The Linguist

TheLinguist 58,3-June/July 2019

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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@Linguist_CIOL JUNE/JULY The Linguist 19 FEATURES "to give their stories the chance to speak again, in a new place, to a new audience". The growing awareness of translating literature as a means of promoting human rights and freedom of speech is reflected in the increasing prominence of organisations such as English PEN and Free Word, which support marginalised writers in the UK and worldwide. Translator Daniel Hahn spoke of "a kind of literary worthiness that translated books are expected to have," warning that this can result in translated books having to "do the kind of job that books written in English don't have to do". Mark Polizzotti has cautioned that today's almost evangelical extolling of translated fiction creates the impression that "reading foreign literature is not so much a pleasure as a duty, something good for you like medicine, and just as foul-tasting." 2 Defining features What most people I spoke to seem to want is for translated literature to be seen simply as literature, so that the fact that it was originally written in another language does not become its defining feature. The quality that was mentioned time and again was universality: the ability to transcend cultural differences and speak of our common humanity. As Daniela Petracco, Director of Europa Editions, says, the dichotomy of the local and the universal often exists in unison. "It can be something surprising that comes across as very foreign, or it can be something that makes you think, 'we're all the same.' Often that happens at the same time, you can have both in a book." Foreign settings as a backdrop to aspects of universal human nature are especially prevalent in crime fiction, which is ever more popular in translation in the UK. Setting is often key to the genre, the sense of place allowing the reader to become not only an armchair detective but an armchair tourist too. Europa Editions' crime imprint, World Noir, brings European, American and Australian crime series to British readers. "What we look for – apart from good stories, obviously – is a strong sense of place. A way to get behind the façade, to find out what actually makes that city – that locality – tick," says Petracco. "Because diving into the underbelly is what reveals to you the reality of the place." If my research taught me anything, it is how simplistic I had been in my aim to pin down those 'magic ingredients' that convince publishers to take a chance on a foreign work and that make a story successful in translation. There are none, save the ability to appeal to our basic humanity in a way that is at the same time original, different and inventive. Notes 1 (6/3/19) 'Translated Fiction Enjoys Sales Boom as UK Readers Flock to European Authors'. In The Guardian 2 Polizzotti, M (2018) Sympathy for the Traitor: A translation manifesto, Cambridge, Mass: MIT 71 They warned of translators making ill-informed pitches due to a lack of commercial savviness whole, we like our foreign books to feel at least a little bit foreign." I wondered whether my interviewees agreed that an element of alterity was always expected. Christopher MacLehose, founder of MacLehose Press, believes so: "Otherness is always there. How could it not be?" Yet my research suggested that the notion of 'otherness' doesn't have to be engendered by a portrayal of the 'foreign'; instead it could take the form of any kind of difference, originality or inventiveness. Jorge Postigo works with a panel of experts to produce an annual list of Spanish titles that are deemed to have potential for the British market. He observes that, regardless of market trends, one thing remains consistent: "The work that gets published here in translation, it's got to give you something from a different viewpoint, or a different voice, or a subject looked at in a new way, that fills a gap." Often there is an element of 'worthiness' in translated works; they deliver a political message or educate the reader on an aspect of culture or history. Translator Anna Milsom is particularly passionate about the importance of giving a voice to writers who are underrepresented in the UK literary market: © SHUTTERSTOCK

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