Confluences: Lost & Found in Translation, founded in April 2018 by Hapshiba Kwon ’20, Aqiil Gopee ’20 and Emily Merriman, a Writing Center associate and advisor, is a new magazine that celebrates multilingualism.
Featuring articles and translations by students, staff and faculty who have multilingual experiences, the magazine aims to recognize that the Amherst campus is a space where a multitude of languages converge to create experiences, subjectivities and worldviews. Speaking to this, one of the magazine’s main goals is to “decenter English as the normative language of power.”
Kwon, an editor for the magazine, says her personal background was integral in the decision to work on Confluences. As a Korean-American English major, she says being bilingual “seems to operate under the radar.”
“I only experience [the] significance [of being bilingual] when I hear others around me speaking Korean or when I visit home and communicate with my parents,” she said. “When I hear the familiar sounds, the auditory recognition fills an absence I didn’t realize I possessed.”
She describes this recognition as “home-feeling,” and says that questioning aspects of her Korean-American identity has further led her to consider how easily she disregards other languages simply because they sound unfamiliar. For Kwon, working on Confluences has been integral in heightening her awareness of the various modes of communication that exist on our campus and in the greater community.
Merriman, a staff editor of Confluences, notes that an especially valuable feature of Confluences is the “Translator’s Note,” in which each translator discusses their particular challenges and pleasures while moving a text from one language to another.
Hikari Yoshida ’19, who is taking on co-founder Gopee’s editorial responsibilities while he studies abroad this semester, describes her work on Confluences last semester as mostly spreading awareness of the magazine through word of mouth. This semester, she says, the magazine is catering to a wider audience and plans to host events related to multilingual experiences on campus.
As the editors of Confluences receive story submissions, they choose the ones they want to publish, then find translators. “We try to pair [stories] up with translators who are relevant to … the experience of the writer,” Yoshida said.
Kwon remembers publishing “The Rise and Fall of Urdu Language and Literature,” a piece by Harith Khawaja ’19 which was first submitted in Urdu then translated by the author into English, as a notable experience. She was surprised to learn that Urdu is right-aligned and felt nervous about formatting Khawaja’s work on the website.
“It’s often in these small moments of tension between learning and non-understanding that I develop a greater awareness and appreciation for multilingualism in my life,” she said.
Merriman said the development of linguistic understanding — of one’s own languages, of the languages of other people and of how language participates in the shaping of our lives — is “an integral part of the kind of liberal arts education that Amherst College provides.” While this kind of learning can happen in classrooms, she notes that Confluences provides students and other members of the Amherst community with a venue for focusing creatively on the importance of multilingualism on our campus and beyond.
“The magazine and the people involved in it are working to enable cross-cultural collaboration and community-building,” Merriman added.
Throughout my own life, I’ve felt stuck in my bilingualism. Being fluent in both Korean and English presented a strange duality for me — speaking only Korean with my family and only English with everyone else. The two worlds never intersected, as the languages were unable to coexist peacefully in my mind.
Because of this distinction, being bilingual became another aspect of my identity that I never gave much thought to. Now, being on campus and thousands of miles away from home, I rarely get the chance to read, write or even speak Korean — sometimes I get scared that I’m losing my fluency day by day.
Reading some of the articles in Confluences, in particular “Becoming Bilingual” by Dr. Min Cheng, a staff therapist in Amherst’s Counseling Center, was a reminder to me that my multilingualism is something to be celebrated. For those of us who are multilingual or attempting to become multilingual, Confluences is a reminder not to take our home languages for granted; even in an English-centric environment, all of our languages are worthy of thought and exploration.
Merriman hopes that in the future, Confluences will continue to publish more stimulating pieces. “[The website] is set up so that users can switch back and forth between languages for all the articles,” she said. “We would love for [more] students to do translation work so that we can expand this feature to many more languages.” Currently, the editorial staff plans on publishing once a semester. Students can read Confluences by going to https://confluences.wordpress.amherst.edu and send in submissions or inquiries about being a translator to [email protected]
Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly calls Urdu left-aligned. The language is right-aligned.