The Linguist

The Linguist 52,2

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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LITERARY TRANSLATION Getting started © RACHEL CHERRY Independent publisher Alma Books/Alma Classics ( focuses on contemporary fiction and more than 50 percent of its titles are translations. Its co-Founder, Alessandro Gallenzi, offers his advice to linguists starting out in the field of literary translation. Egyptian novelists won the first two awards: Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher and Azazeel by Youssef Zieda. Yet, each year, more than 100 novels are submitted from all Arab countries. In the third year, the Egyptian monopoly was broken by the Saudi novel Spewing Sparks as Big as Cities by Abdo Khal. This was particularly interesting because the novel was banned in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the country from which the prize was funded. Overnight, the Saudi Minister of Culture sent his congratulations, and the absurdities of censorship were exposed. There have been other consequences. Arab publishers have welcomed the prize, which is managed by an independent Board of Trustees, most of whom are Arab. There has been a perceptible improvement in the overall quality of the publication and presentation of books. Foreign publishers have followed the prize. All the winning, and many of the shortlisted, novels have been – or are being – translated into English. And not only into English. The first and second winning novels have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Since 2009, the prize has organised an annual nadwa ('symposium') for eight writers who have promise, and two established writers, who attend as mentors. During nine days, each writer produces 3,000 words of a story or chapter, which is then translated into English. Both language versions are later published in one volume, in a series entitled Emerging Arab Voices. There are challenges in translating contemporary Arabic literature, but these are comparable with the challenges of literary translation from any less familiar culture – for example from Finnish, Korean or Ukrainian. Vol/52 No/2 2013 TURNING POINTS Raja Alem (above left) and Mohammed Achaari (above), winners of the International Prize for Arabic Literature 2011, speak at the London Literature Festival. A selection of Banipal covers ( far left), from the first issue in 1998 to the current issue The translator has to be proficient in Arabic and a good writer in the target language. It used to be argued – and I may have subscribed to this notion in my 1997 article – that there were particular cultural problems, relating to Islam, in rendering an Arab text in English. Certainly translators need to soak themselves into the cultural background of the text, and this includes the religious context. But there is nothing insuperable in that, any more than there is an impossible problem with translating, or even reading, texts from another age, where the cultural reference points are so different from those of today. Most Victorian novelists assumed that their readers would be familiar with the Bible and the Greco-Roman classics, for instance. The translator should also know the geography of the novel. Some years ago, I read the German translation of a novel by the Tunisian Hassouna Mosbahi. There was a piece about the girls of La Marsa. Now, La Marsa is a fashionable beach not far from the capital, Tunis, so 'the girls of La Marsa' suggests chic, fashionable young ladies. La Marsa in Arabic means 'jetty' and, by extension, 'port'. The translator into German rendered the phrase Hafenmädchen ('girls of the port'), with an entirely different association. But any translator could tell a similar story. There is nothing specific to Arabic in such misreadings. When you contact a publisher, do not call or email (unless you know them), as most will be put off by this. There is nothing more effective than a well-presented letter. Presentation (including that of your CV) is as important as your proposal and the quality of your translation, as it shows how serious and accurate you are. Send no more than two sample chapters and don't forget to include the original text. Research the copyright status: if another publisher holds the rights to the text, your submission will not be considered. Submit works of authors you are enthusiastic and knowledgeable about. Publishers are particularly keen on rediscovered classics. Only a small number of houses in the UK publishes works in translation. It is essential that you study their programmes carefully before approaching them. They will be delighted to hear from you. Previous publications are a plus, but not a must. Other than writing reader reports and translating pieces for journals and magazines, going to book launches and translation events is the best way in, as you can meet the people who commission the translations. Publishing is a very London-centric industry, those based elsewhere will have to travel. Companies that publish works in translation include Archipelago Books (US), Dalkey Archive Press, Dedalus Books, Arabia Books, Oxford World Classics, Portobello Books, Penguin Classics and Saqi/Telegram. MAKING CONTACTS: London Book Fair APRIL/MAY The Linguist 13

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