We talked about it, we prepared for it, we sent out invitations, we shared ideas, and then it happened: on September 29, academics, artists and NGO workers came to NUI Galway on a rather rainy day to talk about language and migration.
It was a pleasure to host so many different perspectives on the topic that we have been working on. It was great to have so many different backgrounds coming together to talk about their right to call this island ‘their’ Ireland. Last but not least, it was great to have academic and non-academic voices interact on the same platform.
We started with our more specificaly social/sociolinguistic panel. Mary Gilmartin started by illustrating some of the narratives that she and Bettina Migge collected from migrants in Ireland. It was very interesting to see how the ‘placeness’ of this place can mean so many different things to different people.
Then, Lisa McEntee-Atalianis explored one of the most pressing issues in Europe nowadays, the refugee crisis, from the point of view of the press and social media. What is lacking in the way in which the refugee crisis is usually narrated is precisely the migrants’ voice.
Speaking of voice, Unn Røyneland presented us some divergent voices from Oslo: rappers who claim their Norwegian identity, and the debate that ensues online about varieties such as the so called ‘Kebab Norwegian’. Who can really decide the boundaries of a language, and who can grant access to it?
In the following panel, Stefan Nowotny talked about the task of the translator in relation to the challenges of the time and of history, and the difficulties of relating this particular and very important task to the needs of our age of borders and incomprehension.
Ozgecan Kesici-Ayoubi talked about her task as a translator; from her translation of Kazakh poetry from the 19th century to her own work as a poet who lives in Dublin but takes Kazakhstan, Turkey and Germany with her.
Marta Golubowska (we talked about her project Be-Longing in July) showed us some of the interviews that she made in her project which brings together members of a community in Kildare to talk about their homes.
After lunch, it was time for theatre, poetry and film. OT Platform are a community effort, and so they took the stage in three: Bernie, Maud and Rula. They talked about grounding their theatrical efforts in Dublin 8, the need to build an expressive space in the community, and the projects that they developed around it.
Jijo Sebastian, a film director who works in Dublin but whose film speak mostly Malayalam, is starting a collaboration with them soon. In Galway, we had a chance to hear his ideas on making locally grown cinema, and to watch a few minutes of his darkly comic film “Box“. Due to time constraints, we had no time to show scenes from “Parakayapravesham”, but you can watch it here.
Also, Kasia Lech (who teaches at Canterbury Christ Church University, but was also one of the founders of Polish Theatre Ireland) gave a very appropriately titled talk: “They came here and stole our jobs and then they took our language”. In its works, PTI have always tried to intercept different linguistic directions and suggestions, and play an interestingly complex linguistic picture of contemporary Ireland.
Anne Mulhall talked about her experience with establishing a Women’s Writer Network, which included refugees and migrant women and which challenged borders of expression on so many levels.
Christodoulos Makris read passages from his essay “Travelling Light: Shedding Poetry’s National Baggage” which resonated with so many things that were being said. The key question is: do we really need to pigeon-hole poets into national slots, and have them compete as if it was the Eurofestival? What are the choices available to a poet who wants to bypass all of that?
Nithy Kasa also talked about borders: both in her native DR Congo, and in Dublin; all of this in very powerful verse. While Nita Mishra presented some of her poetry about misconceptions, stereotypes and the necessity of finding a voice. She also talked about the difficulty of rendering her Hindi words in English.
Fiona Bolger, who was of great help in reaching out to poets across Ireland (thank you Fiona!) talked about the upcoming anthology All the Worlds Between. And another anthology to be presented was Migrant Shores, of which we wrote a few days ago.
As you probably know, we have been walking the streets of Ireland in the past few months, talking to migrants about their languages, their hopes, their needs and aspirations (more of that in the future). We have been lucky to work with Teresa Buzckowska from the Immigrant Council of Ireland, and she was here with us to talk about the many things that her organisation does.
The symposium was concluded by the O Briain lecture, for which we invited Patrick Stevenson. His latest book is a very compelling exploration of the language stories in a building in Berlin. The students of the NUI Galway course in drama and theatre helped us bring it to life (thank you guys!).
We would like to thank the speakers who came from near and far, the Moore Institute and the Immigrant Council of Ireland; the office of the registrar, Professor Pól Ó Dochartaigh who funded the O Briain lecture; the many interns and staff of Italian at NUI Galway who gave us a hand; and many others whom we have encountered on our journey so far. Our journey is not over: stay tuned for more updates!