Interesting Facts on Translating Literature and Fiction

Thanks to the work of translators, throughout history we have had the privilege of being able to read books and fictional literature from other countries. Literary translators play a vital role in making books accessible to a wider audience, opening a new literary world of global authors, stories and characters.

Books have been translated for thousands of years and in 1932, the League of Nations established a record of translations called the Index Translationum, which UNESCO started managing in 1946. The Index Translationum is a database of book translations and thanks to this record, we have access to statistics and information relating to literary translation. Each year the database is updated with approximately 100,000 new entries, covering over 450,000 authors and 1,100 languages.

Here are some interesting facts and statistics relating to global literature:

  • The top three most translated individual authors are Agatha Christie, with 7,236 translations, Jules Verne, with 4,751 translations and William Shakespeare, with 4,296 translations. 
  • The top five languages that books have been translated into:
  1. German – 301,935 translations
  2. French – 240,045 translations
  3. Spanish – 228,559 translations
  4. English – 164,509 translations
  5. Japanese – 130,649 translations
  • The top 10 most translated books:
  1. The Bible

Translated into 554 languages, the Bible is the most translated book. The New Testament has been translated into 1,333 languages, and parts of the Bible have been translated into 2,932 languages.

  1. The Little Prince

If we leave books of a religious nature to one side, The Little Prince, written by French author Antoine de Saint Exupéry in 1943, is the most translated book. As of today, it has been translated into 300 languages.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of its publication and it is expected to be translated into even more.

  1. Pinocchio

In third place is Pinocchio, a children’s book written by Carlo Collodi in 1883 in Italian, which has been translated into over 260 languages.

  1. Pilgrim’s Progress

A book written by British author John Bunyan in 1678, which has been translated into 200 languages.

  1. My Book of Bible Stories

In fifth place is the Watchtower Society’s book, which was written in English and has been translated into 194 languages.

  1. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

A fantasy novel written by British mathematician, logician and writer Lewis Carroll, published in 1865 and translated into 174 languages.

  1. Andersen’s Fairy Tales

The famous children’s tale written in Danish by Hans Christian Andersen, published between 1835 and 1852 and translated into 153 languages.

  1. The Ingenious Nobleman Mister Quixote of La Mancha

The famous work of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, written in Spanish and published in 1615. Now translated into more than 140 languages.

 “The Adventures of Asterix”

A comic book series created by French authors René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, published in 1959. Currently translated into 112 languages.

  1. The Book of Mormon

Published in America in 1830, translated into 110 languages.

Did You Know? This year, Welocalize celebrates its 20th anniversary. Harry Potter, the series of fantasy novels written by British author J.K. Rowling, also celebrates 20 years since its first publication in 1997.

Harry Potter has been translated into 80 languages, sitting 13th in the world ranking of most translated books. This doesn’t account for regional adaptations, such as American English, or the transliterations of translations into different scripts such as English Braille and Serbian Cyrillic.

With so many books being translated, the literary translator is almost as important as the author. As well as translating the text they also need to culturally adapt the content, whilst staying true to the original text and the style of the author. We want to thank the great and brilliant literary translators all over the world, connecting readers everywhere!

Adriana

Based in Barcelona, Adriana Martin is a member of Welocalize Global Marketing Team. Email Adriana.martin@welocalize.com