Bridging cultures through translation

The Translation Committee, one of The Omani Society for Writers & Literates, organized a dialogue session last week through visual communication / Zoom platform, entitled “Translation into Arabic: Reality and Challenges’’.

The Committee hosted three local and Arab literary translators: Dr Hilal al Hajri is a poet, translator and academic. Dr Radwan Dawi is a German professor, translator and researcher in comparative German and cultural studies, Mohamed Ait Hanna is a Moroccan writer and translator interested in philosophy, literature and aesthetics.

The session focused on four main themes: 1) A general history of translation, its historical biography. and the most famous translators. 2) The specificity of each language and the challenges faced by the translator when transferred to Arabic. 3) Institutional initiatives in translation, ambitions and future aspirations. 4) The translational future.

The session began with Dr Hilal’s talk about the beginning of translation from English to Arabic since the beginning of Orientalism in the Arab world, specifically at the beginning of the modern renaissance. He was in the reign of Muhammad Pasha in Egypt and the French campaign against Egypt. Missionary campaigns since the 18th century, particularly in Lebanon, have contributed to the translation of the Bible, but orientalists have not established a group of scholars and translators from the country. Dr Hilal stated that the translation of famous literary works such as

Shakespeare’s novels and similar translations began later, not from the beginning.

Dr Radwan says Arabs have not shown much interest in translating German, so Jewish translators have been hired. Instead, some diplomatic missions and individuals took over the translation. Dr

Radwan stated that the first translation gesture was made by the writer May Ziadeh, as she translated a short German novel, and some German writers decided to work on translation, after which the translation of German books increased. He also stated that the Germans worked the theory of translational criticism, and this school belonged to Martin Luther, who translated the Gospel into the language of the people. His main objective was to have all the people fully informed of the Gospel and to receive the Word of the Lord. He also talked about the romantic school, whose motto at the time was that “we must sing our culture to the other”.

Professor Mohamed Ait Hatta said that colonialism had greatly influenced the translation of French in the modern era. He mentioned an important note and said that we must bear in mind that the translation process or translation movement does not come from vulnerable cultures. It is not weak who translate, but on the contrary, strong cultures are the ones that translate. He pointed out that those who believe that translation is a process of dependency have false information that must be corrected. Professor Mohamed continues his talk by saying that colonialism influenced the translation from French, where the translation began for Voltaire and other owners of translation movements.

Dr Hilal says that the most important challenges of translation lie in the type and subject matter of the text, which determines the level of difficulty in translation. Translation of literary texts is more difficult than scientific texts. Literary texts are full of poetic images and feelings that are difficult to convey as they are from one language to another. I personally state that when I translated “The Land of the Sun”, I did not literally convey the original text because I did not find parallel poetic contexts.


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