‘UAE becoming capital of translation in Arab world’


SHARJAH: The UAE is establishing itself as the capital of translation in the Arab world, said Philip F. Kennedy, associate professor of Arabic Literature and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies and Comparative Literature at New York University.

“There’s a dearth of translations from Arabic into English,” he said, adding that the project has a focus on pre-modern Arabic texts and making those little-known texts available to English speakers.

He was speaking at a panel discussion at the 3rd Arab Publishers Conference in Sharjah, where internationally acclaimed experts highlighted initiatives that answer the challenges of translation in the Arab world.

Echoing his observation, UAE cultural and media personality Dr Ali Bin Tamim spoke about Kalima, the translation project of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Cultural Authority that he once headed.

“The project worked on supporting the publishing houses and on building relationships with the translators,” he said, adding that the project involved translations from 13 languages and the signing of nearly 1,000 agreements out of which 850 books were already published.

Alexandra Büchler, director of Literature Across Frontiers – a European Platform for Literary Exchange, Translation and Policy Debate, based in Wales, United Kingdom, said that their project aims to support intercultural dialogue through translation.

Büchler added that what is missing is more coordination amongst Arab countries, developing local talent – the translators, a flow of information on who the important authors are and better mobility for translators so that they can internationalise their careers.

Speaking about his experience in the field of Chinese-Arabic translation, Ahmed El Said, director of Bait Al Hikmah for Culture, Publishing, Media and Translation which operates in China, Egypt and the UAE said most of the translation from Arabic is English-centric despite the fact that there are many other widely spoken languages around the world like Chinese.

“Forty per cent of the inhabitants of the world speak either Arabic or Chinese,” he said. He emphasised the important role of governments and gave the example of the Chinese government which has developed a policy to support the translation movement of Chinese books.

El Said said the crisis of translation in the Arab world is summarised in three points: “What do we translate? Who translates? Who reads?” “Translators in the Arab world have a main challenge of translating between two languages that they don’t speak. I translate from Chinese, which is not my mother tongue, into classical Arabic which is not a language that I use on a day-to-day basis,” he said adding that classical Arabic is going through a crisis and must be protected.
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