On February 21st, the International Mother Language Day, the Konover Auditorium in the Thomas J. Dodd Center hosted the launch of UConn’s Program in Literary Translation, with the visit of three acclaimed translators of world literature who participated in the conference ‘Translation and Human Rights in Troubled Times’. The award-winning translators defended that translation can protect and celebrate human rights across the boundaries of language. The event was co-sponsored by UConn’s Humanities Institute and Human Rights Institute.


Carles Torner, Executive Director at PEN International – the world’s leading international literary and human rights organization – and Head of the Literature and the Humanities Department of the Institut Ramon Llull in New York, cautioned about the rapid disappearance of half of the world’s 7,000 languages and the increasing cultural homogenization due to globalization. Along with other writers, Torner helped put together the universal declaration of linguistic rights in 1996, which promotes equality among languages regardless of their status. Twenty years later, the declaration has been translated to 70 languages and has become a reference document for the linguistic laws implemented in Colombia, Paraguay and South Africa. Torner asserted that translation is key for the recognition of linguistic rights, and that no peace can be achieved without linguistic peace. He also argued that promoting translations into English has been detrimental to international translation and warned about the increasing persecution and repression of certain languages such as Kurdish in Turkey.


Following Mr. Torner’s presentation was Edith Grossman, the prestigious critic and translator of some of the major Spanish and Latin American literary works of all times including Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. Grossman shared her struggles when she translated Spanish Renaissance poetry into English and read the opening stanza of her translation of Góngora’s The Solitudes in Spanish and English. She argued that the perception of the world and the language we speak are intrinsically connected, and that translations enable us to discover extraordinary works in fiction and poetry that otherwise would go unnoticed. Finally, she stressed that learning other languages evokes a unique sense of surprise and curiosity.


The final guest speaker of the evening was Esther Allen, translator of Zama by Antonio de Benedetto and Book of Lamentations by Rosario Castellanos. Allen argued that poetry and fiction are translated more than any other kind of work, but in her view, translating journalism is also essential today because people often ignore discourses about what is happening around the world. She talked about the hyper-local media hub, Voices of New York, which embraces linguistic diversity – it has readers in 120 countries- and provides access to a larger multilingual community. This alternative digital media platform offers possibilities that were unthinkable before, such as posting comments in any language and even reciprocity in various languages. Allen criticized that translation is often hidden or disguised in international news agencies and that most mainstream media do not support translation. She reminded us that not so long ago, in the 1990s, many language departments saw translations as competition instead of a way of raising interest in other languages, and concluded that the knowledge of Latin American literature in the US has significantly contributed to make Spanish the most studied foreign language in the country.


For more information about the speakers’ work, please contact the Director of the Program in Literary Translation, Peter Constantine, at peter.constantine@uconn.edu.


Written by Adriana Alcina