Stellenbosch University
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Another feather in the cap of SU’s language wizard
Author: Corporate Communications and Marketing (Hannelie Booyens)
Published: 27/03/2024

​​​Whenever you read an article on Stellenbosch University's (SU) website or a newsletter or notice distributed by the institution, it has likely been edited or translated by Elsabé Grauso. Although colleagues might be puzzled why the genial wordsmith wanted to hone her craft as a language practitioner by completing an honours degree at the height of her career, they're familiar with Grauso's curiosity and the thrill she gets from learning and mastering new skills.

A manager once referred to her as the “language police" of the University, a description that might technically be true, but Grauso's good-humoured approach to coaching colleagues to abide by SU's style guides can hardly be called policing. Equally skilled in Afrikaans and English, most of her time is spent proofreading copy and translating corporate communication into both languages.  

Last year, Grauso made it look easy to juggle a heavy load at SU's Communications and Marketing Division while completing her BA honours degree in Language Practice. She initially registered for an honours degree in Translation, but the programme has evolved to also include editing and interpreting and has since been renamed BA Honours (Language Practice). Grauso is of the opinion that this new name is a much better reflection of what this practice-orientated programme, presented by the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch, encompasses. She only has the highest praise for the Department for accommodating her in the programme. “It wasn't always easy to work and study and then there was the pandemic, which brought additional challenges. I often had to beg lecturers for mercy and extension on deadlines. My study leader, Prof Harold Lesch, deserves a medal for his patience. I will be forever grateful to them for their grace and for my fellow students putting up with the dinosaur in the class."

Keeping up the academic momentum, this year she started a postgraduate diploma in Applied Ethics. “I want to specialise in artificial intelligence (AI), because in our line of work of editing, content creation and translation, technology is moving at such a fast pace, we're increasingly confronted with ethical dilemmas about the use of generative AI." While she's seen the power of computers to write and translate text, Grauso believes the human touch in working with language will remain essential for the foreseeable future.

“Yes, the large language models are improving and expanding as we speak and will likely become so good that eventually we'll all essentially become editors. But you will always need human intervention for those grey aspects of language where there is nuance, ambiguity or double meaning. Every language is rooted in complex cultural norms that inform how we communicate and understand each other. And ChatGPT cannot read between the lines and does not always understand context," Grauso notes.

From journalism to academia

Her love for language was shaped growing up in a house that was always full of books. “I think a passion for working with words always starts with reading. Books have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My first memory of my dad in our house in Cradock is of him lying on the bed on a Saturday afternoon reading his Konsalik novels or his Wilbur Smiths. My mom has also always been an avid reader."

After matric, Grauso's talent for writing, excellent people skills and curiosity about the world, led to a career in journalism. “Stellenbosch University was always my first choice and although I considered specialising in translation, I was fortunate that after completing a BA degree, I passed the selection process to do an honours in journalism."

She did her journalism course in 1990, the same year former president Nelson Mandela was released from prison. “It was a very turbulent time, but also so interesting to witness the birth of our democracy," she reminisces. Starting as a reporter at Oosterlig, a now-defunct newspaper based in Port Elizabeth (now called Gqeberha), Grauso also did a stint as a journalist in Namibia before returning to Oosterlig and later joining a community newspaper. She worked at Struik Publishers as project manager and editor before joining SU in 2019.

Grauso treasures the memories of her days as a journalist. “At community newspapers, you learn to do everything – from writing to editing, layout and photography. Shortly after the 1994 election, President Mandela received the freedom of the town Uitenhage (now called Kariega). As a community journalist, I was fortunate to be part of his entourage the whole day. At the time, I didn't realise what an amazing experience it was. Looking back now, I'm so grateful for the opportunities I had and the wonderful people I've met."

Working in an academic environment for the past few years is a privilege and a source of great joy, Grauso says. “I love learning new things. Every article I edit or translate expands my thinking. I find the opinion articles fascinating, it makes me realise how superficially we sometimes view the world. People from my generation often don't realise how blinkered our worldview is and how we've been brainwashed growing up. At SU I've gained deep insights into so many aspects affecting our lives. My work and studies have opened my eyes to issues such as systemic racism and why change is a constant."

Biker Barbie

Over weekends, when she's not wrestling with words or diving into academic theories about language, you'll find the sunny redhead in an unlikely place – behind her Italian husband on a Harley Davidson as they explore the winelands' natural beauty. “I'm not very stable on two wheels, but my husband is masterful on a motorcycle. Riding is our escape from the world and all its problems. I can just sit back behind him and feel like a queen in my leathers. From the back of a motorcycle the world looks different. It's a feeling of freedom that keeps me young."

For Casual Day at SU last year, Grauso received the prize for the best costume in the Corporate Communication and Marketing Division when she dressed up as Biker Barbie. The touch of pink in her leather costume is the same shade of champagne in the glasses her colleagues raised to celebrate with our favourite language fundi on graduation day.

Well done, Elsabé!

PHOTO: Curt Ruiters