Translating into Luritja/Pintupi

At least 1,600 people speak Luritja/Pintupi as a first language and approximately 600 as a second language, mainly in the Northern Territory, making it one of the 160 Indigenous languages spoken in Australia at home. But are there any challenges when translating English content into this ancient language?

Lavinia Heffernan, one of our NAATI accredited Luritja/Pintupi < > English translators, believes that having a bicultural understanding of both Aboriginal and Western worlds helps translate in a way that is understood by both cultures.

  • What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of a career in translation?

English is a complicated language. When interpreting or translating, a lot of words are in Western concept jargon. I really need to think through and be creative in a way that Luritja/Pintupi speakers understand the English language. Words like lockdown or hygiene are not used in our language. Nor is there any light switch or door handles, so I had to use a lot of borrowed words as well. Another one is mask. I explained what a mask is, that it covers your mouth and nose, and had to borrow the English word.

  • Have you experienced an ethical dilemma on a translation project? How did you handle it?

All the time. Recent work I just completed had a Western concept, I had to try to be creative in translation. How did I handle that? Well, I rang many family members, especially my mother and father, to make sure I had the right words and right meaning to what I was translating.

  • What do you like most about your work in translation? What do you like least?

I love to help my people, my families, to have a better understanding of what is being communicated in English. I also love working with my dad who is full of knowledge. I don’t like to do a rough and dodgy job. I want to ensure the message has been done right. It is also challenging when trying to contact family back home to hear if I have written the information right. Luck of the draw if you get through via phone.

  • What is your tip number one for someone wanting to translate content?

That you need to live the culture, not just learn to speak it. Language and culture are one in the same.