Found in Translation
I came across the following links recently, and I wanted to talk about them because translation and translators are near and dear to my heart. Well, one translator in particular, but I'd be happy to make friends with more.
Words Without Borders: MARCH 2004
is an online magazine that "undertakes to promote international communication through translation of the world's best writing--selected and translated by a distinguished group of writers, translators, and publishing professionals--and publishing and promoting these works (or excerpts) on the web. [They] also serve as an advocacy organization for literature in translation, producing events that feature the work of foreign writers and connecting these writers to universities and to print and broadcast media."
Juan Cole, a professor at the University of Michigan and blogger about events in the Middle East
, has recently started a projected called The Global Americana Institute
, the main goal of which will be to translate the classics of American literature into Arabic. This reminded me of Salon article
that came out last year, more of an essay, really about how books inspire violence. It tangentially mentioned the apparently unsubstantiated theory that OBL was inspired by Asimov's Foundation series, since Al Qaeda means The Foundation in Arabic. While that seems highly unlikely, it is interesting to speculate what a cross pollination of literature might mean to bastions of the two languages.
is an index of blogs which are in more than one language--the idea being that the blogger finds information in one language and posts it in another. At the Gawker talk SPJ had earlier this year, Jeff Jarvis
of Conde Nast told me that after English, the biggest blogging language is Persian. The opening session of the Chinese parliament apparently prompted the government to shut down Blogbus.com
and its 15,000 blogs, the biggest provider in the People's Republic. Multilingual blogging is a big deal.
With no linguistic training or real sense of evidence, I have to say I believe in an extremely weak form of the Sapir-Whorf
Hypothesis--i.e., that it is definitely easier to think certain thoughts in some languages than in others. I do not, however, think that translation is impossible--only that it is difficult. All the more reason to support it and celebrate it. As humans, of course, we are divided into many groups. The pain and suffering caused by our divisions is readily apparent. The solution is not to retreat into our different groups, nor is it to attempt to homogenize them into a bland sort of unity. Translators and translations, and learning different languages, allow us to jump borders and dip into many pools, to crosslink our groups in a net of understanding and connection that can, potentially, defy sectarianism without sacrificing pluralism or flavor. Cross pollination is a grand thing--to cite a quote a friend sent me a couple days ago:
"Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than in the one where they sprang up."
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., US Supreme Court Justice (1841-1935)