METM13 plenary talk

The translator as Dragoman

Maureen Freely, University of Warwick, UK

When the leaders of an empire stop learning other languages, translators and interpreters gain in power and importance. So it was during the Ottoman Empire. Especially in its last century, it depended on dragomans to conduct its business with Europe. Today, as the Anglophone publishing industry globalises, its mostly monolingual leaders depend on translators in much the same way. Structurally and officially, we remain largely invisible, but we are far more important than we might think, for we are the ones who bring news of other markets and literatures. We know what people are reading elsewhere. We understand elsewhere as our imperials masters never will. And that is why so many of us who translate into English are doing more and more work ‘off the page’. This has been particularly the case in recent years, as the old structures of the Anglophone Publishing Empire begin to teeter and fall. At trade fairs, it is often the translators who have the best overview of the industry. At the same time, those of us with a particular interest in literary translation can (and do) campaign for more and better literature in translation. This, in any event, is the View from London. I suspect that those based elsewhere will have other tales to tell, and I look forward to hearing them.