it seems important to look back and consider where one is, although such reflections seldom reach the public domain. This publication provides a forum for such reflections, both on entering the field of translation and on entering academia and maturing there.

So how does one get into translation? There are many starting-points. An interest in languages and their relations, and in multilingual communication, has been a key factor for many. This interest may stem from a multilingual family background, such as Nely Keinänen describes; but it may also arise in a monolingual environment. Henna Makkonen-Craig ponders the rich dialectal background of her upbringing, and Kaisa Koskinen recalls the reading habits of her childhood home. The contrastive angle has fascinated many: how are things said in another language? An orientation towards languages may also arise from the experience of learning languages at school: Andrew Chesterman had a good French teacher. This ”good teacher” influence seems to have been carried on, since Kristiina Taivalkoski-Shilov describes how she was inspired by Andrew’s lectures on translation. Ljuba Tarvi was influenced by both Andrew Chesterman and Ritva Leppihalme: Ljuba’s interest in Nabokov matured into a translation studies doctorate under Ritva’s supervision.

Because translation is a phenomenon with links to so many other things, it is natural that an interest in translation can stem at least partly from what is being translated: for Irma Sorvali it was the texts of Antiquity, for Ljuba Tarvi Nabokov, for Mika Loponen the problem of non-existent worlds. Practice is a good spur: how would this be said in another language? Can this be said in any other way at all? Sometimes an answer may be offered by a theoretical model; a fascination for a particular model may well arise in an environment in which such theory formation flourishes. The importance of communities comes up again and again: a group of scholars in one’s own university, perhaps a smaller network, or projects and friendships extending to other universities at home and abroad.

It is interesting that for some, translating is in some kind of opposition to teaching, but for others translation and teaching often go hand in hand. Marja Jänis and Inkeri Vehmas-Lehto both wanted to translate, but there was more work available in teaching. Marja has translated and done interpreting alongside her teaching, and Inkeri has done major work in terminology, so both have succeeded in combining theory and practice. Kaisa Koskinen writes that every now and then she takes a break to live ”a translator’s life”. Many articles give a chronological account of the writer’s working career, while others focus on particular turning-points or key background factors. Teaching, with all its issues and methods and student relations, is a central theme in the contributions by Mari Pakkala-Weckström, Maria Salenius and Leena Kahlas-Tarkka, and Pekka Kujamäki. Niina Koskipää and Susanna Neiglick provide student’s points of view. Hilkka Pekkanen describes how her translation research relates to her own professional work as a translator; the title of her article is a literary allusion, a fitting tribute to Ritva Leppihalme’s own doctorate.

Translation teaching and research in Finland

Besides the writers’ own career paths, the articles here also reflect the history of translation teaching and research in Finland – between the lines, as it were. Inkeri Vehmas-Lehto recalls the early days of the Kouvola Language Institute, and how one had to create the teaching syllabus and materials from scratch. Sonja Tirkkonen-Condit describes the exciting atmosphere of the Savonlinna department in the 1980s, and the first graduate seminar for translation students. Pekka Kujamäki began his own studies there at that time, and his piece shows how the inspiring research atmosphere and international contacts had a profound effect on the undergraduate students’ work. New research branched off in so many directions that Kaisa Koskinen was not the only one whose project did not seem to fit into any existing model – I had the same feeling at the first graduate seminar meeting I attended: my topic in the history of Finnish translation did not seem to fit anywhere in translation studies. The boundaries have shifted now, and the field has expanded in Finland too: Sonja Tirkkonen-Condit’s article generously acknowledges the contribution of that young generation, we who were the strange birds of that time.


Ritva Hartama-Heinonen stresses that nothing is ever ”finished”, the road always continues somewhere. The place where we are now is nevertheless the consequence of many factors – a point that is pondered in almost all the contributions. There are clear turning-points in life, where key decisions are taken; but there is also chance, or what others call ”luck”, ”fate” or simply ”drifting”. Although from a distance all may seem logical, Ritva Hartama-Heinonen points out that there are also events that still appear to be purely random. Paths do not run straight and clear, but are fraught with uncertainty and tough choices. Many choose to change their main subject during the course of their studies. I myself have been involved in translating all along – I did the translation diploma at the Turku Language Institute in the 1970s – but my path was not a smooth one either (nor was it very academic, at first – far from it). I travelled towards the university via the Bolivian Methodist Church, the cellar of the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and various third world development projects. And even if the path had been straight, many have experienced difficulties. Inkeri Vehmas-Lehto, for instance, confesses that her workload has sometimes been so heavy that she would perhaps have chosen another path if she had only known. At the moment, the university’s many changes and reforms seem to be adding enormous stress to a teacher’s basic tasks of teaching and research. How much more of this can one take, one wonders?

Ritva’s path

This collection lacks one particular piece: Ritva’s own account of how she ended up as a translation scholar and teacher. In order to meet this shortcoming, at least to some extent, there is a link at the end of this issue of HES to Ritva’s list of publications, which shows the range of her activities and research interests. These range from culture-bound problems and allusions to translation teaching, from translation strategies to Finnish translations of English literature and English translations of Finnish literature, from the translator’s creativity to drama translation. The list also shows Ritva’s contribution as a reviewer of new works, bringing new research to our attention. Such reviews are extremely valuable to other scholars, keeping them up-to-date with the latest research and offering new perspectives. What the publication list does not show is Ritva’s supervision of Master’s and PhD theses (Ljuba Tarvi, Hilkka Pekkanen forthcoming, and others underway). In 2004 Ritva received an Honourable Mention when the Student Union of the University of Helsinki announced their choice for the International Teacher 2004. The diploma handed to her by the Rector states that “(t)he reason for the honourable mention is Ritva Leppihalme’s positive attitude and dedication towards her students and teaching”.These merits come as no surprise. For years, Ritva has given students constructive advice and methodological tools for their seminar essays and theses, and this work has borne fruit not only in Ritva’s own research but also in her supervision of others.

Ritva says that the idea for her own PhD topic fell like a bolt from the blue: like Inkeri Vehmas-Lehto, Ritva still remembers the moment well. Thinking about the different kinds of translation solutions people had offered over the years, she was about to suggest the topic to an MA student … but no! This would be her own topic!

Ritva has been a dedicated member of the English Department at the University of Helsinki for several decades. She defended her PhD thesis here in 1994, with Krista Varantola and Susan Bassnett as the external examiners. Based on this PhD thesis, Culture Bumps: an Empirical Approach to the Translation of Allusions (Multilingual Matters, 1997) is a standard reference for students and researchers all around the world. On top of her other tasks, Ritva is member of the European Society for Translation Studies and belongs to the advisory board of The Interpreter and Translator Trainer; nationally she has been active in the graduate school Langnet and given generously of her time to PhD students in the whole of Finland.

This present collection has been inspired by Ritva, but she does so much more than just provide inspiration. She can also exert a wonderful calming influence. To me, Ritva has been like a double vitamin injection. Her conversations and research are inspiring, not only for a given research topic but also for reflecting on one’s work and life as a whole. It is perhaps just this reflectiveness that functions as a counter-measure to the kind of non-stop, frenzied activity that only leads to exhaustion, which must be a professional disease for scholars and teachers. Ritva has also helped to take care of her colleagues in practical ways: the many therapeutic coffee and lunch-breaks and tips about a number of things help one get through the day, as do Ritva’s generously given comments and reactions to drafts, and her supervision, to which so many contributors here refer.

Acknowledgements and good wishes

My thanks go to the Helsinki University English Department for their kind acceptance of this collection in their Helsinki English Studies series. The same series also includes a collection of translation studies edited by Ritva in 2000. (So I am literally walking in Ritva’s footsteps here.) I am grateful that the writers were allowed to use the language of their choice in an acknowledgement of their different linguistic backgrounds and of the importance of multilingual communication. Thanks also to the recent Heads of Department, Bo Pettersson and Irma Taavitsainen, and in particular to department amanuensis Tuula Murros, who gave invaluable support to the project, and to Niina Koskipää, who put in many hours getting the text into appropriate online format and dealing with the illustrations. The Finnish translation studies community gave wonderful encouragement; I am especially grateful for this supportive network which enables such projects to be born. The Langtram translation and professional communication programme in the national Langnet graduate school, led by Liisa Tiittula and Merja Koskela, kindly gave permission for the collection to be published at a Langtram seminar. Matti Leppihalme has been plotting the publication with me.

The writers are Ritva’s colleagues and her supervised graduate and undergraduate students (see the list of authors). My warm thanks to all of them for sharing their time and reflections, and for all the encouraging comments. Andrew Chesterman checked the English texts and translated the preface into English, and Nely Keinänen and Kate Moore very kindly helped with other English language problems during the last busy moments of the editing process. I have been able to rely on Kaisa Koskinen’s sound judgment throughout the project, and Henna Makkonen-Craig provided me with some excellent advice. I have the feeling that all the contributors have appreciated the opportunity to pause and reflect, as well as the fact that this opportunity comes in a publication dedicated to Ritva Leppihalme. As one writer commented, it was like writing to Ritva, even though this was not uppermost in the mind during the writing itself. Ritva was nevertheless ”present” during the writing, as a listener, someone to bounce ideas off, and thoughts somehow bubbled up from something that Ritva had brought to translation research. I hope – and I believe that Ritva also hopes – that this collection will be felt by the Finnish translation studies community to be both useful and entertaining, shedding light on our shared history and encouraging reflection on our own personal paths, however odd they may seem. To Ritva we all express our warmest wishes for the coming years: may they continue to be inspiring, albeit perhaps slightly less hectic! May our paths keep crossing.

Helsinki 30.10.2009

Outi Paloposki