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Dubai Abulhoul: The importance of translating Emirati literature
May 11, 2016
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I do not know when the first Emirati writer will win a Nobel Prize in Literature, but I do know this: we lack neither the talent nor commitment in one day making this goal a reality.
Exclusive to The Gulf Today
The Year of Reading has, in all its efforts, been successful in spreading awareness on the importance of reading in the country, especially among the younger generations. We have also discussed over the past few months the equal importance of writing, and encouraging young writers to produce and publish their own work. We have, however, overlooked the importance of translating our own national literature. Little to almost nothing of our country’s cultural and literary contributions is internationally acknowledged due to the lack of adequate translation efforts from our side. “Emirati Literature” is yet to be recognised as a genre in World Literature, and is spoken of, if at all, under the broad term of “Middle Eastern Studies”, despite the richness of its content.

Our literary discourse includes, and is not limited to, poetry, drama, short stories, and novels that belong to time periods both before and after the formation of our federation in 1971, and yet almost none of it has been properly translated and introduced to an international readership. To this day, the most popular form of our country’s literary treasures is Nabati poetry, which is a form of poetry composed of, and recited in, colloquial Arabic. Women have also, historically, mastered this form of poetry, and shed light on both the social and political issues of their time through their work. Emirati poetry, unfortunately, remains accessible only to those who have not only mastered the Arabic language, but Emirati dialects as well. The translation of Emirati Nabati poetry into other languages would not only pave the way for “Emirati Literature” to thrive in the global literary scene, but will also enable schools and universities to teach the translated work as part of their curriculum. “Emirati Literature” has the potential to be taught alongside global literary discourses in educational institutions both locally and globally, if its translation is given the right amount of attention and effort.

Translation is an important tool in bridging cultural gaps among communities of different backgrounds, and finding common ground in an increasingly globalised world. Translating our literary discourse will not be an easy task, but the results will be worth it. What we need is institutions dedicated to translating Emirati literature that is written in both classical and colloquial Arabic. Literature written in classical Arabic will be easier to translate, and therefore is a good place to start. Translating literature written in colloquial Arabic and in Emirati dialects will, however, require more effort. Aside from institutions dedicated to translation, translation workshops can be introduced in governmental high schools as extracurricular work, and course electives can be available in governmental universities for the same purpose. Maximising translation efforts, through both students and professional institutions, will not only spread awareness about the importance of the issue, but will also cultivate literary interests in younger generations as well.

The first, and only, Arab writer to ever win the Nobel Prize in Literature was Naguib Mahfouz, whose work has been translated into more than 30 languages. I do not know when the first Emirati writer will win a Nobel Prize in Literature, but I do know this: we lack neither the talent nor commitment in one day making this goal a reality. We just need to start translating.
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The author is an Emirati novelist-writer

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