New UK Translation Stats from Literature Across Frontiers

In English Language by Dennis Abrams

A new study from Literature Across Frontiers reveals general translations grew by 53% between 1990 and 2012 and literary translations by 66%.

By Dennis Abrams

Literature Across Frontiers Logo It’s an on-going question: How many translations are actually published and just how accurate is the often quoted figure of 3%? A new report from Literature Across Frontiers (LAF), Publishing translated literature in the United Kingdom and Ireland: 1990-2012, answers these and many other questions regarding translation statistics.

The report, prepared by Alexandra Buchler and Giulia Trentacosti, was launched in electronic format last Monday at the London International Book Fair.

The key findings presented by the report are based on analysis from two distinct data sets: raw data taken from the British National Bibliography for the period 1990 – 2012 and process data from 2000-2012. According to the LAF, the raw data makes it possible to produce statistics comparable to those published by other book markets, while the manually processed data provides an annual list of literary translations including fiction, poetry, drama, children’s books and “creative” non-fiction, for the period 2000-2012. The processed data sets were then further analyzed with regards to genre and source language.

In a written statement, LAF Director Alexandra Buchler said:

Alexandra Buchler

Alexandra Buchler

“The report brings us, for the first time, reliable data and statistics on the publishing of translations in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Our analysis shows that the often quoted 3% estimate indeed corresponds to the established average of all translations recorded in the British National Bibliography over the past two decades. This is embarrassingly low, compared to the percentages recorded in other European countries, including large book markets with healthy domestic book production such as Germany, France, Italy or Poland. Literary translations represent a slightly higher share, consistently exceeding 4% with a peak of 5.23% in 2011. The statistics show a steady growth of literary translations over the past two decades in absolute numbers and this is very encouraging. General translations grew by 53% between 1990 and 2012 and literary translations by 66%. This is of course reflected in only marginal percentage growth due to the growth in the overall publishing output. Also encouraging is the diversity of source languages with small European languages like Swedish, Norwegian and Dutch among the top ten translated languages alongside two non-European languages, Arabic and Japanese. On the other hand, most Eastern European languages are seriously underrepresented and we are clearly missing out on entire swaths of literary landscapes in our immediate neighborhood.”

LAF’s next step is to publish a database of literary translations for the period 2000 – 2012 and to conduct further analysis to learn more about the trends of publishing translations beyond the quantitative information brought by the present report.

Literature Across Frontiers is the European Platform for Literary Exchange, Translation and Policy Debate, based at the Mercator Institute for Media, Languages and Culture at Abersystwyth University, Wales, UK.

To download the complete report, click here.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.