The Linguist

The Linguist 59,1 - February/March 2020

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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8 The Linguist Vol/59 No/1 2020 FEATURES In the under-representative world of publishing, can a mentorship for a minority ethnic translator make a difference, asks Miranda Moore I t has been five years since journalist Danuta Kean published a report on the severe underrepresentation of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in the British literary industry. In addition to a legacy of "white male elitism" that has led to structural inequalities and unconscious bias in publishing, a lack of books in translation was highlighted. Initiatives such as the Man Booker International Prize, which rewards the winning writer and translator with an equal share of the £50,000 prize, were praised for beginning to address the issues, but change has been slow. The first translator to win that prize was a white woman: Deborah Smith. In some ways, this reflects the uncomfortable realities of the industry – something that will not have been lost on Smith, who had established Tilted Axis Press a year earlier with the specific aim of increasing diversity in publishing, partly by focusing on translations from Asian languages. Tilted Axis is now "putting our money where our mouth is", she says, by funding a National Centre for Writing (NCW) mentorship programme for an emerging BAME literary translator. Explaining the need for the initiative, which receives additional funding from Arts Council England, she told me: "The vast majority of translations published in the UK are by white authors and white translators." Part of NCW's Emerging Literary Translators Mentorship Programme, the six-month scheme is now in its second year. In addition to ongoing feedback and support from their mentors, the seven NCW mentees attend a weekend residential at the organisation's Norwich campus, with talks on subjects such as negotiating contracts and managing a portfolio career; face-to-face work with their mentors; and the chance to pitch an idea to a publishing company. They also receive a bursary and have the chance to showcase their work at the London Book Fair through an anthology of their translations. Programme Manager Sarah Bower explains how the mentorship came about: "We realised there are people out there who are interested in a career in literary translation but don't know how to begin, and feel excluded because they don't see their peers among established translators. So we wanted to do something to encourage those people to join the translation community." Mentees are selected by their mentors following an initial screening by NCW. For the Tilted Axis Mentorship, this role has been fulfilled for the first two years by Jeremy Tiang, who previously mentored with the Singapore Apprenticeship in Literary Translation (SALT) and the American Literary Translators Association. "The work Deborah was doing to extend the reach both of translation itself and also of the range of people who get to translate was great. I was very willing to be involved," he says. As with other mentorships, the areas covered depend on a mentee's needs, usually including a combination of editing and industry knowledge. The obvious difference with this mentorship is the focus on the particular challenges facing BAME translators. "I've been able to support them in ways that maybe a translator of a different background wouldn't be able to, because I've been through these challenges myself," says Tiang. Barriers to inclusion In an industry where people of colour feel "very isolated", according to Kean, "especially when they are at launches and the only other BAME people are serving drinks," it is not surprising that many do not see publishing as an industry for them. For the 2018 Tilted Axis mentee, Kavita Bhanot, this contributes to a lack of confidence that can make it difficult for BAME linguists to enter the industry. "A lot of the time people have the language skills, and other kinds of knowledge as well, but don't see how that's valuable," she explains. While Bhanot learnt to read Punjabi as an adult, only using it verbally as a child, many children of Punjabi heritage growing up in the UK learn to read and write the language at weekend classes (often in the gurdwara) or at school, some up to GCSE level. She observes that most of them "go on to abandon or 'forget' that knowledge because they don't really see how it's valuable or useful, or how there's a place for it in the world." Literary translators tend to take an academic route into the field, so the fact that BAME people often acquire their language skills in alternative ways means that they may not always fit industry expectations. There are, of course, wider societal inequalities that mean fewer BAME people go to university. Bhanot Rewriting diversity

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