Aruni Kashyap, assistant professor in the English department within the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, was recently quoted in an article from The Print about the debate around Indian translation and the role languages play, as well as the hierarchy they belong to.
There are many languages and dialects in India. Some languages—like Tamil, Bangla and Malayalam—are widely translated. Others, however, aren’t. Why is there this linguistic hierarchy? Kashyap, who’s also a prominent Assamese translator, weighed in.
“Hindi and Bengali have widely spoken South Asian languages and surely will have more power inherent in them. This is natural, and I have no problem with that,” he said. “It would be foolish to grudge that there are around 250 million Bengali speakers as opposed to only 20 million Assamese speakers or 3 million Bodo speakers. But this becomes a problem if people in positions of power refuse to treat all languages equally.”
There’s also a publishing nexus that contributes to this disparity, Kashyap said.
“Publishers and agents must make a conscious effort to make translations readily available. Not just from Assamese, but any language and especially works from underrepresented literary cultures,” he said.
The primary challenge is that literary works from these languages aren’t seen as “valuable” or “commercially viable,” he said.
“Publishers say without shame that they can’t ‘sell’ when it is their job to find a way to sell works with literary merit,” Kashyap said.
The article continued to emphasize that there are other issues that feed into the absence of translation for certain languages, including a lack of translators from many languages in question.