Czech is the official language of the Czech Republic. More than 10 million people speak Czech. The language bears close resemblances with the Slovak & Polish languages. Though the language developed in the high medieval period its modern written standard came into existence at the time of the Czech National Revival in between the late 18th Century and mid 19th Century. Earliest written documents in the Czech language may be traced back to glosses and short notes from the 12th and 13th centuries. Literary works in Czech were first written during the late 13th and early 14th century but a very few to mention. Bible was translated for the first time in the Czech language in the mid 14th Century. But, most of the literary works till the late 18th century were written in Latin and you may find retellings in English of only a handful of such literature. They were not translations in the real sense of the term but mere retellings in English.
Translation of Czech literature into English and other European languages is not a much-discussed topic though by now the industry has started gaining global attention. Writers, translators, publishers & readers are the main stakeholders of this growing industry. This article is dedicated to all these stakeholders and has been written in the interest of the cause.
A Brief Note on the history of Czech Literature
Czech Literature refers to literature written in the Czech language regardless of the nationality of the writer as well as it refers to the literature written by Czechs regardless of language. In this article, we would like to focus on the literature written in the Czech language by the Czechs and the increasing demand of Czech to English translation of such literature.
Briefly, Czech Literature may be categorized as follows:
- Early Literature of the 14th Century.
- Modern Literature of the 19th Century.
- Avant-Garde Literature of 1918-1989.
- Contemporary Literature of 1992 to date.
Early Literature of the 14th Century, Modern Literature of the 19th Century and Avant-Garde Literature of 1918-1989 were mostly in Latin and were not read by common men except for a counted number of intellectuals abroad. Literature that came into existence after the Czech National Revival written in the Czech language became popular outside the Czech Republic. The decades of the Czech National Revival contributed to increased interest in the Czech literature abroad. Czech to English translation started after 1989 but has gained pace in the last few decades.
Beginning of Czech to English Translation of Czech Literature
Czech to English translation of Komensky’s The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart by Count Francis Lützow in 1901 marks the beginning of the success of the Czech to English Translation Industry. These were followed by the translation of Maj (May) by Karel Hynek Macha. Several translators from time to time attempted Czech to English translation of Maj and gained popularity abroad. Selver translated Jaroslav Hasek’s The Good Soldier Švejk and Karel Čapek’s R. U. R. in the year 1920. F. P. Marchant rendered several Czech to English translations of the works of the 19th-century satirist Karel Havlicek Borovsky. During the same time period, William Harkins published Borovsky Krestsv. Vladimira into English. After the Second World War that lasted from 1939 to 1945, a series of Czech literature was translated into English. This wave continues this date. Every year a number of Czech detective fiction, science fiction, dramas, comics, and other varieties of literature are being translated into English. Translated Czech literature made its place with the English readers largely of the United Kingdom & the United States. Not only individual authors’ works are translated but also anthologies are translated, published and read by the English readers with great enthusiasm.
Prominent Czech to English Translators in Literature
The actual list of Czech to English translators would be a very long one. To name a few are Michael Henry Heim, Jeanne Nemcova, Vera Blackwell, and William Harkins from the older generation & Andree Collier, Caleb Crain, Julie Hansen, and Jason Pontius from the younger generation from Czech into English.
More and more students of languages must take interest in Czech to English translation studies and projects. This industry may be still considered as in its budding phase. There are positive signs of steep growth in this industry in the coming years.
Universities across the world must make Czech an option in their foreign language divisions. This should be done considering the reading and writing culture of the Czech people. The density of libraries in the Czech Republic is the highest in the world. The enthusiasm of writing among Czech people is something worth noting and encouraging for the rest of the world.
Prominent Publishers for Czech to English Translation in Literature
Various publishing houses publish Czech to English translations of Czech literature. There are no dedicated publishers who only publish these kinds of books. There are the great publishing houses such as Penguin Books, Granta Books, Picador, Faber and Faber, Bloodaxe Books, and Farrar, Straus & Giroux that play a vital role in bringing out a significant number of Czech titles in English.
In addition, there are small publishing houses such as Catbird Press and Twisted Spoon. There are not only the foreign presses that publish Czech literary works translated in English there are also some of the Czech publishing houses such as Ikar and Vitalis that have published and distributed several Czech works translated in English.
Over the past few years, it has been noticed that a plethora of new independent publishers are taking up the cause. The percentage of translated work has been climbing persistently upwards. This is primarily due to the reason that the number of literary works you may find in the Czech language is not limited as in the case of Italian, French and German Literature and readers do not want to miss it. This rich literary culture has been built by authors like Ajvaz, Ouředník, Topol, Hůlová, Hakl, Hostovský, Zmeškal, Balabán, Pilátová, Šindelka, Androniková, Brdečková, Kolský, Boučková, Nosková, Pekárková, Ráž, Toman, Bellová, Denemarková, Dousková, Neff, Hájíček, Kratochvil, Němec, Komárek, Soukupová, Viewegh, and many others.
English publishers will be taking more interest in publishing Czech to English translation of Czech literature in the coming years as they have started noticing the fact that more and more other European publishers are capitalizing upon translated works of Czech literature.
It is evident that there is a link between Czech literature & English speaking countries. This tradition will be carried on in the future. The reception of Czech literature through Czech to English translations is increasing day by day in English speaking countries like the United Kingdom & the United States. Czech literature has got a very good future as the interest in a career in translation increases every year. Also, the interest gestured by the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic, Czech Centers, various departments of Slavic studies and languages at universities in promoting the Czech to English translations of Czech literature will boost this translation industry. More jobs will be created and a huge size of the population will earn their livelihood through Czech to English translation industry. Also, several Internet-based projects such as Literature across Frontiers and Central Europe Review will boost the growth of this translation industry.