Tuesday, August 23, 2016

WITMonth Day 23 | WIT in every language | Thoughts

I've been challenged on this point a few times in recent months, so let's talk about it: The women in translation project need not be limited to translations into English. Moreover, it should not be limited to translations into English.

I don't have stats for what publishing looks like in most other languages, nor do I have much of a quantitative clue as to what translations into those other languages look like. I do know - from my own observations - that translations from English make up a huge proportion of translations into Hebrew, German and French. I also know that while many English-language women writers get translated, women writing in non-English "foreign" languages also seem missing from the shelves in non-English languages.

The women in translation project applies to everyone, everywhere.

As I've said many times, the point of this project is to broaden our horizons as much as possible. This isn't always practical - in Hebrew, for example, it's fairly unlikely to find a translator who can work directly from a Korean or Bengali text. This makes it pretty difficult to gain access to these books (though in very rare cases, books like these will simply undergo double translation via the English - I'll get back to this in a moment) and expecting the same sort of availability as in other, more global languages (like... English) is pretty ridiculous. This is a real complication.

But that doesn't completely absolve us. Languages like Hebrew or Icelandic or any other language may have relatively few speakers/readers (or just few potential translators!), but the need for diversity in translation isn't erased simply because it's harder to get those books. Sure, the ratios might look different (and they should!), but the infrastructure for translations - and thus for the women in translation project - needs to be there. It's as important as in English.

Let's get back to English for a moment. I've had people criticize the women in translation project for being inherently Anglo-centric, what with the fact that I am referring almost exclusively to works translated into English. The argument is not entirely wrong, and indeed there is a bias in how I generally conduct my research. That said, I cannot help but note the reality in which the English-language literary market influences the rest of the world far more than any other market influences back. Translations into Hebrew, for example, are overwhelmingly from English. Translations from other languages often come only after the translation into English has succeeded/gained prominence. And again the matter of double-translations arise, in which many languages simply have no overlap and need a convenient language bridge (though this is not always English, of course...).

The women in translation project looks different in other languages, yes. Sometimes it might focus on the native language stats and gender breakdown. Sometimes it might focus on all translations into that language (including English-language). Sometimes it might mean looking for books from languages that fairly inaccessible. Sometimes it might just be the English-language WIT project question: Why aren't our existing women writers being translated into English (or other languages)?

I don't ask these questions as often, true, and I haven't ever devoted much time to them on the blog (mostly because I've never fully quantified my observations and ideas; laziness and lack of resources). But they're questions we should be open to asking. They're questions we should be encouraging. They're questions we - at least those of us who can - should be exploring the answers to. What does the women in translation project look like in other languages? I would love to know.

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