Challenges Amid Optimism: The UK’s New Report on Translation Trends and Prospects

In News by Dennis Abrams

From the Arts & Humanities Research Council: Pessimism about translated literature’s prospects in the UK is ‘outdated.’ A new report says things are looking up.

Image – iStockphoto: Bowie

By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2

‘Diversity in the Literature Translated’

The United Kingdom’s Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has issued a report, entitled Translating the Literatures of Smaller European Nations: A Picture from the UK, 2014-16, by Rejendra Chitnis, University of Bristol; Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen, University College London; Rhian Atkin, University of Cardiff; and Zoran Milutinović, University of College London.

The report, based on what’s described in the executive summary as a “series of public, industry-focused workshops, interviews, and other published material” is intended to explore “how smaller European literatures attempt to reach the wider world.”

“We heard that another way in which translated literature becomes marginalized is through an enduring perception in the book industry of this work as both amateur and amateurish.’AHRC: 'Translating the Literatures of Smaller European Nations'

From the first seven of a series of key findings:

  • Pessimism about the prospects for literature in translation in the UK is outdated.
  • Concerns today are centered not on the amount of translated content published, but on the diversity reflected in the literature being translated.
  • There’s a sizable increase in the number of independent presses publishing literature in translation in the last 10 years, often publishing houses “founded by people from corporate publishing or the financial sector with sophisticated strategies for raising their profile and establishing their brand.”
  • Quoting the report, “Technological advances are central to the growth in translated literature. Social media, book review sites, online reading groups and bloggers have transformed the notion of ‘word-of-mouth’.”
  • “Translated literature remains a preoccupation of the educated urban middle-class, centred fundamentally on London and almost completely absent from school curricula.”
  • The need for commercial success can generate “conservative approaches to book choices even among independent publishers, to the detriment of less familiar European literatures.”
  • “The success of genre fiction in translation raises both hopes that this will make reading translated literature more normal and concerns that this will reduce the diversity of literature translated. An emphasis on retranslating classics rather than translating new
    works exacerbates the situation, particularly for smaller European literatures for which few if any works have historically attained international classic status.”

In addition to issues regarding the diversity of languages in translated works being published—as well as questions around genre translation—literature in translation is still being dominated by male authors, the report tells us, which raises “questions about selection processes for translation (by publishers and other ‘gatekeepers,’ including translators) or for funding or promotion (by national and international organizations or competition juries.”

In their introduction, the authors of the report bring forward a kind of cautiously optimistic high view, writing, in part:

“Though the world of literary translation in general—and smaller European literatures in English translation in particular—is still marked by quixotic tilting at windmills in a utilitarian, neo-liberal economic environment, this report shows that the imagination and conviction of advocates is allied to an increasingly sophisticated ability to identify opportunities and creative strategies more than barriers and threats, and their professionalism and acumen are acknowledged and supported as never before.”

The full report, in PDF, runs to 14 pages and can be read 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.