Translation and Literature


28 April, 2016

Literary translation is not one of our fields, but, being April the month when World Book Day is celebrated and in the year of the 400th anniversary of Cervantes and Shakespeare deaths (even if they did not exactly die on the same day); we had no excuse not to talk about it.

UNESCO has been compiling data about languages and books on its Index Translationum. Here you can get statistics about the most translated writers, source and target languages, countries or publishers that publish translated books in a given country of your choice.

Today we want to share with you some interesting data from this Index.

Top 10 most translated writers:

  1. Christie Agatha
  2. Verne Jules
  3. Shakespeare William
  4. Blyton Enid
  5. Cartland Barbara
  6. Steel Danielle
  7. Lenin Vladimir Il’ič
  8. Andersen Hans Christian
  9. King Stephen
  10. Grimm Jacob

Surprised for not finding Cervantes among the top 10? Guess what; he is not even on the top 50. It is not strange, as this list evolves with society and modern writers, who have probably published more books, get better rankings. This is the case of bestsellers Danielle Steel and Stephen King. The most famous (and most translated) book by Cervantes is Don Quixote, so probably this is the only book that has been considered for the ranking. Why Shakespeare does appear in the top 10? Probably because he had more books than the Spanish writer and by the second half of the 17th century the Spanish empire was declining, which fostered the evolution of the English empire. Therefore, English culture was more widely spread by then.

Top 10 source languages:

  1. English
  2. French
  3. German
  4. Russian
  5. Italian
  6. Spanish
  7. Swedish
  8. Japanese
  9. Danish
  10. Latin

As you can see, English is first in the ranking. Most of the most translated authors were English speakers, so the relationship between writers and languages is evident.

Top 10 target languages:

  1. German
  2. French
  3. Spanish
  4. English
  5. Japanese
  6. Dutch
  7. Russian
  8. Portuguese
  9. Poland
  10. Sweden

Surprised to find Polish and Swedish on this ranking? As experts in translation from and into Nordic languages, we have a hypothesis: the Nobel Prize in Literature. We think that the winner will have its book translated into Swedish so readers in the country awarding the price will have access to such work.

Top 10 Spanish writers:

  1. García Márquez Gabriel
  2. Allende Isabel
  3. Vargas Llosa Mario
  4. Cervantes Saavedra Miguel de
  5. Borges Jorge Luis
  6. Parramón Vilasaló José María
  7. García Lorca Federico
  8. Neruda Pablo
  9. Cortázar Julio
  10. Vázquez Montalbán Manuel


Hurrah! We can finally find Cervantes in a ranking, but not in the first position. Not having Spain’s most universal writer in the first positions is quite reasonable. 400 years ago there were many fewer readers (not to mention translators). Therefore, if we compare him with authors from the 20th century, when reading and translation are more frequent activities, any writer of previous centuries, no matter how important he/she is, will always have a low ranking. Also, remember that UNESCO has been compiling data “only” since 1979, so all previous translations before that year are not included; probably many translations from Cervantes works were done before that year.

As a company also offering translation from and into Spanish and with one office in Spain, we wanted to check the top 10 countries with translation from Spanish:

  1. Spain
  2. France
  3. Germany
  4. United States
  5. Brazil
  6. Portugal
  7. Italy
  8. United Kingdom
  9. Poland
  10. The Netherlands

Lastly, as English is the most translated language, we wanted to know which the top 10 countries with most translated English books are:

  1. Germany
  2. Spain
  3. France
  4. Japan
  5. The Netherlands
  6. Sweden
  7. Poland
  8. Denmark
  9. China
  10. Russian Federation

What can we learn from all these data? Literature and translation help us to discover and unify countries, cultures, traditions and to leave thousands of adventures. No matter if we are in the literary translation field or not, at Jensen Localization we will always support the combination of both worlds. Long life translation!


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