‘It is important to be able to read Pessoa without knowing Portuguese, Tsvetaeva without knowing Russian or Auden without knowing English, and still have the impression of hearing their voices, even if conveyed in the language with which you are most familiar.’ Jacques De Decker (In: Introduction to the PETRA Recommendations, October 2012)
PETRA-E aims to set up a European infrastructure for the education and training of literary translators. The first step is to develop a Framework for Literary Translation, based on the experiences of translators and trainers. The Framework will be completed and made available by July 2016. Our long-term goal is to create an open European infrastructure in which networks, organizations and institutions work together to offer improved opportunities for the education and training of literary translators all across Europe. With this aim in mind, eight European organizations have come together to set up the Petra-E network. All are already involved in one way or another with the training of literary translators.
Aims and background
It is hard to overstate the importance of literary translation in multicultural and multilingual Europe. It requires specific knowledge and skills, in particular language proficiency and knowledge of the source and target cultures and literatures, with their different systems and schools of thought. Literary translators must be able to produce literary language specific to the writer whose work they are translating, no matter what the style. These are but a few aspects of the knowledge and competencies expected of a good literary translator. Proper training is essential.
The education and training of literary translators is of necessity a small-scale affair. The literary translation market is small, but the number of possible language combinations is extremely large (e.g. Dutch-Portuguese, Portuguese-Hungarian). It is a varied and fragmented field of university and non-university education, often provided by translators’ organizations. The education and training of literary translators at university level tends to be invisible, forming simply one element of language studies at university level.
Although there are plenty of examples of good results, opportunities for cooperation, student and teacher exchange programmes and the dissemination of best practices and teaching methods are inadequate. Much of the potential for innovation, cooperation and cost savings remains unused, while the demands placed upon organizations offering education and training in the field of literary translation are increasing all the time. Since the translation market is under pressure, translators must work under tighter and tighter time constraints, and they are expected to command professional skills right from the start. The market is undergoing rapid change, so it is important that the educational field can respond quickly to new demands. Closer collaboration between translation schools can help overcome the disadvantages inherent in the small-scale character of education and training for literary translators.
The first step towards collaboration is to agree on the requirements, specifically the skills, knowledge and levels of proficiency in the source and target languages, literatures and cultures concerned. Developing a Framework for Literary Translation can aid in that process. Because of the wide range of training programmes available and the diversity of views, the decision has been made to set up a broadly based project group to develop the Framework, bringing together various types of schools, stakeholders and institutions. This will boost the level of support and help to disseminate the results. The process of development will be supported by the European Erasmus+ program for ‘Strategic partnerships’ [link naar programma]. Development and dissemination of the Framework go hand in hand, so target groups should be involved at the developmental stage to ensure the result will meet their expectations. Apart from the project partners, we will involve other institutions and translators in our meetings. Compiling a detailed list of academic and non-academic institutions will be part of the project’s task.
PETRA stands for ‘Platforme Européenne pour la traduction littéraire’ and PETRA-E (PETRA-Education) follows up on several important recommendations for the education of literary translators put forward at the PETRA Congress in Brussels in 2011, where recommendations were made for the improvement of literary translation in Europe:
1) “To create open structures, at national and European level, to enable universities and higher education establishments to collaborate with non-academic organizations and associations and networks of professional literary translators without cumbersome administrative procedures”.
2) “To start a discussion on promising, long-term structures for the education and training of literary translators at a European level. This involves exchange and cooperation between academic and non-academic institutions on the contents of training, on practical issues and methods of teaching.” (See recommendations PETRA Congress).
The Framework is a first step on the path to a higher shared aim. Each activity constitutes a step towards the long-term goal of creating a flexible, pan-European (or possibly wider) network of formal and informal literary translation schools, offering compatible Master’s degree programmes in specific subject areas, student and teacher exchanges, distance-learning facilities and widely recognized qualifications and credits. Although the institutions and organizations involved may hold different views on literary translation and have different ideas about what it means, they will no doubt be able to agree at a fundamental level on a Framework for Literary Translation.
Utrecht, 16-17 October 2014
Petra-E’s first event will be a meeting in October 2014. A two-day conference involving eight European organizations will be held to discuss both the Framework and the Petra-E organization and its goals for the coming two years. A report of the conference will be published on this page by mid-November.