Arabic TranslationArabic Culture

Challenges facing translation of Arabic literature into foreign languages

Many Jordanian and Arab writers and publishers complain of the shortage of translations of Arabic literature to English and other foreign languages. This is regarded by experts as a serious default committed by Arabs against both the Arabic literature and the world literature.

Although translation is seen as a bridge that helps people know the cultures of different societies and a tool contributing to the achievement of parity between civilizations, the Arabic books, specifically literary books, translated into English are still very few as a result of the low number of Arab governmental initiatives dedicated to the translation of the Arabic literature to English or other foreign languages. On the contrary, foreign governments and international institutes give much care to the enhancement of translation through grants, awards and financial support.

In this context, Mr. Fayez El Sayegh, a literary translation expert, said to Al Jazeera Net, “The West has a little interest in everything that is Arabic, or Muslim specifically. It is a common orientalist and inferiority attitude that makes them uninterested in translating the Arabic literature into their languages. Moreover, they sometimes hurry to translate the books with commercial titles denigrating Arabs and Muslims.”

He also added “There are some exceptional new attempts to translate literary creations into foreign languages, such as the works of Taha Hussein, Naguib Mahfouz and some other Arab creative minds, but they are still rare.”

Strategy and Will

According to some concerned people, promotion of creative translation requires the governments and the relevant entities to adopt literary strategy and real political will to enhance translation works, especially those participating in changing the stereotypes of Arab nations. Further, it is necessary to provide financial support to the translators and enable communication with the international institutions concerned with translation and publishing in order to share the Arabic point of view to Western audience and to help them get rid of the preconceived ideas about Arabs.

Some writers and activists in the Arab world try to launch initiatives, most of which are individual, participating in the promotion of the Arabic literary works translated into other languages, especially English.

Seminar discussing challenges facing translation of Arabic literary works to foreign languages

A few days ago, a literary seminar was held in Amman to celebrate the launch of a special edition of the literary magazine “The Common” published by the American University Ann Hurst. The edition was totally dedicated to the Arabic literature translated into English.

24 Arab writers, 18 translator and Arab artists from all over the Arab world took part in creating the content of the magazine.

Reaching out to New Audience

Hisham Al Bustani, a Jordanian writer and editor-in-chief of the special edition, said, “The project of translating the magazine is important in order to publicize the Arabic story and literary writings in the English-speaking world as Arabic literature is absent in the USA.”

He also added that there is an attempt to renew the style and type of writing, and the purpose of translation is to introduce the literary writings to new audience through stories representing the great diversity in terms of countries, writing styles and writer’s gender.

Jennifer Acker, editor of the American magazine, expressed her happiness for the success of the special edition and said, “After six years, we get access for the first time to the Arabic language spoken by many peoples in order to convey their writings to the USA. This work took a whole year.”

During the literary seminar, some writers, whose stories were translated into English and published in the magazine, gave speeches including the Jordanian writer, Basma Al- Nesour, who is one of the most prominent story writers during the periods from the nineties to the present time.

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