Inttranews Special Report: Words Without Borders
In a world rife with ignorance and incomprehension of other cultures, literature in translation has an especially important role, hence the value of Words Without Borders. Its purpose is to promote international communication through translation of the world's best writing – selected and translated by a distinguished group of writers, translators, and publishing professionals – and publishing and promoting these works (or excerpts) on the Web. So how does WWB see the future of literary translation, faced with initiatives like Google Print, and growing illiteracy rates? Inttranews decided to find out more…*
How and when was Words Without Borders first set up,
and what are your main objectives?
Inttranews: As the "major" languages spread their influence,
and with the growth in translation technology, is
human translation going to become less important in
As publishers, what are some of the current trends
you see in literary translation?
What should an aspiring literary translator do to
In a recent court case in Germany [see Inttranews
08.02.06], the ruling stipulated that translators
should get a percentage of book sales. How do US publishers
pay translators, and what is your reaction to that
In Europe, with 25 official languages, publishers
often receive state subsidies for translating works
into other languages. Should governments do more in
favour of translation, or should the initiative be
left to independent publishers?
In the current context, such as the Strategic Language
Initiative, is there not a danger that works selected
for translation will increasingly be for their political
content rather than their cultural value?
How does WWB select the works you translate and publish?
Is commercial potential the overriding factor?
Does revenue from translation cover your costs?
According to recent statistics [see Inttranews archives],
the level of literacy is dropping in the Western world.
What can and should be done to change that trend?
What is your reaction to English Only legislation
(which 23 states in the USA have adopted)?
It is estimated that at the present rate, half of
the world's existing 6,000 languages will have disappeared
by the end of the 21st century. Can and should anything
be done to slow that down?
As publishers of translations, what are your feelings
about the Google Print initiative [which aims to put
library content available on-line]?
What has been your reaction to audiobooks? Are they
included in your offer?
As publishers of translations, what are your opinions
and strategy about current web policy to make all
If there is one trait specific to literary as opposed
to technical translation, it is freedom of speech;
that is, to concentrate on form rather than content,
and errors can become more subjective. How is proofreading
performed at WWB?
For more information, please visit: www.wordswithoutborders.org
* The spokesperson for Words Without Borders is Alane Salierno Mason, a senior editor at W.W. Norton & Company, with over sixteen years’ experience in high-quality book publishing; three of the books she published by previously unknown authors in the past four years went on to become National Book Award Finalists. Ms Mason has translated from the Italian for New Directions.
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