Ellen Elias-Bursać

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Translator/reviser at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia: short-term engagements, 1998-2002; full-time 2005-2010

An interview with Ellen Elias-Bursać, conducted on 9 February 2016 in Cambridge, Massachusetts by David P. Briand and Leigh Swigart.

Access the full transcript here.

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Please use the following citation format: Oral History Interview with Ellen Elias-Bursać (2017), Ad Hoc Tribunals Oral History Project, pages (please specify), International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department, Brandeis University.

Interview content

In her interview, Ms. Elias-Bursać reminisces about her experience as an American living in Yugoslavia in the Cold War period; her aptitude for learning languages; her recruitment to work at the ICTY; the Tadić case from a translator’s viewpoint; different standards of translation for the purposes of investigation and courtroom activities; and the camaraderie of working as a reviser. She discusses the role of the ICTY Conference Language Services Section; the vetting process for translators; linguistic and substantive difficulties of translation; differences between the interrelated Balkan languages; the creation of the Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian language variety used during the Tadić trial and thereafter; differences between providing language services for Prosecution and Defense teams; the role of the ICTY staff psychologist; her research and book on ICTY language services; and the impact of the ICTY's work on people in the Balkans.

Biographical information

Ellen Elias-Bursać was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. She received her B.A. degree from Macalester College in 1974, her M.A. from the University of Zagreb in 1988, and her Ph.D. from the University of Zagreb in 1999. She has worked as a Croatian-English translator, in a variety of fields, from 1978 to the present. She was a Preceptor in the Slavic Studies Department at Harvard University from 1994 to 2005. In 1998, she was recruited for short-term engagements as a translator/reviser in the ICTY's Conference and Language Services Section (CLSS). From 2005 to 2010, she served full-time in the CLSS.Ms. Elias-Bursać has been a Contributing Editor to Asymptote Journal since 2013, and she currently serves as Vice President of the American Literary Translation Association.