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So here’s a strange idea

There was no sign of a let up in the numbers heading north towards Germany. Austrian authorities said 6,700 arrived across the border with Hungary on Saturday, and they were expecting 6,000 to 8,000 more on Sunday.
Further south along the route, 4,330 refugees crossed into Hungary on Saturday, the most the country has seen in a single day.

That’s daily movements.

So, two facts:

It’s generally known that there’s almost no translation from English or other European languages into Arabic (Mark Steyn, quoting from an official report, states that fewer books have been so translated in the last millennium than Spain translates into Spanish each year). This is true of some other languages too. There’s also those who think that if stuff isn’t being translated then people aren’t getting any idea at all of what is really going on.

There are some programs to address this. But they’re small (maybe 100 titles in samizdat form, then three that I know of “official” programs amounting to perhaps 300 titles a year).

Lots more translation would be a good idea. Of economic, political works, sure, but also of just basic novels, not even literary stuff: Barbara Cartland, why not?

Second fact: this ain’t the landless peasants on the move. This is the bourgeoisie, the intelligentsia. Some of whom at least would be capable of perfectly servicable translations back into native languages (with Arabic as the main target). Yes, literary prose and poetry are specialised areas, but general prose ain’t that hard. BiG is a professional here and he might disagree but we’re not talking about contracts, or pharma instructions, just Lee Child, Cartland, Agatha Christie maybe……simple prose.

It strikes me that it should be possible to put something together with that. No, not as a business: there’s no revenue stream from the Arab world side. Not at present at least, any project would be developing the idea of people reading on phones and tablets, not being able to charge (much) for it at present.

The thing is, it is a matter of (minor) public policy to encourage more such translation. And here’s great gobs of unemployed people some of whom could do it.

So, which government would like to cough up the cash to make it happen?

13 thoughts on “So here’s a strange idea”

  1. The absence of a commercial market tells you something, though. Problem may well be demand-side. It is a very different culture.

    One of the big problems with getting translated literature (in the widest sense) in the Arab world is the cost of pervasive censorship. But the other one does seem to be cultural. There is an educated class, of course, but general levels of literacy are low in the big markets: on *official* figures about a quarter of Egyptians and a fifth of Iraqis are illiterate.

    I’ve never seen a translation deal for fiction into Arabic, though non-fiction in some categories – particularly business – does well. The educated class is dominated by empirics: engineers, doctors, business economists – whereas in the West (and developed East) most educated people are not only technical specialists.

  2. Aha, flattery.

    One of the many details that have since disappeared without trace was an admission by de Maziere, 2-ish weeks ago, that 20% of the arrivals are illiterate.

    They are also 75% male so no Barbara Cartland.

    My feeling is, if you wanted to make money and fulfil needs, you should set up iphone-scaled porn sites targeted at them. Perhaps with the odd educational thing (western women expect you to ask first before doing any of the stuff we show here).

    If however you want to take government coin for a make-work programme, you could be on to something, but will have to pay German minimum wage for something you can probably get done better and cheaper somewhere in the Arab world. But who cares about better and cheaper when the taxpayer’s paying?

    Literary translation (except poetry) is the easiest specialism, with ease directly proportional to pretentious highbrowness. You only need a proper QC if you are changing settings, names and so on (which is acceptable and sometimes necessary with entertainment but frowned upon with highbrow stuff). So, you could really hit the ground running with a commission for the complete works of Salman Rushdie. That would be dead easy!

  3. This is the bourgeoisie, the intelligentsia.

    Nah, it’s not: it’s the ones with power, which – like in Russia – is distributed to those young men with physical strength and a penchant for brutality, not those with brains. You might as well have tried flogging Tolstoy to the henchmen of oligarchs in 90s Russia.

  4. guy herbert – “on *official* figures about a quarter of Egyptians and a fifth of Iraqis are illiterate.”

    Which is even more impressive if you think what an effort the Egyptians have put into education since Nasser came to power. One of the problems is that Classical Arabic has such prestige in the Muslim world that the Arabs adopted it as their national standard. Modern Standard Arabic is just updated Classical Arabic with the harder grammar dropped.

    Think what southern Europe would be like if Europe adopted a slightly simplified form of Latin as the standard across the south?

    It means that no Arabs read Arabic because they probably don’t understand. They may be able to puzzle out MSA so that they can pass an exam. But no one speaks it. Across the Middle East, the news is read in MSA, but then every other programme is in the local dialect. The teacher reads the text book in MSA but then explains it in dialect.

    They are all working in what is more or less a foreign language. The best thing anyone could do for the Muslim world is pay someone from each major dialect region to translate pulp fiction into their own dialect using the Latin alphabet – vowels and all. Sure, it would break the political unity of the Arab world but that is hardly a downside for us.

    Bloke in Germany – “One of the many details that have since disappeared without trace was an admission by de Maziere, 2-ish weeks ago, that 20% of the arrivals are illiterate.”

    I am surprised it is that low. Muslim countries have pretty poor figures for literacy but generally the women do worst. No need for a Baby Machine to read.

  5. “They are all working in what is more or less a foreign language.”

    The German-speaking Swiss and the Flemish (not to mention swathes of the Dutch) seem to manage it alright.

  6. Tim, you’re drastically overestimating the easiness of this. You’re insane if you think writing like Christie’s and Child’s is just “simple prose”. There really is a reason why some writers become millionaires and others never even get published. And there’s a reason why half the country don’t earn some extra cash by doing a bit of translation in their free time. Translation is hard.

    we’re not talking about contracts, or pharma instructions, just Lee Child, Cartland, Agatha Christie maybe……simple prose.

    You have this backwards. Yes, contracts and so on have to be incredibly precise and may contain technical terms, so that all has to be done very carefully, but they don’t need to be enjoyable or gripping — and it is writing enjoyably and grippingly where the real art lies. And what good would be a Jack Reacher novel that wasn’t unputdownable? (The new one’s excellent, by the way.)

    Most people write badly and boringly even when expressing their own ideas in their native language.

    Honestly, Tim, you’re a pretty good writer yourself, so I’m very surprised to be reading this from you.

  7. Not really overestimating the easiness of this. I have in fact done it myself….not full translations into English but taking a half done one and turning it into respectable prose. And I’ve discussed it with people currently running the (too small) schemes and we’re agreed, there’s some areas where it is indeed very difficult and others where it really isn’t. Sure, we don’t want some half-literate Ritchie doing it but there’s enough coming through that one can be selective.

  8. abacab – “The German-speaking Swiss and the Flemish (not to mention swathes of the Dutch) seem to manage it alright.”

    They do. But the naive expectation is that if the government provides schools, people learn to read. I know, I know, I am frightfully Middle Class and this is not obviously true (any more) in the UK much less elsewhere.

    But it is interesting that Haiti provides as much education as Italy did in the late 1950s. How is that working for them? It is also interesting that the Egyptians have been providing a lot of education too but their results are so poor. Keep in mind that Nasser introduced free education in 1962. Here we are, over half a century later ….

    The government is responsible for offering free education at all levels. The current overall expenditure on education is about 12.6 percent as of 2007.[2] Investment in education as a percentage of GDP rose to 4.8 in 2005 but then fell to 3.7 in 2007.
    An ethnography study conducted by Sarah Hartmann in 2008 concluded that most teachers in Egypt resort to teaching for lack of better options and because the nature of the job does not conflict with their more important gender role as mothers. The low salaries offered by the public schooling system in Egypt attracts low-skilled employees. A study conducted in 1989 documenting the bureaucracy of the Egyptian Ministry of Education concluded that teachers’ annual salary in Egypt is, on average, $360.[55] A later study conducted in 2011 showed that teachers earn an average annual salary of $460 which is less than half the country’s average annual per-capita income.

    Some around here start throwing accusations of racism around when I point out the obvious, but let me do it again. Institutions are not the same when run by people of very different culture. Most Europeans would think that seven years of compulsory education was enough to teach a pupil to read.

    Yet it isn’t. When the teachers and pupils are not European

  9. So Much For Subtlety

    Mr Ecks – “In one out of five cases it isn’t when they are”

    One out of five is probably roughly the ratio of non-White students in British schools these days.

    Egypt’s literacy rate is given as 72% more or less.

    How much of that is the work of the government?

    According to the Egypt Human Development Report (2005), 58 percent of surveyed families stated that their children take private tutoring. The CAPMAS (2004) survey showed that households spend on average around 61 percent of total education expenditure on private tutoring. In addition, per household expenditure of the richest quintile on private tutoring is more than seven times that of the poorest.[27] Among the issues is the lack of sufficient education in public schools and the need for private tuition. As of 2005, 61-70% of Egyptian students attend private tuition.[52] Other common issues include: theft of public educational funds [53] and leakage of exams.

    So it looks a lot like the Egyptian education system contributes nothing whatsoever to Egyptian education. And yet a third of all students go to university.

  10. If they’re spending that proportion of GDP on education and only paying teachers a dollar a day (no wonder the system is failing the children), there is an enormous amount of graft going on. Shame on them.

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