A SHORT visit to bookstores in Asia will show shelf upon shelf of English books translated into the native languages. The Kinokuniya Bookstore branches in Japan as well as in Southeast Asian capitals boast of thousands of books translated into Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia.
Gone are the days when one’s nationalism as a country and people was measured only if one wrote in one’s native language. Translation has opened a world of information and knowledge for the Asian reader — and the Philippines should follow in the footsteps of its Asian neighbors.
Language is an expression of one’ culture, society and beliefs. One can learn more about cultures and begin to see the world through their eyes through translation.
Translation goes beyond changing the words from one language to another. Its root word means “to ferry across,” or to bring someone from one destination to another, across the water. Thus, translation builds a bridge between different cultures and countries. It allows the readers to experience cultural phenomena that would be too foreign to grasp through their cultural lenses.
One’s native tongue is the language one understands best. One’s first emotions and concepts were first felt and learned in this tongue. Some linguists contend that “No matter how perfect your other language skills become, there will never be a language you understand better than the one you’ve known the longest. Therefore, receiving information in this language is essential, as it helps you avoid miscommunication. And this is precisely what translation does for you.”
The spread of literature stands upon translation. The life and works of the late National Artist Rolando S. Tinio is most instructive. He translated foreign poems and plays into Filipino and produced the plays at Dulaang Filipino as well. His thinking, controversial more than 30 years ago when nationalism held sway, was that Filipinos should be exposed to the “best” in world literature. And not just literature written in English, but also in Spanish, Japanese, Tamil, Chinese, French, German and other world languages.
He translated pop songs from English into Filipino and the iconic Celeste Legaspi recorded them in a landmark album. He wrote Filipino songs for the Catholic Mass, songs that are still sung to this day. He even translated operas by Puccini and Verdi into Filipino, and showed them onstage. The University of the Philippines Press and Anvil Publishing have come up with printed copies of his translations. The Ateneo de Manila University Press has published his Collected Poems.
Moreover, translation is also important in media. Korean cinema captured the attention of the world through well-produced films done in subtitles. Japanese novels — in English translation — are now the rage in the world. There is a huge market for Filipino translators for Netflix. Moreover, the use of Filipino on TV news programs, begun 30 years ago, has brought the country in closer communication with each other. Our hope is that translation will also now be used to combat the spread of fake news in the land, most especially seen on YouTube and TikTok videos.
We want to note the rising number of translated books in the Philippines from our publishers. Savage Mind of Naga City as well as Ateneo de Naga University, Lampara Books, and National Book Store have launched books of translations. We hope that the Surian ng Wikang Filipino will continue its task of publishing world literature translated into Filipino. The Manila Critics Circle is now combing through the best books of 2022, to come up with a shortlist by January 2023 of the best in Philippine writing.
All then is not lost in the world of words. The cavemen survived because they told stories every night around the campfire. We survived Covid-19 because we watched shows on Netflix and YouTube as we waited for the vaccines to come. Culture is not just for the elite then; it is for everyone, and translation is one vital part of cultural work.
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