Interview with Danielle Henripin (English version)

Danielle HenripinDanielle Henripin, Cert. Tr., OTTIAQ (member of FIT), grew up bilingual in Montréal and holds a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature. After starting a translation firm and buying her first Macintosh (with its blazing 8 mHz processor) in the 1980s, she held various jobs in broadcasting, marketing and communications, interspersed with several stints as a freelance translator and university instructor. She was Vice-President for Communications of the Ordre des traducteurs, terminologues et interprètes agréés du Québec(OTTIAQ) from 2002 to 2004. She joined the United Nations in 2005 as a translator, then moved to terminology in 2008 and became very involved in the Global UNTERM project as it came to life. She headed the UN’s LGBT staff group for three years and is a committed member of the JIAMCATT community.

Tell us about your background

After I completed my Master’s degree in comparative literature, I worked mainly as a freelancer, but also taught for a while at the Université de Montréal. I’ve also had jobs in the advertising and media industries; it’s been quite a varied career, but I never imagined myself as a civil servant! I’m very surprised to have stayed so long in the public sector after so many years in the private sector. I’ve been working for the United Nations for ten years now. I first joined as a French translator and stayed there for three years before I saw an opportunity to become a terminologist. I got a study grant that allowed me to take a great training program at the Université de Genève. Then I applied for the terminology position — and got the job.

Why the United Nations?

Partly out of curiosity. Coming from the province of Québec, I wanted to broaden my horizons. Québec sometimes feels like a French -speaking island in the middle of a sea of English speakers. I also wanted to meet other French speakers, and to see if I could hold my own as part of a very prestigious team. And I wanted to be a part of the UN’s mission, because I believe in it.

Why terminology?

I had never done any terminology work before, but as I joined in discussions on terminology within the translation unit, I came to realise that I was really interested in the field. It seemed well-suited to my personality, my eagerness to learn. And in the end, this hunch turned out to be a good one.

How has terminology evolved?

Over the past 25 years, I have seen the field of terminology evolve — not just the data itself, but the way it’s managed and presented. The dematerialisation of the work is now well under way. All traditional media, such as printed glossaries, are becoming a thing of the past. The focus needs to be on finding terminology tools that are compatible with the tools that translators use. This transition is very real for us at the United Nations now.

A few months ago, terminologists for the various languages were sent back to their respective translation units. Previously, I had coordinated the terminology unit in an informal capacity as a terminologist; now I do it officially, as a full-time coordinator. I’m also working on a major project to gather together all UN terminology collections and make them available on one web portal. (Incidentally, much of the data on this portal is available to the public without a log-in.) This is a new system that we have been using in our daily production work for about a year. We also list terms from other UN locations: the UN conference centres (especially those in Geneva and Vienna, but also the one in Nairobi) as well as the economic and social commissions. We also display about two millions basic IATE terminology records and a collection from the International Maritime Organization.

Does terminology get the attention it deserves within the translation sector?

Everyone recognises how important terminology is for consistency in an organisation as large and diverse as the UN, where institutional memory, furthermore, is extremely important. Terminology is an intangible asset of the organization.

The real challenge lies in the interaction between the translators’ tools, on the one hand, and the terminology databases and storage systems. Translators use very fast and effective tools that aren’t always readily compatible with the output of traditional terminology, such as lengthy records and definitions. What translators want are simple and quick solutions. Terminology could get lost in this context. We need to pay attention to these parameters if we are to remain relevant and not disappear.

How would you describe the evolution of the French language in recent decades?

French has lost some of its status as the language of diplomacy. This is not a personal statement – my predecessors said the same thing. In spite of this, French is still a very lively language thanks to the Francophonie, which helps keep it dynamic and vibrant. It is not purely by chance that linguistic minorities in larger countries– such as in Québec, or in Catalonia – pay so much attention to terminology; they have to create everything from scratch.

I live in New York, so mostly in English. You obviously have to make an extra effort to access francophone culture in the United States. Happily, a new French-language bookstore has recently opened in New York. In my opinion there are very interesting things happening in French publishing right now. And there is a good deal of French-language content on the Web.

Can the Internet be used as a tool for protecting languages?

The Internet allows speakers of minority languages to stay in touch and to disseminate content in their languages, such as the regional languages of France. A friend of mine translated a Tintin album into the Bressan variety of Franco-Provençal. The internet should help to ensure the survival of minority languages. Obviously, disseminating this content requires resources.

I honestly think that the internet can support the survival of “smaller” languages. It makes a wide range of knowledge available to a lot of people. This can eventually foster the survival and success of languages. Even though people complain about the poor standard of language used on the Internet and in social media, the Internet has great potential as a tool for accessing the literature and terminology of minority languages. In my opinion, this unprecedented level of access to digital media can really help to counterbalance the dominance (real or perceived) of a few languages.

What is the role of terminology in defending endangered languages?

Terminology is one way for languages to stay young. Minority languages run the risk of becoming quaint but irrelevant. Their challenge is to keep evolving to reflect new concepts, such as new technology and media. It’s a matter of finding innovative solutions that no other language has found. For example, the term courriel in French (contraction of courrier and électronique) was apparently coined in Québec. It has gained a foothold among French speakers, even though some of my colleagues still use the term ‘email’. Québécois are known to be allergic to anglicisms. That’s why they hang on words such as courriel, fin de semaine and other québécismes.

What do you think of IATE?

It is a very interesting example in the world of translation and terminology. I encourage all translators at the UN to use IATE. They do not have a choice if the texts concern matters pertaining to the European Union, in which case it should be their primary terminology source! Our UNTERM system also provides a very basic view of about two million records from IATE. If a translator finds an interesting IATE record there, he or she can go to IATE to find out more about it. There is a good deal of collaboration between the European institutions and the UN; this in turn has influenced the way the linguistic units at the UN have evolved.

As it happens, I actually work quite a bit with colleagues from the EU institutions, not least through JIAMCATT, which is an annual forum where terminologists and translators gather to exchange best practices and tools in the areas of computer-assisted translation (CAT) and terminology.

In the future, would it be possible to have only one platform gathering all the terms of the UN and the European institutions?

This is both a dream and a mandate of JIAMCATT! In fact, along with a colleague from the European Union, I co-chair a working group set up to find ways of federating our respective terminology records. At the moment, there is a lot of overlap, with the same entry repeated two, three, even four times across datasets. Each institution has its own proprietary terminology platform, with each platform trying to provide some kind of link to the others. Our wish is, obviously, to have an interorganisational terminology portal. The import of terms from IATE into our UN system is only a small step because we are showing a very limited aspect of a large number of records. The prospect of creating an interorganisational terminology database raises certain institutional and financial issues, and there is the matter of the number of languages used. Also, the tools and needs are different. I do not know if it is feasible to create a common database, but data sharing is already ongoing and should continue to evolve and expand.

Interviewer: Aubry Touriel

aubryAubry grew up in Liege (Belgium) and holds a Master’s degree in Translation (English, Dutch, German and French) at the University of Mons. After a year of internships in Germany and Luxembourg (including six months at the European Parliament), he worked two years in Brussels as the Head of the French translation department at EurActiv, an online news website dealing with EU affairs. In October 2014 he moved to Antwerp (Belgium) to work freelance as a journalist, translator and teacher of French. He is specialised in Flemish, Belgian and European politics. He has also written several articles for Le Vif L’Express, a Belgian weekly newspaper.


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