Month: January 2018


About this project

This website is part of a multi-piece dissertation project for my University of Washington PhD in Hispanic Studies. The overall goal of the project is to demonstrate the importance of literary translation as part of a cross-departmental research and practice activity at a major institution of higher education such as the University of Washington. Literary translation studies programs are common among European universities, but are also growing across the U.S. in response to an increased interest in world literature brought about by globalization and digital technology. The best of these programs are also often models of public scholarship, a movement that acknowledges and advocates for stronger ties and collaboration between academia and the public. I envision this website as part of hub, or community interested in the literature of Spain and its journey into the English language and marketplace.

About me

I have spent most of my career as a journalist, editor and digital media professional, along with journalism teaching and consulting. I enjoyed a long career at Reuters as a foreign correspondent then as an innovator with the Reuters NewMedia team in the early days of online news development. I am fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, which led to wonderful opportunities to live and work in Spain, Panama, Mexico and Brazil. Literary translation was a hobby for a long time, but I have chosen now to make it my second career. My translations of Spanish poetry have been published in print and online literary magazines. I have self-published a collection of translated prose essays. I am fascinated by how technology has opened the field of literary translation – and publishing – to new voices and participants by allowing for global distribution and marketing. I believe in the power of communities – on campus and off, online and in-person – to collaborate to explore questions and answer them.

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Why Literary Translation Data Matters

By Katie King
Seattle, February 1, 2018

In my informal surveys, friends and colleagues frequently say they don’t read literature in translation. “So, you’ve never read the Bible?” I respond. “Or The Ugly Duckling? The Three Musketeers? Crime and Punishment? One Hundred Years of Solitude? Anna Karenina?”  By this time, they are holding up their hands in surrender, acknowledging yes, yes, in fact they do read literature in translation. But they do so without realizing it.

And that’s the problem that I, along with an increasing number of researchers, am studying. How did that masterpiece of literature – originally published in a non-English language – arrive in the reader’s hands? What decisions along the way affected how it was chosen, how it was translated, how it was published and promoted to come to the reader’s attention? This question is increasingly important in a digital century where a globalized economy and technology collude to provide opportunities and challenges for new literary voices to be heard in English. The answers to these questions matter because the literature we read helps us understand the world around us, molds our views of the nation and culture where it was written. Even the simplest outline sketch of the figure of Don Quixote de la Mancha is instantly recognizable as a symbol of Spain. For centuries this classic of world literature has – for better or worse – shaped readers’ views of the Spanish culture and character. Thus, research into the whys and hows of literary translation is crucial to helping scholars understand the influence of great fiction and poetry. Edith Grossman, the American scholar of Spanish literature and renowned translator from Spanish to English, has written eloquently and persuasively about this in her book Why Translation Matters. “The free, essential exchange of literary ideas, insights and intuitions – a basic reciprocity of thought facilitated and enhanced by the translation of works from other cultures – is a decisively significant, even defining phenomenon.”

If we agree that translation matters, then access to reliable literary translation data matters as well.
But there is no agreed method for consistent, detailed tracking of literature in translation to English. Even with the world’s most robust research institutions – the Library of Congress, UNESCO’s Index Translationum, the British Library and WorldCat, the global database of books —  it is difficult if not impossible to get full, reliable data on translated works.

Why not?

Publishers don’t always record and report the all the details about the original work, such as its title, original language, ISBN, edition, publisher, place and date of publication, whether it’s fiction, poetry, drama, or the page count, according to an eye-opening report called “Three Percent? Publishing data and statistics on translated literature in the United Kingdom and Ireland,” published by Literature Across Frontiers. Sometimes, not even the name of the translator is recorded. This is the single most important barrier to accurately tracking literature in translation, the report notes. If the information is not recorded at the source, or not passed on by the publisher, then it’s not available to the commercial metadata services providers such as Nielsen BookData (U.K.), Bowker (U.S.) and BDS (Bibliographic Data Services), that in turn supply publishing data to libraries and the publishing industry.

The report’s author Dr. Jasmine Donahaye declares: “This cannot be emphasised strongly enough: in order for the kind of comprehensiveness of detail on translation such as translator name, original language and original title to end up in the cataloguing records of any publicly accessible database, the publisher must supply such data with their advance information to metadata suppliers such as Nielsen and BDS (or to their distributor if their contract specifies),”(Donahaye 15).

Why wouldn’t a publisher include all the data?

In most cases, it’s a resource issue. Most publishers of translated literature are small, non-profit and funded by grants from governments and private foundations. They don’t have the time, money or people resources to take care of everything so some tasks are jettisoned, Donahaye found. Her research shows that the data forms that publishers must fill out for each book are complex, time consuming or cost more. Accurate reporting of translations relies on publishers filling in the forms accurately.

“Tracing the way back along the data trail reveals, therefore, that the quality of data on translation begins and ends with the publishers themselves.” Donahaye writes. Her survey reveals:

• 100% of respondents provided the translator’s name to Nielsen
• 75% provided the original language
• Only 38% provided the original title and date of publication
• Only 13% named the original publisher

Donahaye proposes a series of changes in the U.K. publishing industry to improve this data collection. Her suggestions include 1) academia and publishers collaborating on a model like  Chad Post and the University of Rochester’s Three Percent Database, 2) advocating for an industry-wide agreement for publishers to report more detailed data to commercial data providers and 3) calling on commercial data providers to simplify and remove cost barriers to translation reporting for publishers.

A look at the data that IS available indicates that publication of literature in translation is experiencing a period of enormous growth. One analysis of the British Library translation data shows that the number of literary translations per year in the UK and Ireland grew 88 percent between 2000 and 2014. The report in Literature Without Borders, called “Publishing translated literature in the United Kingdom and Ireland 1990 – 2015 statistical report update,” was prepared by data researchers sorting, filtering and analyzing the raw data from the British National Bibliography (BNB). The Three Percent Database shows a 45 percent increase in the number of translations per year between 2008 and 2017 in the United States.

What is the Three Percent Database and how is it compiled?

Created by publisher, editor and translation specialist Chad Post under the auspices of the University of Rochester in New York, this database is unique in the world of publishing. The name refers to industry statistic that only three percent of published books in the U.S. are translated, a small number compared to non-English speaking countries. Post created the database on his own and updates it several times a year by hand, by himself, with occasional help from graduate students. He makes the data available to the public for free in the form of spreadsheets posted on his website. He culls the data from publishers catalogs and from information emailed or sent to him from publishers, industry peer groups such as the American Literary Translators Association and Publishers Weekly, which has just launched a searchable online version of the entire Three Percent Database on its site. Post believes he captures 98% of published literature in translation in the U.S. and he has been doing it consistently since 2007. The data is updated about at least twice a year.  He calls this work a labor of love. But it is a lot of labor. In order to make the task manageable, from the beginning he has limited the amount of data he collects.

It includes, according to his website:

“Original translations of fiction and poetry published or distributed here in the United States. By “original,” we’re referring to titles that have never before appeared in English (at least not in the States). So new translations of classic titles aren’t included in our database, and neither are reprints of previously published books. Our focus is on identifying how many new books and new voices, are being made available to English-speaking readers.”

I spoke by phone to Post in the summer of 2017 to understand some of the details of how he works.

“Published” in the U.S. means all books available for acquisition in the U.S., including for example acquisition by libraries. It also includes books available on Amazon through normal channels, and available for book stores and libraries. If the book is on WorldCat, he includes it.He said the following ARE included:

  • All literature, including genre literature
  • Children’s chapter books. He has been tracking children’s picture books but does not yet publish the data because it isn’t clear enough yet. He currently has 364 translated children’s picture books in his database.
  • eBooks and self-published books (he says there are fewer than you think). For example, my self-published translation of Luis García Montero’s A Form of Resistance is in the database. One major self-publishing translator included in the database is (Mr.) Kerry Alistair Nitz in Texas who translates from German, Post said.

The Three Percent Database compiles 12 important data points, including the translated version ISBN, title, author name, translator name, publisher, genre, price, publishing date, original language, original country, additional translator or author information, author gender and translator gender. The well-considered inclusion of important details such as genre, gender and book price from the beginning make the decade-long data set extremely useful to understanding trends in translation publishing. As an example, 10 years ago more women translated Spain’s literature into English, while men dominated the author category. Men still lead in the author category for Spain, but now as many men as women are translating.

NOT included in the Three Percent Database (for now):

  • New translations of previously translated works, including classics such as Don Quijote de la Mancha and popular works by authors such as poet and playwrite Federico García Lorca who is constantly being translated.
  • Audio books, as the assumption is they are tied to their print edition. Audio books do have their own ISBNs, but for now they aren’t in the database.
  • Plays, screenplays, music lyrics, subtitling for movies, series and games, anime and comics.
  • Major U.K. publications if there is a separate U.S. version.
  • Original ISBN
  • Original title
  • Original publisher, publishing date, publishing city
  • Original edition number of pages
  • More detailed genre reporting beyond fiction and poetry (Literature Across Frontiers surveys show children’s literature in translation is equal to poetry in number of publications.)

In sum, the Three Percent Database is a unique global resource whose value is recognized by publishers and scholars around the world. But the limitations in complete and up to date translation data still exist.

For my dissertation project, I propose that peer sourcing with websites like my Voices of Spain in Translation in combination with data providers such as the Three Percent Database  is one way to continue to improve the data. I will be writing more about this in further posts.

One goal of this project is to develop an ongoing discussion on how to improve the situation.

Works Cited

Donahaye, Jasmine. “Three Percent? Publishing data and statistics on translated literature in the United Kingdom and Ireland.”  Literature Across Frontiers: Making Literature Travel. Mercator Institute for Media, Languages and Culture, Aberystwyth University, Wales, UK (2012): 1-50. Web.

Grossman, Edith. Why Translation Matters. New Haven [Conn.], Yale University Press, 2010.

Post, Chad. Three Percent Database, University of Rochester. Retrieved  January 7, 2018. Web.

Trentacosti, Giulia and Nicholls, Jennifer. “Publishing translated literature in the United Kingdom and Ireland, 1990 – 2015: Statistical report update.” Literature Across Frontiers, Mercator Institute for Media, Languages and Culture, Aberystwyth University,Wales, UK (2017). Web.

 Additional Reading

Büchler, Alexandria and Trentacosti, Giulia. “Publishing translated literature in the United Kingdom and Ireland 1990 – 2012 statistical report.” Literature Across Frontiers, Mercator Institute for Media, Languages and Culture, Aberystwyth University, Wales, UK (2015): 1-24. Web.

Cronin, Michael. Translation in the Digital Age. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon; New York: Routledge, 2013. Print. New Perspectives in Translation Studies.

Dolmaya, Julie McDonough M. “Analyzing the Crowdsourcing Model and Its Impact on Public Perceptions of Translation.” Translator 18.2 (2012): pp. 167-91. Web.

Simon, Sherry. Gender in Translation: Cultural Identity and the Politics of Transmission. London and New York: Routledge, 1996. Print. Translation Studies (London, England).

Read next post: “Whither Hispabooks?”

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