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Translate from Myanmar - National Centre for Literacy

WCN Associate Programme Director Kate Griffin talks about Link the Wor(l)ds in Myanmar and the problems of Burma's authors, translator and publisher. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend Myanmar for Link the Worlds, a week-long string of translating seminars and literature debates in Yangon in May 2015.

The Writers' Centre Norwich has been organising the conference for over a year in cooperation with the PEN Myanmar and the Select Centre in Singapore. Truly cosmopolitan, other sponsors were the British Centre for Literary Translation, Penguin Random House, the Taw Win Foundation, PEN Int., the British Council and the National Arts Council of Singapore.

Burma has only recently come out of a long era of insularity. During the whole month we looked for ways to revitalize the river of modern literature and idea between Myanmar and other lands, especially in Southeast Asia. Myanmar's literature exchanges prospered in the years after the 1948 Universal Declaration of Independent Settlement.

Burma Translation Society was founded in 1947 in Rangoon, and high-quality translation of the best books from other nations was made available to Burmese people. In spite of the opening of the land about three years ago, many of the books available in Myanmar today still date from this time.

Since the 1960' few books - except Russian books - have been converted into Burmese. In Myanmar, however, it is usually a work of charity, with little or no compensation.

While it is necessary to promote a new breed of literature translator, there is no such thing as systemic assistance in the shape of training courses or qualification measures at school and university. That means Myanmar people are having trouble getting hold of more modern writings and inspiration from around the globe, and Myanmar authors are insulated from their peers internationally.

Simultaneously, little modern Myanmar script is translating into other tongues because there is a lack of skilled literature interpreters who can translate from the Myanmar tongues. Hopefully Link the Worlds would be a first move to change this. Founded in 2013, PEN Myanmar has set itself the goal of promoting dialog between authors and readership and reaching out to different parts of Myanmar's community by conducting literature debates in places of interest throughout the nation, even on train and coach-outs.

Educational levels in Myanmar are low, so there is very little reading. Myanmar's PEN Ma Thida said that the child must be empowered to tell and compose text. In an effort to open up the Myanmar literacy community, PEN Myanmar organizes Yangon literacy nights (in English), presenting non-Burmese poetry and texts from the other Myanmar ethnical states.

Because of the level of ethnical criticism, there is little ethnical literacy; PEN wants to help increase literacy and translations between Myanmar and ethnical tongues. Myanmar's small but expanding and self-sufficient publisher industry. According to San Mon Aung, there are four major obstacles to publication in Myanmar. There is a horrible sales system; the absence of a trusted mail system makes it hard to get the book through the bookstores or directly to the reader.

Third, it is difficult for a publisher to find high-quality authors and translator; even if they do, high qualitiy and literature do not necessarily draw many new people. After all, although formal censure is in the past, there are still many legislation controlling publication - in fact an alternate form of censor.

In general, there is no such thing as a powerful editorial style in Burma's publisher sector, and many of the small-scale, independents cannot simply employ editor. The majority of Burma's editorial staff work for magazines rather than newspapers. Myyo Myint Nyein, one of the few seasoned Myanmar writers, said that until two or three years ago there was an office of publicity.

In everyday lives, when talking, they felt that they had to work on themselves before they talked; this climate of prudence has made an impression on the authors. Myanmar authors are still resisting editorial work if they see it as a censor. Today, publishers are more capable of focusing on styles than monitoring contents, but even this can be difficult for several reason.

Speaking Myanmar may sound slippery, but when the casual language is recorded, it can be full of grammar errors. Myanmar readership doesn't object, but if the translations reflect this ease, then perhaps less sympathetic audiences around the world. A further obstacle for many publishing houses in Southeast Asia is the language variety of the area; it is very important that they translate so that they can also go to neighboring states.

Myanmar has no literature operatives who could support Myanmar or any other writer. It' s costly for Burma's publishing houses to afford copyrights because of the small print run and low income of the book. The World was greeted by all participants as a first move to improve the position of Myanmar's literature translations.

The focus of the five-day meeting was on two dedicated training sessions, each with ten people from different parts of Myanmar. Myanmar -English group worked with Moe Thet Han, course instructor, to translate works by British writer Suzanne Joinson and Singapore writer Alfian Sa'at into Myanmar. Under the direction of Alfred Birnbaum, the English-Burmese group translates the works of the Myanmar authors Nay Myo and Min Khite Soe San into English.

A lead translator commended Link the Worlds as the first large scale translating events in Myanmar since 1969.

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