I once accompanied my friend, Chi Le, to one of the many ‘street bookstores’ in Hanoi. And there I was amazed at my first site of books, piled on top of each other beside a busy highway, by the world’s greatest writers: Borges, Sinclair Lewis, Camus, Flaubert, Hemingway, Buck in Tieng Viet, Vietnam’s national language.
Although most Vietnamese college students do not read and write in English, this does not mean, however, that they are deprived of the chance to read these classics of world Literature. In fact, having these books in their language places them at an advantage because the burden brought by mentally translating every word and phrase has already been eliminated allowing them to proceed in doing something of even greater importance, and that is seeing themselves and their experiences in the context of these works.
Most Vietnamese students are knowledgeable about these great authors and their works only that they learned about them in their native language. It is worth noting, nonetheless, that most of these works that are considered canons were originally written in a different language, not in English, as these are mostly English translations.
In the Philippines, things are totally different. Most Filipinos look down on works written in Filipino or any regional language. No one is interested in translating these works to Filipino because reading them in English is more ‘convenient’, some are even skeptical that Filipino has enough stock of words in its vocabulary to accurately capture the thoughts in the original work. Some would even declare that English is easier to read and understand than Filipino
But who do we fool? Our students’ English proficiency is on a rapid decline. The ubiquity of BPO companies in the country is giving us a skewed perception of the general condition of the use of English in the country. Granting that we’re able to mimic the American twang or the British nonchalance when speaking, we’re missing the point if majority of the population is living in the darkness of assumed literacy.
And from this something got through me. This blog Salìn, a Filipino word that means ‘translated’ is the product of this desire to make these works more accessible to the reading public. As an initial public offering, I am posting here my translation of an article written by my favorite essayist Umberto Eco. In the mean time, as I am yet to develop fluidity in style and faithfulness to the originals, I shall begin translating shorter articles by Eco from his brief anthology of essays called “How to Travel with a Salmon & Other Essays” and will eventually try doing more ambitious translation projects.