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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 FlowsToward an Ethics of Reciprocity


International Mother Language Day


22-23 February 2010

Annie Brisset

University of Ottawa

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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 ?

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Selection criteria

  • Representative language situations

  • official

  • minority

  • indigenous

  • transborder languages

  • multilingual states

  • Geographic distribution:

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

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  • Update statistics (Heilbronn: 1999)

  • Identify patterns and trends

  • Asymmetries and problem areas ?

  • New or innovative practices ?

    Recommendations / Future policies

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  • Sources

    - 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)

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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

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SOURCE LANGUAGES (SL)in relation to all registered translations

  • Top 20 SL = 96%

  • Other languages =4%

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  • 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.

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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

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Translation: An obstacle to cultural diversity?

2 case studies

  • Minority languages and literatures

  • Indigenous languages

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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  • Most translations are into Azerbaijani

  • Increasingly from English

  • Other dominant source languages:

  • Russian

  • German, French

  • Arabic, Persian, Turkish

  • languages of neighbouring (former USSR) countries

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  • 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

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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,


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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

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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)

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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”

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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

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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

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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...)

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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.