Corps de l’article

Introduction: Guests of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair and their Translation Grants

Many international book fairs routinely invite foreign countries to participate as the Guest of Honour for a specific year, a role that shines a spotlight on the guest country through special program activities and displays designed to highlight its current books, key authors, and various aspects of its literary heritage. It is an important aim for many Guests of Honour to present the diversity of their publishing production to the local audience in the language of the host country. At the same time, the Guest of Honour role offers the guest country a chance to increase international awareness of its literature and to stimulate the circulation of its works in various languages and countries. This is particularly true for the Frankfurt Book Fair, with its focus on licensing and selling translation rights and its large number of international professional visitors. In most cases, the international circulation of literary and cultural works is highly interesting to national foreign culture policy. Thus, many countries launch translation funding programs to help them prepare for the Guest of Honour role at a specific international book fair by boosting the country’s number of published translations.

For some international book fairs, the attendance of foreign countries as Guests of Honour is of great importance. Besides economic benefits, the Frankfurt Book Fair states the following aims in connection with its practice of inviting guest countries:

For readers and the general public, the Guest of Honour’s presence offers a new point of access to its literature and culture. The featured country garners tremendous interest in the media (mentions in some 5,000 media reports). Its appearance as Guest of Honour provides the impetus for intense debate about the country – resulting in greater awareness of its politics, history and present.[2]

This model of inviting Guests of Honour supports the same aims as the former focus of the Frankfurt fair in the mid-1970s. At that time, the focus served to offer the fair-going public and international media an issue of substance within the specialist trade fair. According to Juergen Boos, director of the fair since 2005, today there are more than 9,000 accredited journalists at the fair, 60 percent of whom write mainly about that year’s guest country.[3] As a result, Guests of Honour attract media attention and produce visibility not only for themselves, but also for the book fair. With their wide range of cultural events at the fair as well as in the city of Frankfurt, guest countries also contribute significantly to the cultural legitimation of the trade fair. In this way, inviting foreign countries as Guests of Honour to the book fair is advantageous for both the fair organizers and the invited countries.[4]

Among the key objectives of the Frankfurt Book Fair for its invited guest country is “strengthening international networking in each country’s publishing industry and cultural institutions, bringing its literature to the world and increasing the number of translations from the country.”[5] In the days and months preceding the fair, specialized meetings boost the trade in rights and licenses between the invited country and German-speaking publishers. But also further international publishers often make use of the chance to bring a variety of translations from the invited country into print in connection with the Guest of Honour’s presence at the fair and in the media. Because of its focus on trade in rights and licenses, the Frankfurt Book Fair attaches great importance to facilitating and professionalizing the guest country’s licensing business, where appropriate. Since the many new translated editions published in the run-up to the fair create curiosity among the German public and media, the exact number of new translations from the guest country’s language into German is a key indicator of that country’s success in the Guest of Honour role. According to Frankfurt Book Fair, German-speaking publishers recently published more than 100 translations into German from Argentinian Spanish (Argentina 2010), 195 from Finnish (Finland 2014), 370 from Dutch (Netherlands & Flanders 2016), and 572 from French (France 2017).[6] In her contribution in this special issue, Corinna Norrick-Rühl discusses the evolution of the number of fiction translations from the source languages of the Guests of Honour at Frankfurt Book Fair from 2009 until 2018.[7]

Today, having a translation funding program—one committed fostering rights and licenses trade beyond the guest country’s year of attendance—is a prerequisite for selection as a Frankfurt Book Fair Guest of Honour. Translation funding can be defined as the “provision of financial or material resources, or services for persons and institutions … that are responsible for the production, distribution and placement of translations.”[8] This includes providing publishing houses with subsidies designed to ease the financial risks associated with the higher costs for translated works such as license fees, as well as supporting translators through grants, fellowships or stipends for working abroad. By promoting literature and translated works in particular, the state seeks to minimize “the danger of standardization and uniformity in the range of titles offered on the book market.”[9] Given that translations fulfill economic and political as well as cultural functions in consecrating a national literature,[10] translation support programs can be classified as instruments of foreign cultural policy, “as a corrective factor to facilitate translations that would not be carried out due to financial reasons, but that make a useful contribution to cultural exchange and produce symbolic capital.”[11] With the help of translation subsidies, states can increase the diversity of books that are translated into foreign languages, because partially subsidizing translation costs may help stimulate international publishers to translate works from less economically profitable genres, such as ambitious fiction titles, poetry, and drama.

Methodological Approach

The following comparative and transnational study offers critical reflections on translation funding programs in connection with the international rights trade at book fairs. Focusing on the translation support programs of Argentina and France within the scope of their participation as Guests of Honour in the 2010 and 2017 Frankfurt Book Fairs, this paper explores which languages, genres, authors, and works predominate in the choice of funding institutions. The initiation of the translation funding in Argentina, the Programa Sur (PROSUR), is directly related to the Argentine attendance as Guest of Honour at the 2010 Frankfurt Book Fair. This means that it is a rather young subsidy program. For Argentina, we can therefore only study the translations in German published with the help of translation subsidies following the country’s participation in the book fair in 2010. France’s translation support programs by Centre national du livre (CNL) and Institut français have existed for about 30 years, which enables us to examine a correspondingly longer period prior to the 2017 Francfort en français. However, data on French translation grants are only available up to 2018 so far. The analysis is based on the lists of funded translations into all foreign languages (including German), which were published on the homepages of the funding institutions, or put together by them upon request.[12]

Translation subsidies help to increase the number of translated titles available. But it is not only the sheer quantity of translations that provides information on the impact they have in different literary marketplaces. Their acceptance and actual reception by readers should also be studied by looking at print runs and actual sales figures of translated literature.[13] However, as a first step, we have to identify the status quo in terms of the number of translated books and of state interventions by translation grants. This contribution therefore offers a quantitative approach against the premise that only the existence of translations enables readers to receive texts from a variety of linguistic areas. It agrees with Edith Grossman who has described the importance of translations for society, political liberty, and democracy, but also for personal development of individuals:

Translation expands our ability to explore through literature the thoughts and feelings of people from another society or another time. It permits us to savor the transformation of the foreign into the familiar and for a brief time to live outside our own skins, our own preconceptions and misconceptions. It expands and deepens our world, our consciousness, in countless, indescribable ways.[14]

Translations are considered to be an indicator of bibliodiversity, which can be understood as cultural diversity applied to the book industry. Hence, translation funding is also an appropriate way to encourage bibliodiversity in different book markets, which greatly depends on the involvement of marginalized actors and voices in the literary field.[15] This essay therefore pays particular attention to the wide variety of translations that could be promoted on the occasion of each country’s Guest of Honour participation, including which Argentine, French, and German-speaking publishers—independent or part of a publishing group—joined this literary exchange through their translations, or benefitted from public funding.

The research objectives require that, as a first step, we address the position of the relevant languages with respect to the study (Spanish, French, and German) in the hierarchical structure of the international translation system.

The Global System of Translations

Cultural diversity particularly benefits from the preservation and promotion of linguistic diversity, in which literary translations play an important role. The availability or absence of translations from different languages in different book markets reflects existing cultural and political power relations, because the global translation system is characterized by unequal translation flows and an asymmetrical literary exchange between different linguistic areas. Johan Heilbron describes this as a hierarchical structure. He considers languages to have hyper-central, central, semi‑peripheral, or peripheral positions in this system, corresponding to their centrality and their share in book translations produced worldwide.[16]

In his analysis, using among other things data from the Index Translationum by UNESCO, Heilbron substantiates the evident dominance of works in the English language in the 1990s, which then represented 55 to 60 percent of all translations worldwide, rising to 70 percent on the European continent.[17] Esther Allen explains the supremacy of the English language in literary sharing by looking to the status of the United States as an economic superpower, and “the seemingly infinite appeal in the global marketplace of US cultural products.”[18] Linguistic competence, publishers’ preferences, successful networking by English-speaking literary agents, and the attractive narrative tradition associated with English are also cited as reasons why, in many countries, a great amount of international bestsellers are still of Anglo-American origin.[19] However, as Miha Kovač and Rüdiger Wischenbart have shown by analyzing bestseller lists in different European literary marketplaces in 2008 and 2009, books originally not written in English have an impact almost twice that of books translated from the English when it comes to rankings in bestseller lists.[20]

In Heilbron’s hierarchical structure of the global system of translations, English as the hyper-central language is followed from a distance by two languages—French and German—which are also central, with works in these languages representing 10 to 12 percent of all translations produced worldwide in the 1990s.[21] The international importance and visibility of the Frankfurt Book Fair, among other things, helps to justify translations from and into German.[22] The legitimacy and legitimizing power of the French language and translations from and into French are even stronger because of their long tradition.[23] Heilbron categorizes languages like Spanish, Italian, and Russian as semi‑peripheral languages. Works in these languages made up 1 to 3 percent of all translated works in the global book market. All other languages, represented in less than 1 percent of international literary exchange, could be found at the periphery of the global system of translations. The peripheral position of the Chinese language demonstrates that there is no correlation between the number of native speakers and the role of the language in the global system of translations.[24] However, Russian’s waning prominence since the 1990s shows that the whole translation system is subject to change.

Heilbron established a link between the centrality of a language in the global system and the proportion of translations into that language: “The more central the cultural production of a country is, the more it serves as an example to other countries, and the less it is itself concerned with the cultural production from other countries.”[25] The book markets of the UK and the US have a very low rate of translations, which has often been referred to as the 3 percent problem. A study by Jasmine Donahaye on behalf of Literature Across Frontiers (Mercator Institute for Media, Languages and Culture, Aberystwyth University, Wales, UK) confirmed this symbolic number. According to her analysis of publishing data on translations in the United Kingdom and in Ireland for the sample years 2000, 2005, and 2008, the percentage of all publications that are translations increased from 2.21 percent to 2.43 percent in 2008, while the percentage of translated poetry, fiction, and drama rose from 4.37 percent in 2000 to 4.59 percent in 2008.[26] Since 2008, the Translation Database initiated by Chad Post at the University of Rochester makes it possible to track all English translations of fiction and poetry published in the US.[27] Post observed a general growth in the number of translations offered on the US market since then—from 369 titles in 2008 to 666 titles in 2016. However, the number of translated titles declined afterwards, to 650 titles in 2017 and 609 titles in 2018,[28] which calls into question both the acceptance of translations into the English and the further development of translation in the US.

In Germany and France, translations make up around 10 to 12 percent of the total publishing production, while in countries with so-called peripheral languages like Sweden or the Netherlands, about a quarter of all new titles are translations.[29] However, while comparing the share of translations in different literary marketplaces, we also have to take into consideration that in smaller languages, the percentage of translations will always be higher due to the fact that a smaller number of publishable local authors often cannot meet all the diverse needs of readers in that given language: Heilbrons findings about the hierarchical structure of the global system of translations were based on UNESCO’s Index Translationum. Unfortunately, this database has been updated only irregularly since then, which means that we cannot continue studies of translation flows in the twenty-first century with this data. The Diversity Reports by Wischenbart et al. published on a regular basis since 2008 aim to discuss and better understand what the drivers are that make translations work as well as the barriers, what new patterns have been emerging over the past decade and to what degree old habits have changed and also how the current overall transformation in the business of books impacts literary translations.[30] These reports offer current research on literary translations in Europe by comparing statistical data on literary translations in about 12 different book markets across Europe.

A look at the current German book market shows, however, that the relevance of Heilbron’s conclusions based upon translation data for the 1990s continues today. From 2007 to 2017, the proportion of translations ranged from 9.1 percent (8,786 translations in 2007) to 12.7 percent (11,564 translations in 2012).[31] Translations from English predominated among all translations from foreign languages into German (in 2012, 67.6 percent of all translated work was translated from English, while 74.4 percent of all translated works of fiction were of English-speaking origin). This reflects the hyper-central position of the English language in the international system of translations. In accordance with the equally high level of centrality of the French language, translations from French ranked second among all languages from which books were translated into the German. However, there is a large gap with regard to their share: translations from the French peaked at 11.5 percent (9.2 percent for fiction titles) of all translations into the German in the year of France’s attendance as guest country at Frankfurt Book Fair 2017. This corresponds to a total amount of 1,136 titles, and 341 translations of fiction titles from French into German.

Besides Spanish, Italian, Chinese, and English, the German language itself counts among the most important languages for French publishers with respect to the licensing of translation rights. Over the past 15 years, the total number of translation rights sold by French publishers has more than doubled, rising from 5,956 to 13,785 in 2018.[32] The most important genres in the French trade in rights and licenses are children’s books, comics, and fiction titles. These three genres together make up 72 percent of all international licenses assigned by the French publishing industry. The French example illustrates how the announcement of a country’s participation as Guest of Honour in the Frankfurt fair affects licensing: shortly after the French announcement took place, license sales to German-speaking publishers soared in preparation for France’s participation in the fair, rising from 791 translation rights sold in 2014 to 967 in 2015. Subsequently, the total amount of licenses sold steadily declined and, in the year following France’s participation in the fair, dropped below the initial number (2016: 846, 2017: 813, 2018: 758). This can be explained by a surge of prompt or even advance publications in the Guest of Honour year, leaving fewer new titles in later years. This made it possible for German publishers to benefit from the guest country’s presence in the media and at the fair at its best.

German translations from English and French outnumber those from the so-called “semi‑peripheral” languages, including Spanish.[33] Unfortunately, German statistics in Buch und Buchhandel in Zahlen do not differentiate between the countries of origin for works translated from languages such as the “universal” languages of Spanish, English, and French. On average, translations from Spanish in the German literary marketplace represented 1.6 percent of all translations (2.5 percent of all translations in the area of fiction books) between 2009 and 2017. Nevertheless, the impact of Argentina’s attendance as Guest of Honour at Frankfurt Book Fair in 2010 is obvious: in 2010, translations from Spanish peaked, representing 2.4 percent of all translations and 4.1 percent of translated fiction titles.

A study by Fundación TyPA[34] examined the Argentinian trade in rights and licenses from 2002 until 2008 (in other words, before it served as Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt fair) by carrying out a survey among publishers.[35] The authors of the study counted at least 706 licenses for 268 works by Argentine authors. The publishers sold most translations to France (12 percent), Italy, Germany, Brazil (11 percent each), and Portugal (6 percent), as well as to Romania and the USA (5 percent each).[36] At 71 percent, novels and short stories represent the genre with most translations from the Argentinian Spanish. The survey suggests that Argentinian publishers, as compared to their partners in Europe and North America, show a much less consistent commitment to dealing with translation rights:

Argentine companies do not make an effort to sell translation rights, and the general feeling is that books that sell are not relevant, that the trade in rights does not result in earnings, and that the whole process is labor-intensive and complicated. Consequently, there is a common perception that only little Argentinian books are translated into foreign languages. … This leads to the conclusion that, in the Argentine publishing industry, only a minority of companies regularly sell translation rights.[37]

A follow-up study on the period from 2008 to 2012 observed an increase of 35 percent in the sale of translation rights. Here, while Argentine publishers sold 92 licenses annually on average between 2001 and 2007, numbers rose to an average of 142 translations in the period that followed.[38] The author of the study explained this increase both in terms of the rising worldwide interest in translations from the Spanish and the positive effects of Argentina’s attendance at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2010, including the launch of the PROSUR translation support program prior to the event.

Argentina. Cultura en movimiento at Frankfurt Book Fair 2010 and the Programa Sur

The attendance of Argentina as Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair under the slogan “Argentina. Cultura en movimiento” took place on the occasion of the 2010 bicentennial of the country’s independence.[39]

Figure 1

View of Argentina’s Guest-of-Honour Pavilion (© Enzo Pedota) and Logo (© Frankfurter Buchmesse).

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The attendance of many political representatives at the fair’s opening ceremony, among them Cristina Kirchner, the country’s president at the time, illustrates the importance of the event beyond the Argentinian publishing industry. Inspired by the work of by the renowned Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges, the Guest-of-Honour pavilion—“the heart of the featured country’s appearance at the fair”[40]—had a labyrinthine structure. This unique structure offered fair visitors information panels featuring 47 renowned writers of Argentine literature and details about the country’s cultural heritage, as well as showcases containing information about the usual cultural references—Eva Perón, Carlos Gardel, Diego Maradona, and Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Enzo Pedota has summarized the representation of Argentina and its literature in the pavilion as follows:

Each of the individual thematic areas or sectors represents a specific aspect of Argentina, and together they create the image of a nation: the diversity of nature, reflection of its geography; the ethnic diversity, product of different waves of migration; the socio-political conflicts that have left their mark in the present society; technological innovations, products of people’s aspirations for progress; and, of course, literature, influential across generations. Consistent with a major literary event like the Frankfurt Book Fair, the last of these is placed at the heart of the exhibition, where the country’s literary history is retold.[41]

Beyond the space of the book fair, exhibitions and events involving Argentinian authors were organized and opened to fair-goers in Frankfurt and elsewhere in Germany. With regard to the attention Argentina’s appearance attracted in the media, the Guest of Honour project can be classified as a resounding success, generating more than 5,500 media reports on Argentina, its presence at the fair and its literature.[42] Furthermore, according to Alejandro Dujovne and Gustavo Sorá, the launching of the PROSUR translation funding initiative should be seen as particular and sustainable cause of this success because it has boosted the circulation and international awareness of Argentinian literature over the long term.[43]

In the run-up to Argentina’s attendance at the Frankfurt Book Fair, a ministerial resolution stated the aim of this cultural-political instrument:

With a view to foster a desire to discover works of Argentine literature and thinking abroad, Ministerial Resolution N° 41 of 2 February 2009 implemented a Translation support programme to promote and strengthen the publishing of such works in foreign languages.[44]

As an instrument of cultural diplomacy, this literary subsidy program is financed by Argentina’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship. A specialist committee selects the works to be supported from among the applications submitted by international publishers, who can receive a grant of up to USD 3,200 for translations of contemporary or classic Argentinian works. Both works of fiction (novels, short stories, poetry, drama, children’s books, etc.) and non-fiction are eligible to receive translation funding. The Argentine government aims to support the translation of authors “whose themes are representative of the country’s national identity,” and therefore are able “to disseminate our imagery, ideas and values abroad.”[45]

During the first year, the number of requests by international publishers quickly exceeded the original intent to support 20 translations, which caused the Argentine foreign ministry to raise funding commitments in various steps.[46] In 2010 alone, the ministry granted funding for 291 translations into 31 foreign languages. There is no information on total funding in 2010, the first year of the program.[47] Between 2011 and 2018, the annual subsidy amount was USD 350,675 on average, granted to an average of 123 translations per year. Since its implementation, PROSUR has granted translation funding for 1,278 works into 47 foreign languages.

Table 1

The 5 languages best represented in PROSUR in terms of total numbers of Argentinian works translated with funding into these languages, and their share of all translations funded by PROSUR. 2010–2018

The 5 languages best represented in PROSUR in terms of total numbers of Argentinian works translated with funding into these languages, and their share of all translations funded by PROSUR. 2010–2018

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More than half of all PROSUR-funded translations were into the most central languages of the global translation system or those with linguistic and geographical proximity to Spanish-speaking Argentina (see Table 1). Translations funded by PROSUR were most often into languages associated with countries that have a high interest in Argentinian literature, as indicated by the study on Argentina’s trade in rights and licenses before PROSUR was launched.[48] This distribution of subsidies is probably in the interest of those responsible for the funding and for the Argentine publishing industry. For publishers in countries with a semi‑peripheral or peripheral language, translations into the most central languages are of great importance because they facilitate translations into other languages:

Once a book is translated into a central language by an authoritative publisher, it immediately catches the attention of publishers in other parts of the globe. The simple fact that an American or English publisher will publish an author from a semi‑peripheral language is used extensively by the original publisher, because it is the best recommendation for publishers elsewhere to acquire the translation rights.[49]

In her analysis of the distribution of PROSUR’s translation funding in 2012, Daniela Szpilbarg observed a predominance of contemporary titles (books published in Argentina after 2000) and works of fiction, with 86 percent of all funded translations.[50] Looking at the 130 translations into German that PROSUR funded between 2010 and 2018, the large proportion of fiction books becomes once more apparent: 84.6 percent were fiction books (110 works) and 15.4 percent non‑fiction titles (20 works).[51]

Figure 2

Distribution by genre of 130 translations into the German funded by PROSUR, 2010–2018.

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Between 2010 and 2018, PROSUR supported the translation into German of books by 98 Argentinian authors. It also funded 12 books and anthologies by various writers. Only a little more than a third of the 98 authors were female writers (35). While PROSUR organizers cite the seminal twentieth-century Argentine authors Julio Cortázar and Jorge Luis Borges as those whose works are most commonly translated and funded by PROSUR, during the period considered no works by those authors were translated by German-speaking publishers with the aid of the Argentine funding. These classics had probably already been translated into the German before. Instead, the works of other authors most commonly funded by PROSUR, such as Ricardo Piglia, César Aira, and Claudia Piñeiro, also appear on the list of translations into German. Authors with more than one translation into German included Roberto Juarroz and Ricardo Piglia (4 titles each), César Aira, Claudia Piñeiro, Lucía Puenzo, and Rodolfo Walsh (3 titles each), and Osvaldo Bayer, Mariana Enriquez, Ricardo Feierstein, Marcelo Figueras, Carlos Gamerro, Norah Lange, Ernesto Mallo, Angela Pradelli, Hernán Ronsino, and Héctor Tizon (2 titles each). Like other international publishing houses, German-speaking publishers were especially interested in works by Argentinian writers who had lived in exile after experiencing political persecution in their country at different times.[52]

The aforementioned study on international trade in rights and licenses by Argentine publishers concluded that the three biggest publishing groups in the Argentinian book market—Planeta, Grupo Santillana, and Bertelsmann-Mondadori—represented 72 percent of all translation rights sold to international publishers between 2002 and 2008. In accordance with the general structure of the Argentinian book market, the trade in translation rights is also highly concentrated.[53] By contrast, in the period that followed—when Argentina participated in Frankfurt Book Fair as Guest of Honour—these large publishing groups sold only 50 percent of all translation rights, with the rest assigned by small and medium-sized Argentine publishers. As a possible explanation for this, Valeria Añón noted that more licenses had been sold in total between 2009 and 2012 than during the later period, and that small and medium-sized publishing houses had intensified their efforts to take part in the sale of translation rights for Argentinian literature. The Argentine presence as Guest of Honour in Frankfurt and supporting activities by cultural organizations such as TyPA strengthened the role of small and independent publishers in the international licensing business.[54]

Transnational publishing groups branches in Argentina were also responsible for the publication of almost 50 percent of all works that received translation funding by the PROSUR in 2012, according to Szpilbarg.[55] It would be interesting to investigate the participation of smaller, independent publishers in the Argentine trade in translations rights since then, and to explore the extent to which the implementation of translation funding may have influenced it. Unfortunately, data on the international licensing business of Argentinian publishers in general are not continually available, and neither is the information on Argentine original publishers whose international translations are funded by PROSUR systematically recorded. For these reasons, it was not possible to carry out such an analysis within the context of this study.

However, we can examine the involvement of German-speaking publishers in the transfer of Argentine literature supported by PROSUR funds. Here we find that 87.3 percent of all titles translated into German with funding from the Argentinian government between 2010 and 2018 were translated and published by independent publishing houses in the German-speaking sphere. To be “independent” here means not to be part of a large German or transnational publishing group, such as Random House (Bertelsmann), Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, Bonnier Group, or Ganske Publishing Group, and not to belong to universities or similar public institutions.[56] The large market share of independent publishers translating books from the Argentinian Spanish and benefitting from translation funding clarifies their specialization in publishing translations and niche literature as their distinction from publishing houses with a more commercial focus, and their strategy for survival in the literary field.[57] Translation funding thus supports the existence of niche literature and independent publishing in book markets with a commonly prevailing focus on bestsellers and translations from (hyper-)central languages.

It is worth looking at the relationship between translation funding and the selection of Argentinian authors who were invited to be a part of the official delegation at the 2010 Frankfurt Book Fair, which gave them high visibility in German-speaking media and the international publishing industry. Among the 52 invited authors[58] there were 19 writers whose books have not yet been translated into German. Three writers who were present at the 2010 Frankfurt Book Fair witnessed the later publication into German of their books with PROSUR funding. In addition, the German translation of a title by one invited author was published for the first time in 2018 without translation funding support. The books of 10 Argentinian writers were translated into the German without any subsidization. Books by the other 19 authors invited to the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2010 were translated into the German with support from PROSUR on the occasion of Argentina’s participation as Guest of Honour. For nine of them, it was their first published translation into German. This research, using the catalogue of the German National Library, illustrates once more that the combination of translation funding and Guest of Honour attendance leads to an increased number of translations.

Francfort en français at Frankfurt Book Fair 2017 and the French Translation Funding

The project Francfort en français at the 2017 Frankfurt Book Fair paid special attention to the French language rather than to French national literature.[59] As France’s foreign minister Jean‑Yves Le Drian stated, Francfort en français was conceived as “an international showcase for French‑speaking literature in its most diverse forms.”[60] The project therefore extended France’s appearance and allowed Luxemburg, French-speaking Switzerland and francophone Belgium, as well as the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), to co-organize parts of the event and include francophone authors and their works written in French.

Figure 3

Signet of Francfort en français (Artwork © Ruedi Baur) and view of France’s Guest of Honour Pavilion (© Marie Preaud).

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Whether France’s motivation to choose this focus was cultural or mainly economic in nature,[61] this decision and the consequent involvement of co-organizers had positive effects for the diversity of the presence at the fair. The French pavilion at the fair was shaped by a structure of wooden shelves with almost 43,000 books. According to its architect Ruedi Baur, the pavilion sought “to be a multilingual workshop devoted not merely to translation but above all to play with languages by using this space and time to highlight the richness of the French language, its contemporary authors and its multiple forms of expression.”[62] As the Frankfurt Book Fair is characterized by international exchange and translations, the organizers chose the motto “hospitality” as a point of departure for their design of the whole event, considering translations to be an expression of the hospitality of languages towards each other, as Frédéric Boyer, author and the project’s literary consultant, explained.[63]

The French Centre national du livre (CNL), a government-funded and public institution, offers grants to support translations in two directions: of international literature into French, and of French-speaking literature into foreign languages. The CNL’s promotion of French literary translations allows a global audience to gain access via high-quality translation to selected works written either in French, or in other languages spoken in France. Made up of independent specialists, commissions take into consideration the following criteria when deciding whether to support the translation from French of a specific work:

Quality of the work in its original version; relevance of the translation or new translation into the language and country of the applicant publisher; complexity of the project; quality of the sample translation; editorial line of the applicant international publisher and its commitment to French publishers; economic risks taken by the international publisher and, where existent, sales of works by the same author previously translated; estimated print run; amount of licensing fees; payment of the translator compared to current practice in the country of the applicant; opinion of cultural services of the French embassy in the respective country, public aids already granted.[64]

Inter alia, the CNL does not support guidebooks, travel guides, school textbooks, or dictionaries. In 2017, it funded the translation of 227 works of French literature into 33 foreign languages and 41 countries with a budget of 627,380 Euro.[65] Generally, international publishers can receive translation funding to cover either 40 or 60 percent of the costs of the translation. In the months preceding France’s appearance as Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair, however, the CNL increased the percentage of subsidies granted for translations into German to 70 percent of the translation costs in 2016 and 2017. In 2017, therefore, German-speaking publishers received 4,487 Euro on average for the translation of French books (as compared to the 2,764 Euro received by other international publishers). This means that the CNL used more than one quarter of its budget to promote translations from French into German, while the proportion of translations into German in all funded translations was less than 10 percent. Nevertheless, the number of CNL‑funded translations into German rose in preparation for France’s special attendance in Frankfurt, increasing from 16 translations in 2015 to 24 and 36 in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

The following analysis refers to the funding of French book translations into German between 2001 and 2017. In this period, German, Swiss, and Austrian publishers translated 539 works written in French with the help of CNL translation funding. Most of them were contemporary titles (457), which means that the author was still alive when the German translation came out. Regarding the genres, translations of non-fiction books clearly dominate (see Figure 4).

Figure 4

Distribution by genre of 539 translations into German funded by CNL, 2001–2017.

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Translations of books written by male authors undeniably prevail: 445 of the funded translations were written by men, 79 by women, and 15 titles were by various authors, some of them also by a team of only male (4) or only female (1) writers. As a whole, 271 male authors, 67 female authors, and 15 teams of authors were involved in this state-funded literary transfer to the German-speaking book market. Among the authors who received several funding approvals for their books, male writers of non-fiction books clearly predominate. 14 books by Jacques Rancière, 10 by Alain Badiou, 9 each by Michel Foucault and Jean-Luc Nancy, 8 each by Georges Didi-Huberman and Jean‑Claude Kaufmann, as well as 7 titles each by Pierre Bourdieu, Jacques Derrida, and François Jullien received governmental funding for their translation into German. In this way, the French state seemed to want to reinforce international attention given to works by world-renowned intellectuals in the humanities and social sciences who had contributed to the positive global reputation of French thought in these fields, thereby bolstering their soft power.

With regard to the actors involved, it is noteworthy that French publishers that already had a strong position in France’s literary field dominated the CNL-funded literary transfer from French to German-speaking publishing houses between 2001 and 2017. In total, 106 French publishers had their works translated into the German with the help of CNL translation funding. Almost 60 percent of all 539 supported titles were published by the largest French publishing groups—Hachette Livre, Editis, Média Participations, Madrigall, Albin Michel, RELX Group—and the remaining books either with smaller publishing groups like Actes Sud and Groupe Libella, or by independent publishers.[66] The majority of translation rights were sold by two long-established publishers with ample literary, symbolic, and financial capital, namely Éditions Gallimard (70 titles, Groupe Madrigall) and Éditions du Seuil (67 titles, Média Participations). At least in theory, the CNL’s translation support program is open to applications by publishers from different francophone countries.[67] Nevertheless, just a few books published outside of France (and only few outside of Paris, “la capitale de l’univers littéraire”[68]) received funding for their translation into German. Among them were some Belgian publishers, one Quebecois publisher, and one from Réunion.

The situation is different when one looks at the German-speaking publishers involved. Here we see that only 10 percent of the CNL-funded translations were published by those publishing groups with the highest turnover in the German-speaking sphere (Random House, Georg von Holtzbrinck, Bonnier, Springer Nature, Klett Gruppe, Cornelsen, C.H. Beck, Thieme, Bastei Lübbe, and Elsevier).[69] This can partially be explained by the fact that publishers in large publishing groups tend to be less reliant on money from translation funding programs to carry out a translation. However, it is also owing to the more dispersed nature of the German-speaking book market vis‑à‑vis those of Argentina and France, and the fact that translation publishing gives independent publishers the chance to specialize and to assert themselves in the literary field. In accordance with the large number of non-fiction titles funded by the CNL, many books were published by German‑speaking publishers specializing in the fields of (French) humanities and social sciences (see Table 2).

Table 2

The 10 German-speaking publishers best represented in translations funded by CNL, 2001–2017

The 10 German-speaking publishers best represented in translations funded by CNL, 2001–2017

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Besides the CNL, the Institut français, another actor in French foreign cultural policy, offers international publishers translation funding for up to 50 percent of translation costs. In this case, the funding program is managed through the Institut’s branch offices in various different countries. In Germany, the so-called Rilke Program supports fiction and non-fiction book translations. The Institut français cites “quality and project relevance” as the most important selection criteria.[70] By promoting French literature and culture abroad, the government ensures a visibility that strengthens France’s soft power. Translation funding also provides incentives for international publishers to seek out economic relationships with French publishers, thereby indirectly promoting the French publishing industry.

The following analysis refers to translations into German that were funded by the Institut français between 2008 and 2018. The number of translations in the Rilke Program rose significantly in the months preceding France’s participation in the 2017 Frankfurt Book Fair.[71] In total, the Rilke Program funded 275 translations of French books into the German during this period, including 233 titles written by contemporary, living authors, and 42 books by classical French writers. Unlike that of the CNL, the Institut français funding focuses primarily on fiction books (see Figure 5).

Figure 5

Distribution by genre of 275 translations into German funded by Rilke Program / Institut français, 2008–2018.

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It is particularly interesting to note that children’s books and comics rarely receive translation funding from the French state (either by the CNL or by the Institut français), as these are the most powerful genres for French publishers trading in rights and licenses, and constituted a special focus of France’s Guest of Honour program for the 2017 Frankfurt Book Fair.

Translations of books written by male authors also predominate in the Rilke Program, even if the proportion of titles written by female authors reaches almost one quarter of all translations funded by the Institut français, compared to only 14.6 percent of books by women funded through the CNL. Due to missing data, it is not currently possible to compare these percentages to the proportion of actually published titles in the French book market written by female authors. However, these results illustrate a key condition, one that prevails in most book markets worldwide: namely, that women writers are usually less visible than their male counterparts. Women’s less visible status relative to men can be detected in publishing houses’ catalogues, literary awards, literary funding, and media reviews.[72] That said, it is less pronounced for certain genres and topics. For example, fiction and children’s books written by women are generally more likely to be accepted than non‑fiction titles by female writers.[73] This may be one of the reasons that the proportion of female authors for whom the Institut français offers translation funding is relatively high, since the Institut’s focus is on literary titles rather than non-fiction works.

Furthermore, the profile of German-speaking publishers who profited from Institut français’s translation funding reflects this focus on works of fiction. Many of the 275 funded translations were published by independent German publishers specializing in literary titles and drama, as well as comics and humanities titles.

Table 3

The 7 German-speaking publishers best represented in translations funded by Rilke Program / Institut français, 2008–2018

The 7 German-speaking publishers best represented in translations funded by Rilke Program / Institut français, 2008–2018

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Among the publishers with the most translation grants are comic publishers Reprodukt and avant‑Verlag, publishers of literary fiction and studies in the humanities Matthes & Seitz Berlin, Passagen Verlag, Verlag Klaus Wagenbach, and Edition Nautilus, as well as the drama-focused publishing house Theater der Zeit (see Table 3). This list clearly shows that independent publishers strongly influenced the supported literary transfer of French literature among the l92 German‑speaking publishers involved. Only about 7 percent of the titles were published by the aforementioned high‑revenue publishing groups in the German-speaking sphere, which was an even smaller proportion than in the CNL funding program. In France, the large publishing groups published more than half of the original books—144 of 275 titles. The most common licensors among the 89 French publishers involved were the renowned companies Gallimard (29 translations), Fayard (11), Flammarion (10), independent publisher Éditions de Minuit (12), and Seuil (12). Funding international translations enables these publishers, with their wealth of symbolic capital, to strengthen their position in the French literary field. Nevertheless, the same is also true for independent publishers that benefit from increased prospects in the sale of their translation rights, thanks to translation funding programs.

The invitation of French-speaking authors from outside of France to take part in the official delegation of authors at the 2017 Frankfurt Book Fair reflects once more the organizers’ attempt to represent the diversity of contemporary literature written in French. Paul de Sinety, head of the organizing committee, explained the criteria for selecting invited writers as follows:

They come from the main publishing sectors—fiction, non-fiction, youth literature, comics—and from all over the globe, all in up-to-date translations, as all these authors dream, write and express their identity in French.[74]

The French organization committee officially invited to the fair 138 authors writing in French. According to committee representatives, as a prerequisite to receiving an invitation, authors needed to have had one of their works recently translated into German. This is why only 7 of the participating authors did not have a German edition of their books.[75] 49 of the francophone authors in the official delegation had received translation funding from the CNL or the Rilke Program (16 from the CNL, 22 from the Institut français, 11 from both programs). The German editions of some invited authors might also have received funding by the Belgian, Swiss, and Luxembourgian governments, which also support translations of literature from their respective national languages into foreign languages. Other authors in the delegation whose work was considered to have more commercial appeal might rarely have received translation funding, and the same was true for authors who were already recognized outside of France, such as Michel Houellebecq, for instance. Books written by these authors often catch on internationally without support from any special translation initiative.

Conclusion and Outlook

As this study has tried to show, the starting conditions for the increase of translations in relation to the French and Argentine attendances as Guests of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair were entirely different. This is not only due to the different positions held by French versus Spanish within the global system of translations, and the differing literary relations between the German-speaking and the French or Argentine book markets. We also find disparities in the two countries’ translation funding programs, traditions, and financial resources.

Generally speaking, translations from French are more likely to be published in German-speaking book markets due to the long tradition of French-German literary exchange and the good network among publishers. The longstanding existence of French translation funding programs also contributes to a lively exchange of translations. As well, the support of these programs allowed German-speaking publishers to start preparing their catalogue for France’s attendance as Guest of Honour with the help of translation funding as early as the fall of 2014 when the Guest of Honour position was officially announced, three years in advance of Francfort en français. Between 2015 and France’s attendance as Guest of Honour in 2017, 172 books were translated into German with the support of the French institutions CNL and Institut français. In the case of Argentina, meanwhile, German publishers benefitted from the subsidization by PROSUR of a remarkable 78 translations in just one year, 2010, the year leading up to Argentina’s attendance as Guest of Honour.

The sheer amount of the annual subsidies granted by the French CNL alone is more than twice that of the Argentine PROSUR. In addition, the Institut français has special translation funding programs in at least 40 countries. Due to the higher budget of French translation funding programs, the organizers could invest larger sums in translations into German in particular. Certainly, they expected France’s attendance as Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair to have an impact on the amount of translations into other languages due to its international appeal and visibility. Regrettably, the comparison of the amount of money that different states provide for translation funding reminds us that unequally distributed financial resources for subsidies accentuate the inequality of translation flows within the global system of translations.

Given that there are no regularly published official statistics on the Argentinian trade in rights and licenses, currently we cannot rely on figures to prove the effects of Argentina’s attendance as Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair, or of its PROSUR. Officials consider Argentina’s attendance as well as the translation funding program to have had positive outcomes, since translated books of more than 400 Argentinian authors have been published in various countries worldwide since the 2010 Frankfurt Book Fair.[76] In addition, specialists emphasize Argentina’s increased ability, in comparison to the period before the start of the program, to compete with other Spanish-speaking countries in the global system of translations, and stress the need to continue subsidizing translations of Argentine literature over the long term.[77]

More research is necessary to determine whether attendance as Guest of Honour at Frankfurt stimulates foreign publishers’ interest in acquiring translations without the help of government translation grants. Therefore a study is needed comparing numbers of translations with and without the help of translation funding in the years both before and after a country’s attendance as Guest of Honour. Unfortunately, German data in Buch und Buchhandel in Zahlen do not separate translation numbers according to their source region. This prevents us from making statements on the evolution of the number of translations from Argentina and France, as well as on further regions where authors publish their works in world languages such as English, Spanish, and French. With regard to France’s attendance as Guest of Honour in Frankfurt in 2017, it would be especially interesting to study its impact on translation numbers from other francophone regions, since Francfort en français aimed to pay special attention to the French language rather than to French national literature. It would be worthwhile to investigate to what extent publishers and authors from further French-speaking regions could benefit from this prioritization.

Translation funding programs obviously depend on international publishers’ application and selection of the books that they consider to be appropriate for translation and—to go back one step further—on the selection of titles offered by the original publishers in the first place. Since neither of the funding organizations publishes any information on rejected applications, it is difficult to identify the degree of influence they exert on the diversity of funded translations with regard to the genres, authors, authors’ gender, and publishing houses involved, for example. A focused effort to support actors with what Susan Hawthorne calls “marginalized voices” in book publishing would cultivate biobliodiversity.[78] Increasing the proportion of female-authored literary works that receive support from the Argentine and French translation funding programs is just one example. On the other hand, the relatively high proportion of independent publishers involved in the government-funded transfer of French and Argentine literature to the German-speaking book market shows that the funding of translations contributes both to the diversity of translations available on the book market, and to the ability of independent publishers to specialize and assert themselves in the literary field. Further research might investigate whether non-funded titles are more likely to be published by big commercial publishers, which would then shine additional light on findings that funded French and Argentine books were mainly published by small independent publishers. This would allow more conclusive answers to the question of whether translation funding is an appropriate way to foster bibliodiversity.

In addition to translation grants, travel stipends both for authors and publishers as well as the promotion of international book fair activities might help to encourage translations and foster diversity in international literary exchange. The presence of authors at international book fairs and their visibility in the media in connection with the Guests of Honour could have long-term effects. As we have said before, it is not only the mere existence of translations in a given literary marketplace that increases their acceptance and diversity, but their visibility on a broader stage and their success in reaching as many readers as possible.