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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

English and Arabic

posted by on December 11 at 12:55 PM

I. Abu Dhabi.


According to a 2003 United Nations report into human development in the Arab world, more books are translated into Spanish each year - 10,000 - than have been translated into Arabic in the previous 10 centuries. Now this situation is being rectified by the sheikhdom of Abu Dhabi, one of the seven Muslim United Arab Emirates, which last month officially revealed its plans to translate 100 epochal foreign-language texts into Arabic by the end of next year.

Among the first to be translated: Stephen Hawking, Jurgan Habermas, Umberto Eco, and Murakami. Right now, translators are hunched over desks, working on volumes by Milton, Galileo, and co-decipherer of DNA, James D. Watson.

II. England.

Over the last three years, it has been possible to catch the “Chewing Gum Man” at work somewhere in London, crouched on a pavement. From a distance, he could be homeless or a drunk - his coat is spattered with paint - but as you near, you see that he is painting in enamels, with great delicacy, a picture on the discarded gum that litters urban pavements.


Arrested and charged with criminal damage in front of a crowd of horrified tourists, he ended up being punched and dragged across a police cell.

England’s got issues:

Absurd recent examples of how far these [policing] powers stretch include a drunken Oxford student who said a police horse was gay and ended up with an 80 fixed-penalty fine. And the penalty fines handed to wearers of a “Bollocks to Blair” T-shirt. The most egregious instance of this new civic conformity was Tony Blair’s measure to ban political protests within a mile of Westminster.

Back to the artist:

Once at the station, he was told they wanted a DNA sample, which under a 2004 amendment, the police are entitled to take from everyone accused of a recordable offence. Even if the person is never convicted, or even charged, the DNA sits in a national database until they die, or their hundredth birthday. Wilson balked at this invasion of his privacy; he tried to reason with the police, and ended up on the floor being punched, as six or so hairs were taken for the DNA sample. Charges of obstructing police in the course of their duty, and criminal damage, were brought against him and then dropped.

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That whole translation thing used to be something the State Department did. It allowed people to get to know us on a more than superficial level.

Posted by Gitai | December 11, 2007 1:06 PM

The Cato Institute, I believe, does the same thing. At the convention last year, one of the presentations was from a group that a) quoted the same "translated into Spanish" factoid and b) is working on exposing as much Western thought to the Arabic world as possible through translation.

It's a great way to start to penetrate the intellectual wall around some parts of the world, diversity of opinion, etc.

Posted by torrentprime | December 11, 2007 1:19 PM

Is the same thing being done with arabic works into English? Seems that a two way street is necessary to make this worthwhile.

Posted by PA Native | December 11, 2007 1:23 PM

Why not just teach more Arabs to read foreign languages?

Posted by mattymatt | December 11, 2007 1:24 PM

Good job, England. Glad to know that fascism isn't just our problem.

Posted by Greg | December 11, 2007 1:49 PM

imagine the shock when arabs discover that the enlightenment passed them by & their religion is medieval.

why, they might overthrow their corrupt monarchs & establish democracies based on liberty, egality, and fraternity!


Posted by backwoods stupid | December 11, 2007 1:52 PM

So 100 books is going to make up for a thousand years? Right.

There already ARE Arabic books being translated into English -- far more every year than the other way around. There's much less of it, of course; the Arabic intellectual atmosphere is nearly dead.

Posted by Fnarf | December 11, 2007 2:02 PM

That's not Abu Dhabi. That's Dubai, complete with the wonderful Burj Al Dubai Hotel.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | December 11, 2007 2:41 PM

Oooop -- I mean Burj Al Arab Hotel. The Burj Dubai is the new "world's tallest" skyscraper going up there...

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | December 11, 2007 2:42 PM

It's not exactly our job to translate English literature into the Arabic language at taxpayer expense. Really, it's not our fault that hundreds of millions of Arabs with untold billions in petroprofits have zero interest in us or the rest of the world. (Maybe a new reality show would go over better, say, instead of "The Bachelor," "The Honor Killer"?) And yet, for some reason, people here in the U.S. beat themselves up over the fact that Arabs don't give a shit about us. WTF??

Posted by kk | December 11, 2007 9:54 PM

Forgot to say that I wonder whether Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses" was one of the 100? Well, whether it was or wasn't, maybe translation into Arabic is less a panacea than the source of the next fatwa.

Posted by kk | December 11, 2007 9:59 PM

@5 right on... I guess you don't have to carry a gun to be a bully- not that British coppers haven't shot the
"wrong guy" on occasion, too... probably thought they had Banksy, and were gonna get a medal.

@10 I only wish that "hundreds of millions of Arabs with untold billions in petroprofits have zero interest in us or the rest of the world..."- but that's crap. The oil $$ is in very few hands... & the ones that it IS in have a fair grasp of the West... especially since they invest a lot of that money on Wall Street (& bonds here & there). The ones who don't know don't have the money, either- nor the media- but al Jazeera helps some in that regard. Really, if "taxpayer expense" is a major parameter, I'm sure that a week's worth of Iraqi war outlays will cover plenty of translations- AND distribution expenses- and do an even better job of "winning hearts & minds" (like 'we' wanted hearts & minds?.. or just the oil?).
Re@10 sure- "The Honor Killer" might do well... in India & Pakistan... if you can get a distribution deal... ^..^

Posted by herbert browne | December 11, 2007 11:33 PM

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