The ongoing debate about how and where to credit the translator’s work

Published in:  Translation industry

by Pisana Ferrari – cApStAn Ambassador to the Global Village

“Translation removes language barriers and makes stories borderless”, says Chen Jiatong, author of “The White Fox”, recently translated from Chinese to English, in article for Booktrust.org. There is, however, no mention of the translator on the cover of his book, or in the article, for that matter, despite the fact that it stresses the importance of translation and ends with a “Hurrah for translators.” (1) Is this an isolated case? Louise Heal Kawai, a translator of British origin who lives in Japan, has published 10 well-received translations of Japanese books, but notes in a recent interview that her name has yet to appear on a cover, and only very few book reviewers mention her name. (2)

For want of statistics on this issue (to our knowledge, at least), we checked the covers of the seventy-five World Literature Today’s “Notable Translations of the Year”: it turns out that 29 of 75 books selected (almost 40%) do not have the names of the translators on the cover. Although there are other ways to credit a translator’s work, this one has a very high symbolic value. Why is it not done consistently? Award winning author and translator Daniel Hahn says some publishers worry about “reader prejudice” (readers who aren’t open to translations per se). He disagrees with this but does share another of publishers’ concerns i.e. that unnecessary words and clutter on a cover might affect its overall visual impact; after all the aim of a cover is to help sell a book. He says that having his name on the cover is not essential to him, as long as he receives “visible, respectful, professional credit” and acknowledgement of his ownership of the work.

In recent years there has been an increasing recognition of the role of translators, thanks also to major international prizes where authors and translators share the award money, e.g. the TA First Translation Prize, founded by Daniel Hahn himself, and the Man Booker International Prize) and awareness campaigns such as #namethetranslator, launched by the Society of Authors, which has been very successful on social media. But there is still some way to go for literary translators to achieve the recognition they deserve. Do you agree?


1) https://www.booktrust.org.uk/news-and-features/features/2019/september/childrens-author-chen-jiatong-translation-removes-language-barriers-it-makes-stories-borderless/

2) https://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2019/08/17/books/understanding-challenging-world-literary-translator/#.XXpesFBS90s

3) “Why aren’t translators’ names of most book covers?”. Ask the translator: a column by Daniel Hahn for the Asymptote blog, https://bit.ly/2kyyVIL

Photo credit: World Literature Today’s “75 Notable  Translations of 2018” @ https://bit.ly/2MhHnoV