Monday, 8 November 2010

Scholarly translation and the enhancement of the humanities

Having recently been involved in the editing of a trilingual collection of essays on translation, I have been thinking about translation and its role in the internationalisation of disciplines. Researchers don't generally have budgets for translation, so if you don't speak a particular language, and a monograph or article has been written on that language in one of your research specialisms, then tough luck. This is a problem that was recently flagged up by the British Academy, which is, understandably, concerned that UK research will become insular as generations of researchers with limited foreign language skills set the agenda for what research should be doing. According to the British Academy's Language Matters position paper,  another likely outcome is that international research will be carried out by researchers from elsewhere, who can offer the language skills UK graduates are short of. This affects the employability and competitiveness of UK researchers.

Let's hope that more can be done to enhance the language skills of British researchers in all disciplines. Meanwhile, since researchers can't speak all languages, translation also has a role to play. Abstracts in lingua francas like English and French, already standard in many journals, help to indicate whether an article might be worth translating. Machine translation is unlikely to produce usable results, but the possibility of running an electronic copy of a publication through machine translation software to discover whether it is worth finding funding to get it translated, or worth commissioning a translation of it for a journal, is attractive.

I was interested to come across several different approaches to this problem recently. The Handbook of Translation Studies published by John Benjamins invites translations of its content, which should be submitted to the editors. Translations in Arabic, Chinese, French, Japanese, German, Portuguese, and Spanish of English language originals already uploaded online can be submitted for consideration and, upon acceptance, may be added to the online edition.

The Translation Committee of the SCMS (Society for Cinema and Media Studies) instituted a Translation Gallery of film and media publications which SCMS members would like to see translated (the page seems to have disappeared in the recent revamp of the SCMS site but I'll post it if and when it reappears). 

The OAH (Organisation of American Historians) funds the David Thelen Award each year for articles published in the field in a language other than English. The prize-winning article is then translated and published in The Journal of American History. This seems a really good initiative, and one that could usefully be taken up by other scholarly associations as well. (It's just a pity that the published translation seem to be have been translated by magic - no translators are named, and no reference seems to be made in the journal to the translated status of the articles).

The European Society for Translation Studies (EST) has recently been discussing a grant initiative to promote translation within TS, and we'd be interested to hear comments on this too.

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