Translationum & UNESCO Representative Collection

Two interesting resources:

1) Translationum is a list of books translated in the world, or in other words an international bibliography of translations. Translationum was created in 1932 by the League of Nations, and references registered before 1979 can be found in the printed editions of the Index Translationum (available in all National depository libraries and at the UNESCO library in Paris). In 1979 records were computerised and the modern database is regularly updated. It contains bibliographical information on books translated and published in about one hundred UNESCO member states, and now totals more than 2 million entries in all areas: literature, natural and exact sciences, social and human sciences, history, art, etc. International cooperation has made the “Index Translationum” unique. Every year the national libraries or bibliography centres in participating countries send  bibliographical data on translated books in all fields of knowledge to UNESCO (periodicals, articles from periodicals, patents and brochures are not included). Index Translationum celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2012 and on that occasion a debate on its usefulness and future was held at UNESCO’s headquarters.

Poster for 80th anniversary of the Index Translationum

According to the Index the 10 most translated authors are currently: Agatha ChristieJules VerneShakespeareEnid BlytonBarbara CartlandDanielle SteelLeninHans Christian AndersenStephen King, and Jacob Grimm.  The 10 countries publishing the most translations are: Germany, Spain, France, Japan, USSR (to 1991), Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Denmark and China. The top 10 target languages are: German, French, Spanish, English, Japanese, Dutch, Russian, Portuguese, Polish, Swedish, and the top 10 source languages are: English, French, German, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Japanese, Danish and Latin. Many other statistics are available here. So for example if you want to know if such and such an author has already been translated, and if so into which languages, Translationum is the place to go!

In this UNESCO compilation of the most translated authors, the size of the last name corresponds to the number of translations (listed below name). Colour indicates language of original publication.

2) The second resource, also from UNESCO, is their Collection of Representative Works, also known as the Catalogue of Representative Works. This was a direct subsidy translation programme active for about 57 years from 1948 until 2005 when funding stopped. In order to increase cultural understanding and cooperation the aim was to encourage translation, publication and distribution of world literary and cultural masterpieces, primarily from a lesser known language into a more international one such as English and/or French. There are 1060 works in the catalogue from about 80 countries and over 100 languages, around fifty of which were Oriental, twenty European, and several languages and literatures from Oceania and Africa. Some works were also translated into lesser known languages, such as Urdu into Hungarian, or Japanese into Indonesian. Although UNESCO financed the translations and publications, it was not the publisher – books were published as co-editions with publishers from all over the world.

UNESCO headquarters, Paris

The major languages that texts have been translated into, with the number of works translated into that language, are: English (455), French (450), Spanish (71), Arabic (38), and German (25). Authors with a significant number of translations include: Natsume Soseki (11), Yasunari Kawabata (9), Rumi (8), Julio Cortázar (7), Rabindranath Tagore (7), Yukio Mishima (5), and Mohammad Iqbal (5).

Thanks to UNESCO’s efforts – and, of course, to the translators who make it all possible – ideas, information, beliefs and customs can thus be shared around the world.

Further reading:

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4 responses

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