Each year on 30 September, it’s International Translation Day, and a normally rather invisible industry becomes a bit more visible. There is a reason for this very date, as St Jerome, bible translator and patron saint of translators, who translated the bible from Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek into Latin, died on 30 September AD 420. And in case you are wondering about the name: in some other languages, for example in German, Jerome is known as “Hieronymus”.
The importance of translations in an increasingly global world
The world has changed quite a bit since good old Jerome’s time and nowadays a lot more gets translated – we find translations in literally all aspects of our lives and rely on them. Nobody can speak every language! Yes, English is considered the lingua franca of the world, but the majority of the earth population do not have it as their first language and many cannot communicate in English at all.
The changing face of the industry
Within the translation industry, it is often talked about its changing face and this is above all due to the internet with so much more information at translators’ fingertips than in the past. Doing research has certainly become a lot easier.
And then there is CAT, “computer aided translation”, with special software that makes repetitive translation faster – and it works for certain types of texts. The so called translation memories, however, that come with these software programmes, are not extremely useful for book translations, especially not for fiction and the more creative kind of translations will probably never be entirely done by machines.
The role of translators can change even more
As those of you who have read my blogposts in the past already know, I believe that even more change can and should take place in the publishing world, and that is the translator as self-publisher or at least as someone who takes on a more active role than the one we are used to, i.e. dealing with the translation process only, and that’s it.
Translators have certain insights into books that others often do not seem to have. I remember looking at more than one cover of traditionally published books that I translated and thinking it had nothing to do with its content. Once the cover ended up being an ugly old shed which wasn’t mentioned in the book at all. I am not talking about a small publishing house here, but a really big one.
And then the title – a publisher I once worked with chose a title that was in German, “a lake in moonlight” or something along these lines – and there was nothing remotely like that in the whole book either. I questioned this and asked my editor why they wanted this title. The answer was: “It will sell well.” This particular publishing company went bust later, by the way, which might or might not have been a coincidence… Don’t get me wrong, there are many other publishing houses that are doing a great job, especially the smaller ones tend to be very committed to the actual books in my experience, but not everyone is like that.
When things like the examples mentioned above happened to me in the past, I sometimes doubted my own sanity. Did I miss anything? This must certainly be the explanation, I am just a little translator after all, right? Or is it just my personal preference to expect the book cover and title to be at least vaguely about the actual content? Please tell me, if you disagree.
I dare to claim that a translator could have done a better job in these examples, because hardly anyone – apart from the author of course – knows a book extremely well. And translators can also play a vital role in other respects: discovering books that deserve to be translated, but will otherwise not be picked up due to the language barrier, especially into English. So why should translators not self-publish, just like an increasing number of authors?
My own transition from translator to author to self-publisher
I have always talked about more potential flexibility when it comes to the roles of author, translator and self-publisher, and I will start shaking up the roles for myself soon – more about this later.
But for now: happy Translation Day, do whatever makes you happy – I wish you great success!
If you happen to speak German, you may also like to read another article with a different angle for International Translation Day on my blog “London und mehr”.
And see me talking about International Self-Publishing at the Internation Translation Day Event on Friday 2 October at the British Library.