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Translation and Literary Development
IN THIS YEAR’S National Book Awards given by the Manila Critics Circle (MMC), the importance of translation was again emphasized. Three books of poetry which otherwise would have been disqualified for the awards were included in the final list because they had English translation from their original Bicol and Pangasinan texts. The MCC is constrained to consider only entries in English and Filipino, and this works of course to the disadvantage of books done in other Philippine languages. Here is where translation does a big service for the dissemination and popularization of regional literature.
Indeed, no less than the institutionalization of translation as an adjunct to creative writing must be a priority of government and private agencies concerned with our literary growth. Regional writings are limited in audience—those not familiar with their languages cannot enjoy them. Linguistic outsiders, for instance, are prevented from savoring the beauty of poetry and fiction done in Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a, Cebuano, Bicolano, and Waray. With translation, these works will enter the realm of a common language familiar to a large segment of readers. In this way, regional writers will not only breach the walls of insularity but also attain a national exposure, thus enabling them to enter the literary mainstream. For instance, I can appreciate Adonis Durado’s new book, Dili Tanang Matagak Mahagbong/Not All That Drops Falls (Cebu City: Asteismus, 2008), because all the poems in the original Cebuano therein have translations in English by Merlie M. Alunan. At the same time, English versions of outstanding works can compete in the international market.
The lamentable thing, however, is that not much attention is given to translation at the present time. That it has not yet developed into a profession reflects its marginal importance. In other countries, translators are paid substantial amounts to translate classic and popular works. Without them, we would not enjoy Homer, Dante, Virgil, Garcia Marquez, Allende, Kawabata, Saramago, and Reverte, among many. The Holy Bible, of course, is universally read in translation. In our case, we continue being ignorant of writers from other regions of the country because we cannot read them in the original and there are no translations of them in either English or our own language. As a result, we know more about writers from other countries because they are available in translation.
To institutionalize translation is to professionalize it, to make it a source of decent livelihood for the committed translators. This involves a continuing financial support for translators and the publication of translations. Translation bureaus and translation organization, public and private, should be established to take the lead in this matter.
Inclusion of translation courses in the tertiary level would be a strong impetus for those inclined to take translation as a career, for then they could have the proper training and degree. Writers’ organizations could help encourage excellence in translation by offering yearly prizes or awards to the best translations in fiction, drama, and poetry. The National Commission for Culture and the Arts has taken the lead in this matter. It continues to give a competitive grant for translation, but one grant is meager considering the many good regional works published or produced annually. If literary translations are done on a large scale, there is no reason why our local writers cannot attain international reputation. If they are any good, readers outside the country would be eager to get hold of their writing, in the same manner that we are eager to read the good writers of South America or of France in translation. We need not write in English to be read outside our country; but we need to be translated.
The mistaken notion that our literatures in English is more advanced than our regional literatures has worked to the disadvantage of the latter. In truth, the former is only more popular because it is written in a universal language. Also, though our writers in English have long enjoyed this advantage, they have not been able to gain significant entry into the house of universal literature. But there are outstanding regional writers who may be able to do that. There might be something in the ingredients and flavor of their product that might appeal to outside world. All that they might need is to be translated into other languages. At the very least, translations can be a vital link between the various components of our multicultural and multilingual society, reducing the tension and stress brought about by regional differences.
– from the Breaking Signs by Cirilo F. Bautista (Philippine Panorama, 14 Dec. 2008)
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A Tao 道 Sign
Santiago B. Villafania, a bilingual Filipino poet who writes in English and in his native language of Pangasinan, is the author of poetry collections Bonsaic Verses (2012), Pinabli and Other Poems (2012), Malagilion: Sonnets tan Villanelles (2007), and Balikas na Caboloan (Voices from Caboloan, 2005) published by the National Commission for the Culture and the Arts (NCCA) under its UBOD New Authors Series. He has been published in several countries and translated into several languages. Villafania is one of the 11 Outstanding Pangasinan conferred with the 2010 ASNA Award for the Arts and Culture (literature) during the first Agew na Pangasinan and also the 430th Foundation Day of the province on April 2010. He is a member of Philippine PEN writes a regular weekly column for the Sunday Punch.