Publishing Translations Into (and out of) Arabic

This post originally appeared at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair blog.

One of the most admirable aspects of the UAE is how much money is spent on cultural activities. The Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture & Heritage does a remarkable job funding events (such as the book fair) and helping to cultivate the apperception and production of art in the region.

In relation to the book fair, this philanthropic drive manifests itself in a number of ways, especially in the funding of translations.There are two main translation funders in the region: Kalima (based in Abu Dhabi) and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation (based in Dubai).

Kalima was established just a few years ago by the aforementioned Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture & Heritage to implement the vision of H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, with the goal of reviving translation within the Arab world. Kalima’s core program is to translate 100 books a year into Arabic from a variety of disciplines, including history, science, and literature.

The plan is that every year Kalima will announce 100 titles that it wants to support. They then identify the translator, work at obtaining rights, and find the right Arab publisher to work with to assure the translated title reaches an appropriate audience.

The Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation has a similar mission of improving the number and quality of translations into Arabic, but approaches the situation in a slightly different fashion. Tarjem is their main translation program, and has an even more ambitious goal that Kalima, in that they want to sponsor 365 titles a year. (In other words, a translation a day!) Rather than identify the works to translate and involve themselves in the publishing project directly, Tarjem accepts applications from publishers and for the most worthy projects the foundation purchases 1,500 copies to distribute to libraries and schools throughout the Arab world.

In addition to this publishing program, the foundation runs the Turjuman program, designed to improve and encourage translation in the Arab world by providing training courses for translators and scholarships that provide translators with the opportunity to pursue a master’s degree in translation. There are other programs as well, including “Cultural Dialogue” programs with a variety of countries, a “Book in a Capsule” program that provides hurried readers with 20-page summary versions of prominent business books, and the Dubai International Children’s Book Fair.

The activities of Literature Across Frontiers is a great complement to these two foundations. LAF represents approximately twenty cultural organizations from across Europe that provide translation subsidies to publishers interested in translating their works. In addition, these organizations frequently produce pamphlets and other promotional materials to spread the word about their literature. Alexandra Buchler of LAF came to the fair to make more Arab publishers aware of these programs in the hope that there will be an increase in translations into Arabic from the “smaller languages” of Europe, such as Catalan, Finnish, or Latvian. Her overall goal is to help create networks between European publishers and Arabic ones, in hopes of developing relationships that lead to greater cultural exchanges.

Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of Finnish to Arabic translators out there (for example–this is true with a ton of countries), so LAF is also trying to create partnerships to support the development and training of translators.

Finally, Next Page is also at the fair to spread the word about “Encounters,” a program of the foundation to encourage translation and exchange between Arabic and the languages of Eastern Europe. Through this program they hope to establish better relationships between publishers in the two regions and supply translation subsidies to publishers of both areas. (A very logical and great complement to what LAF is doing.)

In addition to subsidies, Next Page produces some fantastically informative reports. Ina Doublekova gave me a copy of a recent study on “Translations of Books from Arabic in Four East European Countries after 1989,” which is really fascinating. According to the opening summary, over the last decade the average number of titles translated from Arabic into Bulgarian, Hungarian, Polish, and Serbia, is between 0 and 3 titles per year. (The entire study is available online at http://www.npage.org.) Hopefully thanks to Next Page—and its energetic and brilliant director Yana Genova—this situation will improve greatly over the next few years.

Overall, it’s very encouraging to uncover so many organizations all working to improve the flow of books both into and out of Arabic. It’s my belief that publishing across borders makes the world a better place–and right now there’s not enough publishing of this sort in the world.a

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