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Global-Local Translation Flows Toward an Ethics of Reciprocity TRANSLATION AND CULTURAL MEDIATION International Mother Language Day UNESCO 22-23 February 2010 Annie Brisset University of Ottawa

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global local translation flows toward an ethics of reciprocity

Global-Local Translation FlowsToward an Ethics of Reciprocity


International Mother Language Day


22-23 February 2010

Annie Brisset

University of Ottawa

UNESCO World Report Investing in Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue‹›

Study of world translation flows & practices

UNESCO/IATIS partnership

Research Question:

Does translation contribute

to cultural diversity ?

selection criteria
Selection criteria
  • Representative language situations
  • official
  • minority
  • indigenous
  • transborder languages
  • multilingual states
  • Geographic distribution:

Africa , Americas, Arabic world, Asia-Pacific, India, Central & Eastern Europe

  • Update statistics (Heilbronn: 1999)
  • Identify patterns and trends
  • Asymmetries and problem areas ?
  • New or innovative practices ?

Recommendations / Future policies



- Unesco Index Translationum

- Other (e.g. national book centers)

  • Translation flows
        • Intranslations (from foreign languages)
        • Extranslations (into foreign languages)

- Internal translations (e.g. within multilanguage states)

index translationum
Index Translationum
  • Cumulative bibliography of published transl.

from 1979 to Nov. 2007 – last available update at time of study

  • Data originate from about 100 member states
  • ~ 1, 700, 000 entries [translated books]
  • ~ 250, 000 authors
  • ~ 800 languages registered out of existing 6,000
source languages sl in relation to all registered translations
SOURCE LANGUAGES (SL)in relation to all registered translations
  • Top 20 SL = 96%
  • Other languages =4%

16of top 20 source languages are European

  • 75% of all books are translated from 3 languages:
  • English, French, German
  • English : source language of 55% of all transl.
top target languages tl
Top Target Languages (TL)
  • Top 20 TLamountto nearly 90% of all transl.
  • 18 are European languages + Japanese, Korean
  • Top 5 TL account for 50% of all translations
  • 40% of all books are translated into 3 languages
  • 6.4%into English [55% from English ]
  • 6.1% into Japanese
  • Arabic and Chinese absent from top 20
translation an obstacle to cultural diversity
Translation: An obstacle to cultural diversity?

2 case studies

  • Minority languages and literatures
  • Indigenous languages
1 minority literatures in translation the case of azerbaijan
1. Minority Literatures in Translation The case of Azerbaijan
  • One of the former Transcaucasian Soviet Republics
  • At crossroads of Eastern Europe & Southwest Asia
  • Borders with Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Iran
  • Bounded by Caspian Sea to the East
  • Capital : Baku
  • Exclave : Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic

located in Armenia, borders with Iran and Turkey

impact of history 4 different scripts
Impact of History :4 different scripts
  • Arabic until 1926
  • Latin script in 1926
  • Cyrillic in 1939 (Stalin’s integration policy)
  • Latin script reinstated in 1991
az contemporary history of translation
AZ Contemporary History of Translation
  • 3 periods : Pre-Soviet, Soviet, Post-Soviet
  • Predominance of translation into Azerbaijani
  • AZ language & literature little known outside the country
  • Lack of foreign experts interested in + capable of translating from AZ into their own language
  • Lack of State policy & funding to support translation & publication of AZ works abroad
pre soviet period translations from az into foreign languages
Pre-Soviet periodTranslations from AZ into foreign languages
  • Mostly in the 19th century : Orientalist movement
  • Main works translated: originally written in Persian

- epics (Book of Dede Korkut, 8th c., Koroghlu )

- poetry (Gulistan, 13th c.) & folk tales

  • Nizami (12th c. poet, author of Leila and Majnun)
  • Main target languages: German, Russian, Engl., Fr., Polish
pre soviet period translations into azerbaijani
Pre-Soviet PeriodTranslations into Azerbaijani
  • Early AZ translations of great Persian poets

(e.g. Khayyam, Sa’di, Hafiz)

  • Interest in translation from Western languages started in the 19th c.
  • Russian: dominant source language

Russian writers (notably Pushkin, Lermontov) primarily selected for translation

soviet period 1920 1991 translations from azerbaijani
Soviet period (1920-1991)Translations from Azerbaijani
  • Few & mostly into Russian or through Russian

+ into other languages of the Soviet Union

  • Lack of foreign translators with command of Azerbaijani

Russian translations were used as source texts

  • Some of the most prominent AZ writers wrote in Russian
soviet period 1920 1991 translations into azerbaijani
Soviet period (1920-1991)Translations into Azerbaijani
  • Intensive & planned by Soviets

- Translations ordered and paid by State

- Controlled access to foreign works

  • Mostly Russian works or Indirect transl. (from Russian versions used as source texts)
  • Mostly literary + scientific or educational
end of soviet period to present
End of Soviet period to present

Active role of Universities & Translation Centres

  • Direct translations of Nobel prize authors + classics
  • Translation journals devoted to world literature
  • Unilingual and bilingual dictionaries
  • Editorial & printing activities
  • Khazar U. : national centre for ISBN registration

Most translations are into Azerbaijani

  • Increasingly from English
  • Other dominant source languages:
  • Russian
  • German, French
  • Arabic, Persian, Turkish
  • languages of neighbouring (former USSR) countries
  • Direct translation and publication of works representative :
  • of ancient and modern world literature,

with special emphasis on youth literature

  • of works representative of modern thought (humanities & social sciences) to which access was denied under the Soviet regime
  • Copyright : financial challenge
  • Codification of AZ language : text database
an ethics of reciprocity
An Ethics of Reciprocity ?

Translating & publishing abroad the works of modern authors of minority languages :

  • Foreign translations : few and haphazard
  • Mostly self-translations : native language quality at issue
  • Local publication & circulation : no visibility abroad

= Need for international cooperation, e.g.:

  • through Western network of translation centres
  • translation/revision partnerships, barter translations
  • technical support for text database (language codification, terminology development)
  • partnerships for the training of translators & trainers,


case study 2 aboriginal languages in a multi language state canada
Case study 2Aboriginal languages in a multi-language state: Canada

More than 65 native languages

  • 11 language groups
  • 3 dominant groups : Athapascan, Algonquian, Iroquoian
  • Only 3 languages have enough fluent speakers to survive:
    • Cree (100,000), Inuktitut (36,000), Ojibway (32,000)

Less than 1% of Canadians (~ 250,000) can speak a native lang.

About half (~ 130,000) use a native language daily

lingering effects of historical stereotypes
Lingering effects of historical stereotypes


Only group in Canada whose identity is defined by law

  • Royal Proclamation, 1763
    • “savage tribes”, “savage nations”
    • “sauvage : se dit de certains peuples qui vivent ordinairement dans les bois, presque sans religion, sans loi, sans habitation fixe & plutôt en bêtes qu’en homme” (Dictionnaire de l’Académie, 1762)
british north america act 1867
British North America Act, 1867
  • Creates the Dominion of Canada
  • 2 founding peoples : French & British
  • 2 official languages: French & English

Aboriginals and their lands:

reduced to “matters” subjected to fedreal legislation, as “savings” or “traffic regulation”

acte des sauvages 1876
Acte des Sauvages, 1876

“espèce d’animal incapable de commander aux autres” [...]

“ne possède ni agriculture ni troupeau” (Dictionnaire Littré, 1873)

“a man of extreme, unfeeling, brutal cruelty; a barbarian [...] without manners” (Imperial Dictionary, 1898)

“a member of a race or tribe in the lowest stage of development or cultivation” (Century Dictionary, 1900)

Only in 1951 would the Acte des Sauvages

be renamed Loi sur les Indiens

canadian language policies provincial territorial level
Canadian language policies:provincial & territorial level

Native languages have official status in only 2 territories :

  • Nunavut: Inuktitut
  • North West Territories : 9 (Cree, Ojibway, Inuktitut...)

But none are vehicular in government


  • Laws are only binding in English & French
  • Services are universally available in English
canadian language policies federal level
Canadian language policiesfederal level
  • No federal recognition of aboriginal languages

Proposed Aboriginal Languages Act (1997) never adopted

  • No permanent funding
  • No language institutions comparable to those existing for official [colonial] languages (e.g. Bureau for Translation, Terminology data bank...)
  • Language development left to provincial/territorial or individual initiatives(e.g. First Voices digital archives; teaching materials, dictionaries...)
an ethics of reciprocity32
An ethics of reciprocity ?
  • Ensure equal language rights in education, medical and legal services (through an Aboriginal Languages Act)
  • Extend to native languages the know-how acquired in the development of official languages, with priority given to terminology development.