Into Arabic: Translation in the Arab World
Did you know that more books were translated into Spanish last year that have been translated into Arabic in the past 1,000 years?* That’s saying something serious about the cultural exchange between Arabia and the rest of the world.
So what’s the significance?
Thousands of books are published every year. Books– and the words therein– represent thinking, ideas, and conversation. Books in translation mark ideas and knowledge transfer across global cultures and communities. Without reading writings from other cultures, we can’t learn their thoughts firsthand, we can only speculate as to their thinking through their actions and policies.
If the Arab world is not translating books, it either means that their people are so proficiently multi-lingual that there is no need (the ultimate cultural connoisseurs) are they are not partaking in the exchange at all.
From common sense, we can legitimately deduce that no world culture today is sufficiently globally literate as to forgo translation.
(* Source. Pictured: Kafka on the Shore, A Briefer History of Time)
The Kalima Project
A translation project in the United Arab Emirates is trying to change this. The Kalima Project, a government sponsored endeavor, recently announced that they will translate, publish, and distribute hundreds of books throughout the Middle East.
Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal asks us to think about what books we would want included to best portray American culture. I can’t help but thinking that’s a little like the question of what to bring to a desert island (seeing as I equate water and books with survival).
Here are the titles on Kalima’s to do list. The first 6 translations are:
- A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawkings
- The Roots of Arab Capitalism by Gene Heck
- Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
- The Future of Human Nature by Jurgen Habermas
- The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzweig
- Il Segno (The Sign) by Umberto Eco
Kalima encourages you to leave your suggestions for future translations (coming soon). I will also be interested in following their discussion board, which is currently under construction.
(Pictured: The Roots of Arab Capitalism)
Curious as to Kalima’s viability? According to a survey by the Next Page Foundation, 75% of literate Arabs are regular readers, with the most bookish among them hailing from Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
You may also be interested in reading about the Next Page Foundation’s Arabooks Iniatives, a translation project whose goals mirror that of the Kalima Project. Look to the link for the foundation’s surveys and findings.
(Pictured: The Future of Human Nature)
All images sourced from Kalima’s website.
If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:
- “The Dialect of the Arab Street” by Elicia Brown for The Jewish Week (an interesting article on modern spoken Arabic)
- “Solving the World One Video Game at a Time: 12 Real Life Video Games You Should Know About” (an article about “serious” video games modeled after real world crises, such as Middle East conflict, that are designed to make users better decision makers through simulated play)
And my series about technology integration in the Middle East and Muslim Countries:
- “Syria Says No to Facebook: Bloggers Talk Back”
- “Facebook in Turkey: What Makes Turkey #1?”
- “Israel Facebook Network Goes Viral: Cultural Reporting from the Front Lines”
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