In an age focused on all things global – it’s instructie to see who are the most global authors in terms of their work being translated into other languages. UNESCO’s 2008 index of translations, published annually and called the Index Translationum, provides an interesting look at the leaders.
First a little background. The Index Translationum is a list of books translated in the world, i.e. an international bibliography of translations. The Index Translationum was created in 1932 and this year is celebrating its 75th anniversary.
The database contains cumulative bibliographical information on books translated and published in about one hundred of the UNESCO Member States since 1979 and totals more than 1.800,000 entries in all disciplines: literature, social and human sciences, natural and exact sciences, art, history and so forth. It is planned to update the work every four months.
You can view the Global 50 on the UNESCO site. The Old and New Testament and Walt Disney are at the top of the list. No surprize there. Among individual authors, Agatha Christie leads the pack, ahead of such notables as Shakespeare and lmost double the next closest author. Despite the immense popularity of the Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling hasn’t yet made the top 100 showing she is still primarily an English phenomenon.
English was by far the top original language from which translations were made. Approximately 50 percent of all translations are from English into another language. The top 10 target languages for translation were, in order: German, Spanish, French, English, Japanese, Dutch, Portuguese, Russian, Polish and Italian.
Harry Bingham, of the Financial Times of London, provides a good analysis of the index in his post Strong Language. In particular, he notes some of its flaws. For example:
- It doesn’t take into account sales volume and generally underweights the importance of authors who write only a few books that sell many copies – e.g. J.K. Rowling.
- The index also pays little heed to the stature of a writer – e.g. on the list, Barbara Cartland ranks ahed of Shakespeare despite the quality of her writing.
- The index was created during a period of American hegemony in the book publishing world. Hence the strong showing of American authors and works translated from English to other languages.
- Some institutions are included in the list that may not deserve a ranking based on UNESCO’s methodology - e.g. the Roman Catholic church.
However, these issues aside, the index is an interesting read and provides one proxy for how global book publishing and reading is evolving.
- The Growing Influence of Non-traditional Book Sales Channels
- The End of Influence as We Know It
- Fear and Loathing in Frankfurt
- The Uncomfortable Evoloution of Book Reading
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