Translating the World into Welsh

Ned Thomas on the role of Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol in enriching Welsh culture through disseminating Welsh translations of international texts from literature, the arts, philosophy and politics


This article is not about the translation which occurs within the framework of administrative bilingualism – a subject which has its own interest and its own politics – but rather with the translation into Welsh of texts in the humanities, arts and social sciences, and mainly from languages other than English. Only recently has a project funded by Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol allowed us to begin surveying this field systematically, and chiefly in respect of translations made in the 20th century and after.

The first thing that strikes one is that this quite substantial body of work is off the radar of most educated readers of Welsh. Few are aware that you can read Dante’s entire Divina Commedia in Welsh terza rima, or two versions of Goethe’s Faust (Part I), three translations of Hamlet, Marx’s Communist Manifesto, the Bhagavad Gita, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Nicomachaean Ethics – I use the English titles here for the reader’s convenience, but all the examples mentioned are direct translations from the original languages. To give a further idea of the spread, here is a random selection of authors, examples (short or long) of whose work have appeared in print in Welsh translation: Horace, Virgil, Boccaccio, Descartes, Maupassant, Daudet, Balzac, Sartre, Camus, Gide, Neruda, Stefan Zweig, St Augustine, Luther, Hjalmar Søderberg, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Turgenev, Vasily Grossman, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Heine, Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Dino Buzzati, Nikos Kazantzakis, Bernardo Atxaga, Paul Celan, Liam O’Flaithearta...

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