FICCI Business Session on ‘Translation -Trends & Opportunities’ @ LBF 2018

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India is a multilingual country with as many as 122 spoken languages. However 22 languages are given the status of official language by Indian constitution. Given the size of the Indian population, each language presents translation opportunities for publishers. At the same time, each language has its own unique literature available for translation in foreign languages.

Focus on the session…

FICCI organised a session on Translation – Trends & Opportunities at London Book Fair. This session explored business opportunities in work of translation for Indian and foreign languaage publishers, focusing on four major topics — economics of translation, scope of translation in India for global players, translation opportunities of foreign languages into Indian languages and preservation and promotional framework of language publishing.

The expert panel…

The moderator to the session was Sumeet Gupta, Senior Director, FICCI while the speakers included Subramaniam Seshadri, Managing Partner & CEO, Overleaf Books LLP; Tina Narang,Publisher – Children’s, HarperCollins Publishers India; Ravi DeeCEE, CEO, DC Books and Esha Chaterjee, CEO, BEE Books.

Sumeet said, “With rich literature in Indian languages, it provides a great opportunity for translation to English and other foreign languages. Similarly, there is a huge market to be explored for the work from other countries to be published in local languages. This is not only a business opportunity, but could also provide tremendous fillip to cultural relations.”

Seshadri said, “Language in politics of social change and as the means of nation building for India is a long debate. Each State Government should offer subsidies to encourage the spread of their local language & literature, which will help in more language translations.” He further said that we should set up an Indian Language Publishing Programme Group or corpus on similar lines of IPG, UK. “This will help collective bargaining of a single work being published in multiple languages. This model can also apply to languages in India as well as Modern Foreign Languages.”

Another important point which Seshadri mentioned was that the mindset is that the prices of the vernacular version should be cheaper than that of its English version. “In order to change this, regional language publishers should increase their prices in order to make the project economically viable. Further, the aim and objective should be to increase wider readership and not be driven by the jargon best sellers,” he shared. “Until recently, writing in regional languages struggled attention in India, overshadowed by English but this is changing. Commercially successful novels in Indian languages are increasingly published in translation,” he concluded.

While, Tina said, “Reading multicultural literature can help children gain a better understanding of people from other countries and ethnic backgrounds. Loaded with cultural nuances, multicultural literature often comes with geographical and historical details as well. Besides being informative, it also heightens a child’s global awareness.Books that take children back to their cultural roots are always valuable as they help them identify family traditions and find answers to why they eat specific foods or dress a certain way.”

Talking about the scope of translations in India, Tina said, “Publishers need to strongly advocate and implement a regular translation of their bestsellers into regional languages.” She also mentioned a few children’s publishing houses in India that actively look at translations of their works in India and abroad. These include Karadi Tales, Tara Books, National Book Trust and Pratham Books to name a few. “Pratham’s StoryWeaver platform carries stories in different Indian and international languages and allows you to create, translate and download stories through the Creative Commons license, so that children can read and enjoy the range of stories available in different languages,” she said.

On asking about translation opportunities of foreign languages into India languages, Tina opined, “The world no longer has boundaries in terms of what is being written and marketed. Stories should and must travel to the global reader, but without losing their essentially local nature. So, publishers have to help establish a strong local identity so that authors and illustrators can embrace this with a greater degree of confidence. Translations help make these essentially local stories travel outside of their place and language of origin. Among the numerous well-known works in children’s literature that have been read in translation are Pinocchio, The Little Prince and Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales.” She also mentioned Judith Kerr’s Classic Picture Book in English, and The Tiger Who Came to Tea, which can now be read in 30 languages.

“For language publishing to be sustainable in the future, schools have to promote these languages as part of their curriculum. There is little sense in focusing on regional language publishing if we are not creating new readers for this niche and under-serviced segment. Schools and teachers have a singular role in introducing children to the nuances of their culture and tradition. This could be done through prescriptive reading. If books that reflect such an ethos are available easily, and schools are proactive in their approach to introducing such books to children, there will not only be a useful preservation of this culture but children will be more receptive to such culture specific books as they grow into adult readers,” concluded Tina.

Ravi informed that there is 100% literacy rate in Malayalam and the culture of book shops is still very relevant and popular and there are 8000 local libraries. He sees tremendous opportunities for translation in Marathi, Bangla and Malayalam. “The language translation in Hindi is growing rapidly. There is also a great opportunity of translation from German/ French to Malayalam,” he said. He gave the example of Paulo Cohelo books. “In the last 40-50 years, translations have been well accepted,” he concluded.

While, Esha started with the statement that 65% of Facebook/social media users like writing in their mother tongue. “Also Bengali is one of the largest translated regional languages in India, with over 250 books till date. But we have our problems.Going by history, Bengalis have always been avid readers and accepters of International Literature (biswa sahitya as we call it). During the Soviet Union, Russia would sponsor trips of the translators to Russia and get their books translated into Bengali. France and China followed after Soviet and during the 50’s there was an overflow of cheap and good translated literature in Bengal. Translators like Nabendu Ghosh, Nani Bhowmik, Subhash Mukhopadhyay and Gopal Halder were well known and houses like Pragati Prakashan, Raduga and Vostok flourished. Then came a time when free translations and funding translators stopped. Bengali market, since then, has seen a decline in publication of international translations because of several factors,” she said.

Talking about translations from foreign languages, Esha added, “One of the key factors was that there was lesser translators to directly understand and translate from the foreign language and simultaneously during the naxal period, very strong Bengali authors writing started getting prominence.” Other problems highlighted by her included problem with payments, rights as well as royalty. “We suggest if there is a one time pay for rights and royalty, then that makes it easier for language publishers. In most cases, rights are bought for a certain number of copies and when those number of copies are sold off, we have to reconsider the terms of payments and contracts. Mostly the books go out of stock for days and then after a while, the title is not printed again.”

She suggested that an organisation of translators and publishers can solve the issues of interlanguage translations in India where language barrier issue will be overcome. “In Bengal, lack of literary agents to pitch new titles and authors for other languages and English is also lacking. Hence Bengali translations to international and regional languages are lesser,” she said. “One of the major problems is that West Bengal losing out on World Bengali rights to Bangladesh. In terms of number of readers, Bangladesh scores over Bengal and that is one of major hindrances. Also Bangladesh has government support as a nation of Bengali speakers, which West Bengal does not,” she added.

Esha also focused on translations in English, which is slowly becoming a bridge language in India. “We are only looking at translations of books which have been translated into English as we can read and understand the story,” she said. She also mentioned that national publishing houses like Westland and Penguin Random House are interested in exploring the regional market now, which shows how important this market is.

All in all, it was a very interesting and thought-provoking session and focused on the nuances, trends and opportunities in the translation segment.

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