CHSS Student Translations
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CHSS Students Publish Translations

4 min read

Two programs in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS) — BA in English & Communications (BA EC) and Graduate Certificate in Translation (C Tr.) — have been making systematic efforts to motivate their students to publish and share their works completed in various courses. While working on undergraduate capstone projects or completing the graduate practicum in translation, students have been turning out remarkable translations of texts that have impressed or inspired them.

“I always make it a point to urge students to think about the end result — who they are translating for and why,” notes Dr. Shushan Avagyan, Assistant Professor in CHSS. “It helps them see the text from the reader’s perspective, which allows them to look beyond themselves and the classroom.”

Laura Hovakimyan (BA EC ’20) chose to translate David Foster Wallace’s famous graduation speech “This Is Water,” which was published in the online literary platform Cultural. “I wanted to choose a text that would give the readers something — that would make them think and feel. Wallace touches upon many topics in his speech that are also relevant to many Armenians: questioning blind certainty, learning to empathize, noticing the obvious, etc. I wanted the readers to feel as close to the original text as possible; so, together with Dr. Shushan Avagyan, we constantly thought about ways of transferring the message accurately, not to lose the meaning, but also to keep the style. I was taking responsibility for every word I chose to use. This project enriched my vocabulary, broadened my horizons, and taught me that it’s possible to combine work with pleasure,” remarks Hovakimyan.

According to Dr. Arto Vaun, Chair of BA EC and Director of the Center for Creative Writing, “Since at least 2015, there’s been a concerted effort to nurture and encourage student interest in translation, literature, and creative writing. We’re now seeing the tremendous results in the growing number of exceptional literary translations that EC and C Tr. students have been producing.” Dr. Vaun went on to point out that this positive development is connected to EC’s mission to cultivate graduates who will contribute to innovative, high quality intellectual and literary work in Armenia. “Our goal is to give EC students the foundation and tools to become leaders in shaping the new landscape of creative communication in the country.”

Silvia Khachatryan’s (BA EC ’20) translation of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” was also featured in Cultural. She was assigned to read it in two different classes at AUA. Her enchantment with the piece, crystallized by the lively discussions in the classroom, led her to focus her Capstone project on this particular literary work. She wrote a detailed analysis of the story, translated it, and analyzed her own translation. According to Khachatryan, “We read a lot of literature in English at AUA, both original works and English translations. This is why, when selecting a book to read at home, I prefer to read in Armenian, as it helps me stay closer to my mother tongue. When I read the Armenian translations of Orwell’s, Vonnegut’s, Bradbury’s, and Burgess’s dystopian books and saw how interested our society is in dystopian literature, I realized that it was the right time to present a translation of “The Lottery” to the Armenian readership.”

Like Khachatryan, many EC students feel connected to certain English texts and want to make them accessible in Armenian. It is not uncommon for EC seniors to choose to do translations for their capstone projects. Throughout the course of their studies in the program, they get inspired by the readings and also by their instructors who help them cultivate love for their own work. Hovakimyan notes that when she took a class with Davit Isajanyan, “everything changed and [she] started falling in love with translation,” and “Dr. Avagyan taught [her] how to input her heart and soul” into her translations. By the end of their college studies, students like Hovakimyan develop close relationships with their instructors and also a sense of purpose in their work. They want their translations to reach a wider audience. As Hovakimyan has learned through her own work, “Most of the time… change comes from just one thought, the thought of working on ourselves, changing ourselves for making society better.”

Translations can serve as a vehicle for new ideas and help reexamine social constructs. “Our graduate students in the certificate program not only demonstrate their understanding of the value of translation but also show what they have learned about the broader context of publishing their work,” observes Dr. Elitza Kotzeva, Assistant Professor in CHSS. This year’s graduate Hranush Hakobyan (C Tr. ’20) translated, as part of her translation portfolio, Kurt Vonnegut’s “How To Be a Wise Guy or a Wise Girl” which was immediately picked up by Cultural. As co-founder and editor of Cultural, Astghik Hakobyan succinctly notes, “Collaborating with AUA students is both useful and important for us, and we hope to continue this partnership in the future. It’s good to know that our platform, too, is helpful for the students in terms of practicum.”

C Tr. fosters close relationships with publishing platforms, as one of the main goals of the program is to introduce students to a range of academic, creative, and career opportunities. Another C Tr. graduate, Meri Petrosyan, published a translation of an excerpt from Edith Grossman’s book “Why Translation Matters” in the online literary journal Inknagir. Like Cultural, Inknagir has also been regularly publishing works of students from the C Tr. program (see Susan Sontag’s “Against Interpretation”; Cornel West’s “The Dilemma of the Black Intellectual”; etc.). “We are proud that our students are able to use their translation skills and knowledge to become agents of cultural change and, at the same time, begin or continue successful careers,” says Kotzeva.

Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia (AUA) is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia, affiliated with the University of California, and accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission in the United States. AUA provides local and international students with Western-style education through top-quality undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs, promotes research and innovation, encourages civic engagement and community service, and fosters democratic values.