New publication: Slávka Rude-Porubská: Förderung literarischer Übersetzung in Deutschland. Akteure – Instrumente – Tendenzen. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2014 (Buchwissenschaftliche Beiträge. 85).

by Corinna Norrick-Rühl, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz


Book cover.

In her dissertation, completed in 2011 and published last year, Slávka Rude-Porubská analyzes the status of literary translation in Germany, looking in particular at actors, institutions and instruments which promote literary translation. The German book market can generally be considered as being open to translations, in particular the literary segment. In 2013, for example, 25.9% of all fiction titles published in Germany were translations from a variety of languages (cf. Buch und Buchhandel in Zahlen 2014, p. 97).

Rude-Porubská begins her study with observations on the lack of previous systematic and empirical research on translations, in particular on translation promotion. She explains the goal of her study and its three subsections. The main objective is to present a survey of the promotion of translation in Germany, starting with a comprehensive overview of the global market for translations as well as the situation in Germany (import and export of literature) in chapter 2, followed by two chapters with a parallel structure: the first (chapter 3) dealing with translation funding and/or promotion and the second (chapter 4) translator funding and/or promotion. Rude-Porubská tells readers that since both topics have not been systematically researched until now, chapters 3 and 4 are mainly descriptive. For these two chapters, she has meticulously compiled data on the main organizations involved in translation/translator funding, their financial possibilities, their structures, programs and characteristics. Her analysis is based on data from the 10-year time period from 1998 to 2008.  2008 is her sample year when she is explaining the funding situation during a typical year.

In her introduction, Rude-Porubská also acquaints her readers with the theoretical background for her study. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Rude-Porubská chooses to base her study on Pierre Bourdieu’s theories of cultural production, capital and his “rules of art”. Bourdieu’s work has become quite popular as a theoretical foothold for book and literary studies scholarship, in particular regarding literary awards (e.g. in Bernhard Dücker’s work within the framework of the German Research Foundation’s SFB 619 Ritualdynamik).

As indicated, chapter 2 is dedicated entirely to the market for translations. On the one hand, Rude-Porubská gives a general overview, discussing the asymmetrical patterns in worldwide translation, with a special focus on the German market and its particularities. For the German market, she presents three case studies: Germany and the Anglophone countries as an one-way street (chapter 2.4.1), the translation of Japanese mangas (chapter 2.4.2) and the relationship between Ukraine and Germany as regards literary translation (2.4.3). Her brief but important observations on the lopsided relationship between translations from and into English proves that there is still much more work necessary to fully understand the worldwide dynamics of translation. English is by far the most popular language of origin for translations into German: In 2013, 69.9% of the translated fiction titles in Germany were translations coming from the English language (cf. Buch und Buchhandel in Zahlen 2014, p. 101). As a side note: it is commendable that Rude-Porubská looks at the USA and Great Britain separately (chapter 2.4.1). The data published by the German booksellers and publishers association in their annual compendium Buch und Buchhandel in Zahlen has not differentiated between translations coming from the USA and from Great Britain since the 1970s (!), which makes work on this important topic more complicated than it should and could be. Overall, in this chapter, Rude-Porubská convincingly highlights the antagonism between the professionalization of literary translation and the – sometimes highly profitable – market for translations on the one hand, and the central role of private and state funding in translation support on the other hand. As Rude-Porubská indicates, this two-sidedness of the translation market – the commercial side of translated mainstream bestsellers vs. the state-funded niche market – has been described by Ernst Fischer and Pierre Bourdieu as well.


The Goethe Institut is an important funding body for translations.

In the following chapter (3), Rude-Porubská attempts to structure and systemize institutions and instruments which promote literary translation in Germany – translation into German (“Importartikel Buch”), but also translation from German into other languages (“Exportartikel Buch”). This is no small task. In chapter 3.4, Rude-Porubská suggests criteria relating to 1) the funding direction (import, export or reciprocal funding), 2) the funding organization (reactive vs. proactive selection) and 3) funding amount/type (organization pays for translation costs in part or full vs. organization pays for additional costs as well such as licensing costs, production or distribution costs). On the basis of these criteria, Rude-Porubská presents a variety of funding bodies which she then analyzes in detailed case studies in chapters 3.5 to 3.8. For example, she considers the Goethe Institut’s funding program(s), which are well-established and well-known, but also more obscure initiatives such as translation support by the Förderkreis deutscher Schriftsteller in Baden-Württemberg. These detailed descriptions are necessary, as she reminds readers, because so far there is hardly any reliable data on translation funding. In chapter 3.9,  Rude-Porubská summarizes her results. With her data, for the first time, we are able to quantify translation funding in Germany reliably. She is able to show that there is a clear preference for export (ca. 1.1 million Euros in 2008) over import funding (ca. 0.5 million Euros in 2008). In 2008, there were two funding bodies involved in reciprocal funding with a budget of approx. 445,000 Euros overall for 2008.

Chapter 4 then deals with the translators themselves, their habitus according to Bourdieu and the role of translation awards and stipends. Traditionally, the act of translation is undervalued in the literary market and translators are marginalized, invisible even. For instance, in most cases, the translator’s name does not appear on the cover of the book. However, in chapter 4.1, Rude-Porubská indicates that both the traditional image and habitus may be changing gradually. As an example, Rude-Porubská mentions the manifold activities of the Freundeskreis der internationalen Förderung literarischer und wissenschaftlicher Übersetzungen, which was founded in 1966 and has initiated translator prizes, stipends and conferences for translators. In 4.2, Rude-Porubská goes on to discuss the socioeconomic situation of literary translators. She shows that literary translators are mostly self-employed and that they must take on large numbers of projects to earn a living income. She quotes translators who explain that they try to find a balance between challenging projects of complicated literary texts (which are incredibly time-consuming and thus not financially viable) and more straightforward pageturners with a clear plotline and a simple language (which are less interesting to translate, but better suited as a breadwinning task). On the basis of data collected by the Verband der deutschsprachigen Übersetzer literarischer und wissenschaftlicher Werke (VdÜ), Rude-Porubská illustrates the financial realities translators face, summarizing the conflict known in Germany as the “Übersetzerstreit” – which is ongoing and resurfaces regularly. In essence, a living income for translators is only possible with third-party funding. However, the Deutscher Übersetzerfonds (DÜF) was not established until late in the 20th century, and most existing prizes for translators similarly have come into being in the past decades only. In chapters 4.4 to 4.8, Rude-Porubská offers detailed statistics on existing translator awards, the average prize money and the sponsors. She goes on to discuss the differences between translator awards (post-publication) and translator stipends, which are sometimes connected to a paid sojourn in a particular city. Finally, she presents a variety of training options for translators, showing how the job has been professionalized over the past decades. In the résumé of the chapter (4.9), Rude-Porubská compares author stipends and awards with translator stipends and awards, giving insight into the value that society places on translation.

In her conclusion (chapter 5), Rude-Porubská once again refers to Bourdieu’s terminology. She considers the influence of translation and translator funding as a market corrective and as a social act, stressing the importance of financial support for a heterogeneous literary market.

In a research area that has been neglected and marginalized for decades, Rude-Porubská’s study is an important milestone. Her approach to systemizing the existing data and making it comparable will be of particular use to other scholars in translation studies, book studies or literary studies. As Rude-Porubská indicates, the data will also be particularly useful to institutions trying to fund-raise for translations and translator support.

Most of the case studies are well-chosen and illuminating. However, some of the smaller case studies may distract readers from the “big picture” of Rude-Porubská’s argument. It would be interesting to see how the 1998 to 2008 data compares to today’s situation – follow-up work is necessary to stay on top of the questions raised. In this ever more globalized world, we cannot afford to let literature get “lost in translation”, and Rude-Porubská’s meticulous groundwork will certainly feed into further studies of translation in Germany and elsewhere.

A table of contents can be downloaded here.


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