The 2017 PEN International Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee Conference
On April 26–28, the PEN International Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee (TLRC) met for a conference in Bengaluru, India. As a country with 780 languages, which use 66 different scripts, India was certainly a stimulating and edifying location for furthering the dialogue of this committee. PEN centers from Switzerland, Norway, Kazakhstan, Galicia, Catalonia, the Basque Country, Delhi, Hungary, Belgium, Estonia, Tibet, China, Australia, and the United States were represented, with like-minded Indian writers joining some of the discussions.
The TLRC was founded in 1978 and focuses on supporting translation and marginalized languages throughout the world. This year’s meeting highlighted some of the committee’s recent achievements, including a presentation of the PEN report Culture’s Oxygen: Developing the Minority-Language Creative Writing Industry in Kenya, Haiti, Serbia and Nigeria and a detailed description of the multifaceted process of drafting the 185 measures of the Donostia Protocol to Ensure Language Rights, which involved civil society, non-governmental organizations, and specialists to create this tool for nurturing European linguistic diversity.
Looking forward to the PEN International meeting in Ukraine this fall and the TLRC’s conference next year in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland, Committee Chair Simona Škrabec underscored the goals of urging Google to use more languages in their apps and websites and creating resolutions to foster the literature of displaced communities (such as the Tibetan, Uyghur, and Kurdish), noting that “linguistic persecution is more complicated than persecution for ideas because they involve rights for the community, not just individuals … and resolutions are very important because they set precedent for policy changes.”
As a first-time attender of this annual meeting serving as the American delegate representing our Translation Committee, I was honored to be able to offer an overview of both our accomplishments in furthering literary diversity with the PEN/Heim Translation Fund and the PEN World Voices Festival and the shifting panorama in the United States’ publishing of translations with the rise of Amazon Crossing, to great interest.
The TLRC was very pleased to have PEN America take part in the conference, and it was invigorating and sobering to see the challenges facing other centers. I clearly saw how we at PEN America, as translators, writers, and editors of the world’s most powerful publishing language, can play a greater role in furthering the vital work in defense of linguistic rights that the TLRC is engaged in. I encourage all PEN Members with a passion for these issues to get in touch with our Translation Committee.
Mara Faye Lethem has translated novels by Jaume Cabré, David Trueba, Albert Sánchez Piñol, Javier Calvo, Patricio Pron, Marc Pastor, and Toni Sala, among others, and shorter fiction by such authors as Juan Marsé, Rodrigo Fresán, Pola Oloixarac, Teresa Colom, and Alba Dedeu.