Great Literature in 'small' languages in the Mediterranean area (catalan translation)

Mallafrè, Joaquim

Some languages in Europe are probably in danger even when they are official languages in their respective countries. English is being used more and more for a wider and wider range of purposes, and may undermine local languages in several fields.
But when we talk of "small" languages, we think, first of all, of "regional" languages without a State behind them. Without a State (which not only allows languages to develop but gives them particular encouragement in the fields of education, civil services, media and public relations), a language languishes and may easily be reduced to folklore or pass away altogether, especially in a world that is going global, and in which the number of languages used in the next century is liable to be drastically reduced. For if it is true that a language cannot live without speakers, speakers alone cannot guarantee its survival if there is no social and political structure to back it, to render it useful in a competitive world. In different ways Latin and Esperanto illustrate this. Pride in one's language goes hand in hand with personal involvement and experience of life in a social environment, and also with prospects of future and usefulness.
Latin disapeared as a living language with the decline of the Roman Empire. Its survival in the learned world until quite recent times was due to its acting as a fixed, useful lingua franca for political and scientific purposes. It did not hinder the development of "national" languages, though, and they found their place as States firmly established themselves, and their power and influence grew.
Esperanto could be a good tool of universal understanding but, till now, it has neither attracted enough users nor conquered enough personal or political allegiances.
Nowadays the survival of a language is not bound necessarily to having a State, but as there is more than one language in most European States, a recognition of this multilingualism within a State leads to policies that allow both public and private use.
Catalan is an outstanding example of a minor language that is struggling not only for survival but for full recognition and normal, everyday use, for all purposes in its territories. It is not an easy matter and if there are reasons for hope, there are also reasons for some fears. But according to many sociolinguists, Catalan fulfils the seven conditions necessary for the survival of a language1.

1) A relatively large community of speakers. About ten million people live in the Catalan-speaking countries, an area of about 60,000 square Kms. (larger than other countries in Europe such as Denmark, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Albania, Slovakia, Luxemburg, not to speak of some new countries, like the ones which have risen from the former Yugoslavia). Switzerland, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Eire, Albania, Luxemburg and Iceland have a smaller population. Numbers should not give rise to excessive optimism, though. But even considering the fact that not all the people that live in the area have Catalan as their everyday language, the community seems to be large enough.

2) Self-awareness as speakers of the language. Again, it is difficult to measure self-awareness and linguistic loyalty. Yet, in spite of political dependence and difficulties in leading a normal life for all purposes, Catalans have kept their language in as many fields as possible. The pressure of an official language and new cultural trends in modern times may have lessened self-awareness, but there remains a substantial awareness of the historical importance of Catalan and the possibilities of its future.

3) A favourable political, legal, economic and social context. If the Royal Chancery acted as a unifying force in the Middle Ages, in modern times, political possibilities have favoured the Catalan revival. The Mancomunitat (Union of the four provinces in Catalonia) did the same, to some extent, at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, a democratic Constitution recognizes the Catalan personality, even though it splits it into different communities (the autonomous governments of the Generalitat de Catalunya, the Generalitat Valenciana and the Consell Interinsular in the Balearic Islands). The devolution of some power in the fields of education and law, and a spirit of enterprise allow some hope on this point.

4) Little dialectal variation. The different dialects of Catalan are not so different as not to be fully understood. Written Catalan has been unified since the Middle Ages and remains substantially so in spite of some recent attempts at linguistical secession in València.

5) A consolidated normative standard. A normative standard, allowing some regional varieties, has long been established and generally accepted in Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and València. The Institut d'Estudis Catalans acts as an academy for all Catalan-speaking countries, although in France's Catalan region it really only affects the university. In Andorra, where it is the only official language, Catalan is conveyed through the cultural institutions, and in the Balearic Islands through the University, whose advice is followed by the local governments for educational and administrative purposes. Only in València is there some divorce between the universities, which follow the common norm, and the political authorities that do not always agree with the university or among themselves.

6) Tradition as a language of culture. Catalan has a rich literature, and translation has an important place in Catalan tradition, as we are going to see in some detail. But it is important to stress that its production extends to fields other than literature: philosophy, religion, law and science have been conveyed through Catalan from the Middle Ages, with ups and downs, but ever increasing in modern times. Translation has helped to create a European culture from the Catalan personality. It is not only that many linguistic expressions respond to common roots and needs and find an easy equivalence, but there is, too, a fundamental unity, which arises from the Classical and Christian heritage, revisited by European culture. The Jewish and Muslim influence in our lands is not to be forgotten either. So, there is a common polis, shared by Catalan, among the European diversities and languages.

7) A structure different from the language of the State, but not so different as to make its learning difficult. A Romance language, Catalan has many traits in common with Spanish and, after so many years in which Spanish was the only official language allowed, it is known by everybody. And Catalan may be easily learnt by Spanish speaking people living in Catalonia.

Now that we have provided a view that allows us to face the next millennium with a hopeful heart as far as Catalan is concerned, let us concentrate on translation, which has played an important role in the shaping of Catalan as a language of culture. Literature is a pleasure and a source of knowledge. We do not know enough languages to read works in the original. How could we read Homer and Virgil, Shakespeare and Cervantes, Proust, Goethe, and The Arabian Nights? There are great books in more languages than we can reasonably be expected to master. But it is not only a question of personal pleasure or learning. Embodying foreign masterpieces in our language is a way of strengthening it, of making it able to express the subtleties of art and thought, of making it respectable among other languages of culture. This is something the history of Catalan translation has tried to do through the ages. Let us take a look at the main lines of this history.

Translation in the Middle Ages.
The first documents written in Catalan, in the 12th century, were translations. Law and religion, not literature, were their first concern and these two disciplines helped form a sense of belonging to a community that expressed itself in Catalan. The classics, the only "great" literature recognized as such at the time, began to be translated in the pre-Renaissance period. From the mid-fourteenth century a group of translators formed among the administrators working for the Catalan Royal Chancery. Thanks to their official employment, these translators used a partly standardized Catalan as their target language. The court was interested in "the stories of the Greeks" they had heard about through French translations, and Titus Livius, mentioned as early as 1315, was translated in 1383, and so were Ovid and Seneca a little later.
There was a French influence behind the Breton cycle: we know of some translations of the Taula Rondona (1356), Lancelot (1362) and La Questa del Graal (1380).
The Italian connection led to a Catalan translation of Petrarch just a few years after his death. In 1388 Bernat Metge translated an episode from the Decameron working from Petrarch's Latin version. In 1429 Catalan became the first language in Europe to receive a version in verse of Dante's Commedia, translated by Andreu Febrer. The same year saw a complete Catalan translation of Boccaccio's Decameron carried out by the monks of Sant Cugat. Boccaccio's Corbaccio had already been translated by Narcís Franch before 1397. The so-called "Valencian prose" in the 15th century was basically the result of translation.

The Modern Period. Classics and Moderns.
From the sixteenth century, written Catalan lost ground to the hegemony of Spanish. Thus, we find practically no translations into Catalan for a period of some three centuries. The language was used in some reworkings of knightly epics, in religious and educational works, and in plays that, especially from the end of the eighteenth century, tended toward parody or free adaptation for the common people. Popular theatre was particularly important in Rosselló (the northern part of Catalonia, now part of France), where Molière and Racine were translated into Catalan. In Rosselló, as in Menorca when it was held by the British, foreign influences brought in Neo-Classicism.
Political and linguistic awareness of Catalan was stirred up by European Romanticism and the idea that a mother tongue should also be a national language. This inspired the Catalan Renaixença or Renaissance, officially initiated in 1833 when Bonaventura C. Aribau published his poem Oda a la pàtria. An increase in literary production, prior to any attempt at translation, led to the belief that Catalan should be recuperated and that the language would be able to extend the autochthonous culture by incorporating great literature in all genres.
Part of Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata was translated in 1845 and Heine's Lyrisches Intermezzo in 1895. Chateaubriand's René was translated in 1881. Rigorous translations for the theatre also appeared in the late nineteenth century. Pompeu Fabra (1868-1948), who was to become the great standardizer of the Catalan language, translated Maeterlink's L'intruse for the Modernist festival at Sitges in 1892 and, with Joaquim Casas Carbó, rendered Ibsen's Gengangere (Ghosts) in 1894. Adrià Gual created the "Teatre Íntim" as a Catalan version of the Parisian Théâtre d'Art, leading to stage productions of foreign dramatists such as Goethe, Lesage, Molière, Ibsen, Aeschylus, Shakespeare and Beaumarchais.
The incorporation of great literature into Catalan is well illustrated by the case of Shakespeare. Leaving aside adaptations and parodies, often based on previous French versions, and limiting ourselves to translation in the narrow sense, as many as 40 writers have translated Shakespeare into Catalan for more than a century, from the first attempts to render fragments of Hamlet in 1880 through to the complete set of plays translated by Salvador Oliva (1984-87) or the last translation of Hamlet by Joan Sellent (1999). Some of these projects required significant long-term application: the series "Biblioteca popular dels grans mestres" published fifteen of Shakespeare's plays by various translators from 1907 to 1910; Magí Morera i Galícia translated a dozen between 1912 and 1927; Cesar A. Jordana completed ten; between 1943 and 1959 Josep M. de Sagarra published twenty-eight translations which have worn very well and which are still performed.
This considerable corpus includes translations of all kinds. Not surprisingly, the earlier versions were often indirect translations, mainly based on French versions. However, translation norms became steadily more defined, both in verse and in prose. There were translations for the stage, such as those by Sagarra, and scholarly translations like Anfós Par's 1912 rendering of King Lear into fifteenth-century Catalan, together with a complete critical commentary. Hamlet has attracted Catalan translators on at least eight occasions, and many other Shakespearean works have also been translated more than once, notably Othello, Antony and Cleopatra and King Lear. The sonnets have also been the subject of several renderings: Ramon Font i Presas translated a selection in one of the first issues of the journal Catalunya in 1903; Morera i Galícia translated twenty-four between 1913 and 1931; in 1928 Carme Monturiol became the first to render the complete series; in 1970 Joan Triadú translated forty; and in 1993 Gerard Vergés finished another version of the complete set.
Another case shows how translation fulfilled not only the need to understand a foreign work, but also the need for prestige. Catalans understand and have currently read Cervantes's Don Quixote. Nevertheless, there appeared three almost complete translations into Catalan, in the space of twenty-four years, at the turn of last century, to which a new complete version was added in 1969. And there are as many as twenty-seven partial versions2.
The writers have not limited themselves to mere translation. The first modern writer to theorize translation in Catalan was the Menorcan translator Antoni Febrer i Cardona (1761-1841), who rendered Cicero, Phaedrus and Virgil. Horace attracted translators of the order of Rubió i LLuch and others connected with ecclesiastical milieux, who contributed to the Catalan revival.
Aesthetic and theoretical interest in Catalan translation really began with the late nineteenth-century literary movement known as Modernisme, which was connected with European tendencies, followed by Noucentisme, which established a cultural policy for Catalan society as such. These movements created intellectual networks that involved philological rigour and a cohesive collective development only interrupted by the Civil War and the ensuing dictatorship.
Between 1907 and 1918 La Veu de Catalunya published the first articles on translation. In 1938 Cèsar A. Jordana systematized his experience as a translator in the theoretical text "L'art de traduir", where he called, among other things, for a catalogue of the good translations in Catalan and a history of modern Catalan translation. Jordana also proposed a classification of translators and a distinction between literalism and equivalence, as well as insisting on the need to master the target language, all of which was illustrated with examples and commentaries that still hold today.
The paradigm of the Noucentista stage of this development was the work of Carles Riba (1893-1954). Riba sought to bring into Catalan the Hellenist tradition that had begun with Bergnes de las Casas in the nineteenth century and was to follow through to Balari and Segalà, creating a style that inspired others such as Llovera or Balasch. This culminated in the adaptation of classical rhythms to Catalan, the first serious attempt at which is probably the Horacianes published by Costa i Llobera in 1906. Parallel to this tradition, Riba received the legacy of poets like Morera i Galícia, as well as Joan Maragall's theory of "la paraula viva" (the living word). These multiple infuences may be seen in his theorizing about various aspects of translation: in his view of translation as reading, in his distinction between erudite and substitutional translation, and in his comments on the aging of translations and the need for the translator to carry out documental research. The experience underlying Riba's development as a theorist went well beyond translation in the narrow sense: he organized, corrected and revised many of the translations of the day, he proposed and elaborated the guidelines for a veritable cultural policy in the field of translation, and he checked translation of his own works in other languages. As a translator from some nine languages himself, Riba worked in numerous genres. He translated the Song of Songs and the Book of Ruth for the "Cambó" Bible; he enriched Catalan with Poe's tales, Kavafis's poetry, two superb versions of Homer's Odyssey, the great Greek tragedies in magnificent poetic and philological translations, and still he found time to translate for the stage and to adapt children's stories.
In the twentieth century the translations of works from classical Greek and Latin crystallized in the impeccable "Bernat Metge" series, in the tradition of Budé and Teubner. A veritable school of translators, headed by Carles Riba, formed around this series. Individual volumes have appeared regularly since 1923, except for the difficult period from 1939 to 1946, making the Greek and Latin classics accessible to Catalans, and even to Spanish readers for whom Catalan was easier than Greek.
Of the Catalan translators of the humanists, special note should be made of Josep Pin i Soler. Between 1910 and 1921 he translated Erasmus's Moriae encomion (Praise of Folly), Thomas More's Utopia, Joan Lluís Vives's Dialogi, De Bury's Philobiblon and Machiavelli's Il Principe.
The main modern writers of Europe have also been translated into Catalan. Although at first some works were translated from previous translations in other languages, quality has been a priority since the beginning of the twentieth century. Prior to the Spanish Civil War, excellent translations were published by Edicions de la Revista, L'Avenç, Catalonia and Proa. The best Catalan writers have also been translators. In the work from English, the main figures are Josep Carner (1884-1970), who rendered Dickens and Mark Twain, just to mention some outstanding examples, and, later, Marià Manent, who translated poetry. Translation from Russian dates from 1897 and the work by the novelist Narcís Oller; Puig i Ferreter translated Gorki in 1909. The 1920s saw the first translations directly from Russian: some works by Dostoievsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev and Chekhov were translated by Francesc Payarols; Andreu Nin knew Russian well and translated Dostoievsky's Crime and Punishment in 1929 and Tolstoy's Anna Karenina in 1931. In the Germanic field, Schiller and especially Goethe have had considerable influence: Maragall translated four works by Goethe between 1898 and 1910; Josep Lleonart rendered Faust and Hermann und Dorothea, and the first three decades of the twentieth century saw versions of Götz von Berlichingen, Wherter and some of Goethe's less major works.
From Italian, Manzoni's Promessi sposi was translated by Maria A. Salvà in 1923-24. There has also been significant interest in classical Italian literature: to the fifteenth-century translation of Dante's Commedia were added, in modern times, a prose summary completed in 1908, a section translated by Narcís Verdaguer i Callís in 1921, the prose and verse version by Llorenç Balanzó i Pons published in 1923-24, and the magnificent translation in tercets published by the great Shakespeare translator Josep M. de Sagarra in 1947-52.
Translation has also bridged music and literature (or more exactly the theatre): Barcelona's passion for Wagner was such that fragments of the German operatic poems were rendered into Catalan and Lohengrin was performed in Catalan at the Teatre Tívoli in 1924.
Special attention is due to Bible translation, as it has been an important tool in the shaping of national languages. This is not exactly the case with Catalan, as the Roman Catholic tradition long opposed Bible translation, from the first renderings in the thirteenth century, to the translations carried out in the circle around Arnau de Vilanova in the fourteenth century and the Valencian Bible by Bonifaci Ferrer (1478). The hegemony of Spanish meant that it was not until the twentieth century that there were complete versions of the Bible in Catalan, notably the translations by the monks of Montserrat, the Fundació Bíblica Catalana and, more recently, the group behind the Interdenominational Catalan Bible. However, the Bible was partially translated in the nineteenth century; of particular note are Josep M. Prat i Solà's work promoted by the British and Foreign Bible Society, versions by Castells, Bulbena and Marcé at the end of the nineteenth century, and especially Tomàs Sucona's translation of the Psalms.

Contemporary publishing.
According to bibliographical research sponsored by the Fundació Enciclopèdia Catalana3, at least 1,350 literary translations into Catalan were published in book form between the beginning of the nineteenth-century Renaixença and 1939, when the Franco regime was to repress all manifestations of Catalan culture for many years. This figure does not include the countless poems, fragments or serials that appeared in various journals and magazines. When the censorship of Catalan gradually receded in the 1960s, publishers once again turned to translations. However, despite the initial enthusiasm of the 1960s, the demand was not particularly great; there was a marked drop in the frequency of translations in the 1970s4. This movement can be clearly seen in the catalogue of the "Balancí" series of novels published by Edicions 62: the first 60 titles included 52 translations, but the next 60 included only six foreign writers. In 1965, some 55% of the books published in Catalan were translations; by 1973 the figure had dropped to 8.3%; in 1977 it had risen again to 16.5%. The 1980s saw a growth in the number of translations, partly due to official subsidies and assistance from banking institutions. A range of genres were covered by series such as "Les millors obres de la Literatura Universal" (The Best Works of Universal Literature), "Poesia del segle XX" (Twentieth-Century Poetry), "Textos filosòfics" (Philosophy Texts) and "Clàssics del Pensament Modern" (Classics of Modern Thought). Broch (1991) mentions a report by Isidor Cònsul to the effect that in 1985 translations accounted for 115 of 285 novels, 15 of 165 volumes of poetry, and 22 of 43 dramatic works. These were the years in which the fundamental texts of Joyce, Proust, Kafka, Maiakovski and Henry Miller were translated, at the same time as classics such as Boccaccio, Erasmus, Shakespeare, La Fontaine, Sterne and Melville. In the 1990s, the publication of translations would seem to have gone through another period of restricted activity, although some masterpieces, including Eastern ones like The Arabian Nights or Valmiki's Ramayana, have been translated, and there have been moves toward cooperation between publishers and some universities, which, nevertheless, lack continuity for the moment.

Translations from Catalan
Catalan has produced some fine literature of its own and a handful of great authors have been translated into other languages. Some of these translations were made in the Middle Ages and even during the centuries in which Catalan fell into decadence. Ramon Llull is the best known author: his Fèlix was translated into French and Italian in the fifteenth century; his Llibre de l'Ordre de Cavalleria (Book of the Order of Chivalry) was published in English by Caxton in 1483-85, working from a French version; and in the early decades of the twentieth century Edgar Allison Peers revived English-language interest in Llull through his translations of five of Llull's works. Translations have also been made of the great Catalan Cròniques, the prose of Eiximenis, the poetry of Ausiàs March, and Joanot Martorell's Tirant lo Blanch, either directly from Catalan or through intermediary languages, especially Spanish.
In the nineteenth century the fame of some Catalan writers extended across borders and gave rise to translations. Perhaps the most important was Jacint Verdaguer, whose works have spawned a hundred or so translations in Spanish, French, Italian, English, German, Provençal, Portuguese, Czech, Russian, Latin and Esperanto. About a third of these are of L'Atlàntida, Verdaguer's most famous work. Àngel Guimerà would be next in line, with more than fifty translations into numerous languages5: his play Terra Baixa was praised by Piscator, translated for the stage, and put to music to form the basis for the operas Tiefland by Eugen d'Albert (first performed in Prague in 1903) and La Catalane by Fernand Leborne. It even inspired several films in Europe and America. Echegaray translated many of Guimerà's works into Spanish, and Guimerà's Mar i cel and L'ànima morta were rendered into other languages as well. The playwright Ignasi Iglesias had works in the repertory of the Theatre de l'Oeuvre in Paris from 1908, and there soon followed translations of works by Joaquim Rubió i Ors, Victor Balaguer, Pompeu Gener and Narcís Oller.
Of the twentieth-century Catalan writers, Mercè Rodoreda has been translated the most, followed by Salvador Espriu and then Joan Perucho, Josep Pla, Montserrat Roig and Manuel de Pedrolo. There are some good foreign versions of Catalan poetry, particularly of poets like Riba, Carner, Foix, Espriu, Martí i Pol, Brossa, Calders, Ferrater and Parcerisas.

Among the classical Catalan texts to have attracted translators, apart from Ramon Llull, Joanot Martorell's Tirant lo Blanch has gained significantly in stature, as has the knightly epic Curial e Güelfa.
According to a UNESCO report, Catalan was the tenth most translated language between 1988-19946, and interest in Catalan literature seems to be increasing.
Figures from the Institució de les Lletres Catalanes indicate that between 1993-1998 some 294 Catalan works were translated into 24 languages, ranging from Spanish, French, Italian and Greek to Chinese and Japanese. Of the languages of the Mediterranean countries, Galician, Basque, Provençal, Serbo-croat, Bulgarian and Rumanian knew some Catalan literature through translations. Added to these were a good number of general anthologies of prose and verse, not to mention numerous shorter translations in magazines and journals. The writers most translated in these years were, in order, Quim Monzó, Mercè Rodoreda, Isabel C. Simó and Jesús Moncada. In the same period, the status of Llull was further confirmed by translations of his Llibre d'Amic e Amat into Spanish, English and Hungarian, and his Llibre del gentil e dels tres savis into French.

Through the Catalan example, we see how a language can be reinforced through translation, and how important translation is for minor languages. I can speak for Catalan but do not know the situation of other small languages in the Mediterranean area. The aim of my contribution is to encourage these langauges to make similar studies and to engage in the practice of translation itself, for I am convinced that such practice should help them to flourish. What do we know about Maltese, the Arabic diversity, or Tamashek, the language of the Berbers? Have they incorporated the Great Tradition of Literature into their languages? To what extent? We still associate great literature to great, rich languages, but attention to minor languages would encourage them to produce or make known their great literature. Translation could help them a great deal. Writers' associations and Translation Schools should pay attention to writers in these languages. I am thinking, for example, of the possibility of stimulating translators to stay at the Centres for Writers, la Casa del Traductor, the Collegio dei Traduttori, the Maison des Éscrivains Étrangers et des Traducteurs in France, or the Centre de la Traduction Littéraire of the Institut Français in Athens. Other means could be provided, and there may be better ones. In any case, it would be interesting to carry out research in these languages and especially in the field of translation. I am convinced that not only can the cause of literature be served by taking appropriate measures but also the ultimate cultural welfare of the people involved.

Joaquim Mallafrè

Universitat Rovira i Virgili



1. The points are summed up in Joan Solà: Des de l'Argentina, "Avui", 9-9-99.

2. See: Montserrat Bacardí & Imma Estany: La mania cervàntica. Les traduccions del Quixot al català, "Quaderns. Revista de traducció" 3, pp. 49-59, UAB, Barcelona, 1999.

3. Josep-Anton Fernández & Jaume Subirana, amb la col.laboració de Laura Serradell i direcció de Ramon Pla i Arxé: Recerca bibliogràfica sobre traduccions de literatura estrangera al català (1833-1939), Fundació Enciclopèdia Catalana, [1988].

4. The following data are taken from Alex Broch: Literatura catalana dels anys vuitanta, Ed. 62, Barcelona, 1991, and Francesc Vallverdú: Els problemes de la traducció in Una aproximació a la literatura catalana i universal, pp. 95-107, La Caixa, Barcelona, 1987.

5. See Jan Schejbal: Projecció internacional d'Àngel Guimerà in Àngel Guimerà en el centenari de la seva mort, Fundació Jaume I, Barcelona, 1974.

6. As quoted, for example, in "Llengua i ús" 15, Direcció General de Política Lingüística, Generalitat de Catalunya.

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