Saturday, January 15, 2005

Imagine Western Literature Widely Available in Arabic

Something that I see as a strength in the western languages, and particularly in English, is the easy availability of literature, philosophy, and opinion translated from other languages. This is not something that Arabic speakers have. Modern Standard Arabic bears the same relationship to local colloquial dialects as Latin bears to Romantic languages such as French, Spanish, and Italian. Yet those who can understand one dialect cannot understand another. Thus there is no way for them to obtain reliable translations from other Arabic-based dialects, not even to mention from the corpus of western literature.

Srpko Lestaric, in The Arabic Language and Folk Literature: A call for gathering and translating Arab folk tales, asks for folk tales to be sent to him so they can be published in the colloquial language and translated to other languages.

That is good. Communication between arabic cultures would be a plus. But what would be even more amazing would be if Dickens were available in Arabic. Dickens in Arabic (1912-1970) by Nur Sherif has been out of print for 30 years. The Arab intelligentsia understand western technical manuals, but do not understand western literature, poetry, drama, or philosophy written after the Roman period because they have not been translated into their language, so they are too hard for the average Abdul, even one who reads some English, to penetrate.

Imagine the effect of cheap, widely distributed Arabic translations of Dickens, Thoreau, Whitman, Faulkner, the sisters Bronte, T. S. Elliot, Hemingway, Melville, Conrad, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Dumas pere, Cervantes, Malory's Arthurian stories, Machiavelli, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Emily Dickenson, Hardy, Vonnegut, Michener, Aldous Huxley, Ralph Ellison, Robert E. Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, LeGuin, Mircea Eliade, the Brothers Grimm, Anderson's Fairy Tales, Charles Perrault, Clausewitz, Victor Hugo, Mark Twain, Umberto Eco, Freud, Jung, Castaneda, Tolkien, Brunvand's modern FOAF tale books, P. G. Wodehouse and Bertrand Russell. We'll leave William S Burroughs, Henry Miller, James Joyce, Anne Rice, D. H. Lawrence, Harold Robbins and anyone else who was banned in Boston for later.

For now, it is only a germ of imagination. Imagine though, what might happen if it catches on. Talk to me about it. What do you think? What could you do? What resources are available for an effort like this?

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