Jonathan Wright explores the odd case of Arabic literature; written in a language that few people speak, with a morphology that has hardly changed for more than a millennium
This is an online event hosted on Zoom. Bookers are sent a link in advance giving access.
Jonathan Wright draws on his own experience as a translator of contemporary Arabic fiction to examine and critique the assumptions that underpin a corpus of literature written in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), a language that no living person speaks as their mother tongue.
This is the annual Saif Ghobash Banipal Translation Prize Lecture.
What are the consequences when the literary establishment tries to maintain a prescriptivist stranglehold over modes of creative expression? Are the guardians of language even right when they claim to be preserving an immutable standard? The reality is that Arabic has changed and continues to change, but MSA remains very different from the language people speak at home and sing in when they are sad or in love. How do creative writers operate in such an environment? And how long can the conservatives hold out against the intrusion of colloquialisms they consider vulgar? When the literary cultures of the source and target languages are so different, the choice of texts and the way they are handled is bound to be contentious, especially given the imbalance of cultural power. In translating these works, how many concessions should translators make to a literary tradition that may owe much to contemporary elitism, not just to the fifteen centuries of diverse literature written in Arabic?
Jonathan Wright studied Arabic at Oxford and worked as a journalist for Reuters for many years, mostly in the Arab world. He turned to literary translation in 2008 and has since translated more than 20 novels and other books, as well as dozens of short stories. stories. He translated novels by Hassan Blasim, Ahmed Saadawi, Saud Alsanousi, Sinan Antoon, Mazen Maarouf, Amjad Nasser and others. He has won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize.
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