“Translation does not simply jump from one language to another. It also ‘crosses’ languages in the sense of blending them, as you might cross a bulldog with a borzoi, or two varieties of rose . . . Translation can cross languages that have much in common – for example, English and French – and language that are very distant – like English and Malay; it can span languages that share the same script system (Japanese and Korean) and those that don’t (Japanese and Arabic or German); it can go between dialects (or between a dialect and a language) or between different words of the same language . . . Translation can be done by one person, or several, or hundreds – or by machine. It can be a matter of life or death, as in a war zone; or an ordinary part of everyday existence in a multilingual community.” Matthew Reynolds, Translation: A Very Short Introduction
In short, language-learning and translation skills are vital in our global era. Ever more so for Brexit Britain: as links are severed with Europe, forging new links with faraway foreign countries will become crucial. How ironic that the prevailing mood is so bulldog British, with foreign language learning on a downward slide, and languages no longer being part of the core curriculum for 14 to 16-year-olds. To expect everyone else to speak English, the lingua franca spoken across the world, and no longer be embarrassed by being monolingual, is a deeply arrogant and short-sighted attitude. Language is the means by which one accesses a culture, and is the expression of a culture.
There are oases of hope. Thank goodness for those universities which run language courses and postgraduate degrees in translation – Westminster, Roehampton, SOAS, UCL, UEA and Portsmouth among them.
Britain is part of Europe – like it or not! Border controls do not function when it comes to words since ideas have no borders. Books in translation disseminating knowledge and cultural awareness matter more than ever as prejudice and discrimination make an unwelcome (re)appearance on the Western stage.
As part of the build up to France’s invitation of honour to the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2017, a series of discussion panels – “triangular talks” – were held on Monday 13 March at the French Institute in London. Leading book editors from Germany, France and Britain met to discuss fiction, non fiction and what the future holds. Publishers, translators, agents and scouts packed out the library at the IFRU to hear them. Lucie Campos, Head of the French Book Office, chaired the discussions.
Russia: friend or frenemy? The Ukrainian crisis and Russia’s direct military involvement in the Syrian Civil War are generally reported with an anti-Russian bias. Britain’s phobia has its roots in the 19th century and fear of Russia’s rising power. Today, still, Russia asserting its national interests is presented as an act of blatant aggression. A Cold War mentality lives on. Yet Western militaristic aggression in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya are portrayed as noble moral endeavours, bringing democracy to the unenlightened.
The Sabres of Paradise was first published in 1960, a hundred years after the story it recounts had ended, after the Russian conquest of the Caucasus was at last complete. Nikita Khrushchev was in the Kremlin. President Kennedy was running for the White House. Soviet power was at its height. The republics of the Caucasus were just another comer of the vast Soviet empire cowed into conformity by the brutalities of Stalin. The episode of Imam Shamyl’s thirty-year resistance to Russian expansion − perhaps the most dramatic story ever to emerge from the Caucasus (where dramatic stories are hardly in short supply) − had receded to its rightful place in ancient history. The days of small bands of mountain guerrillas raiding, hostage-taking, hiding up in the thick Chechen forests were long gone; whole divisions being tied down by such tactics was unthinkable in an age overshadowed by nuclear weapons.
Forty years on, the story looks a little different and a lot more relevant; now − post-Vietnam, post-Afghanistan, post-Soviet Union and post-September 11. Who, in 1960, would have dared predict that the heirs of the Red Army − that vast force which had done so much to shape the geo-politics of the late twentieth century, already humiliated by the Afghan mujahideen − should in 1996 be defeated, run out of its own territory by a band of lightly-armed Chechens which rarely exceeded a few thousand in number?