Sheikh Zayed Book Award held a seminar about “Translation from and to the Arabic Language” parallel to the Award’s participation in BookExpo America in New York. The event was held at the New York Public Library, one of the leading public libraries of the world and one of the United States’ most significant research centers.
The seminar was chaired by William Rugh, previous Ambassador of the United States to the UAE, with the participation of the seminar’s panelists; Elliott Colla, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Director of Middle East Studies at Brown University; Sa’ad Maslouh, Winner of this year’s Sheikh Zayed Book Award for Translation and Professor of Linguistics at Kuwait University; and Christopher Stone, Associate Professor of Arabic Language and Head of the Arabic Program at Hunter College. Also present were representatives of Arabic Language Studies at universities in New York, in addition to a number of scholars and intellectuals.
Prior to presenting a short film about the Award’s goals and objectives, Dr. Ali Al-Noaimi, member of Sheikh Zayed Book Award Advisory Council, welcomed the Award’s guests and introduced the seminar topic, stressing the translation’s role in disseminating Arab literature globally and encouraging cultural dialogue.
Professor Elliott Colla started the discussion with “Translating the Desert”. He portrayed the major differences between the concepts of the desert in Arabic and Western cultures. He elaborated that the desert in the West is viewed as the dry remote geographical habitat, while it far exceeds this limited definition in Arabic culture. “The desert in the Arabic Culture is the environment of rich varieties and the land of inspiration of poetry and literary writings since ages”, Colla commented. Professor Colla also discussed his personal experience in translating the desert concept as part of his project to translate Ibrahim Al Koni’s novel, “Al Majoos”. He touched on the difficulties entailed in communicating the meaning the text holds while trying to accurately translate the wording the novelist used. He then wrapped up with a debate of how the books translated from Arabic still lacks proper distribution in the United States since, as he put it “American publishers and distributors are still not showing the interest these works deserve.”
Professor Christopher Stone argued the distorted concept of some Arabic translators who focus on international endorsement of their literary writings about Arabic culture instead of focusing on promoting an honest image of such a rich heritage. He also discussed the inaccurate translations of the famous literary legacy, “Arabian Nights”, and made a professional recommendation to encourage the translation projects that truly depict the rich Arabic heritage to the West.
Professor Sa’ad Maslouh concluded with views on the syntactical differences between the Arabic, Russian and English languages. The floor was then open to audience interaction which extended an extra hour due to numerous contributions from the guests.
Sheikh Zayed Book Award also exhibited at the BookExpo as part of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage booth. The international book fair was held from 29 to 31 May, 2009.