July 6, 2009

What we’re reading... English it would seem

In a op-ed piece about supply versus demand for translated books in the Freakonomics column in the NY Times over the past weekend, users debated the choice between reading a good translation in a non-native language (for example, a native Swede choosing to read a novel in English and not the translated edition) or suffering through a bad translation in their native languages.
Column readers—native French, Dutch, German and Portuguese speakers to name a few of the international languages represented in the comments—wrote that they preferred to read books in English (either as a translation or as the original text).
In terms of why users believed so many chose to read in their non-native tongue, most were of the opinion that many literary translations are poor in quality. The only exception mentioned was literary translation into English.
There was a certain consensus that the big issue is economical. Some pointed out that literary translation—unlike commercial translation jobs, especially in specialized fields—is fairly underpaid. Meanwhile, the English-language market for literary translation is one of the largest, and as such more competitive, which leads to better translations, compared to other languages.
Two other reasons were: translations into less massive languages (in terms of print runs and readerships) tend to be more expensive than the edition in English and the second reason cited was that they tend to come after the English-language translation is available.

(Kevin Burns Collison, in North American Business Development for Translatus, alerted us to this story.)