Promoting ‘Lesser-Used’ Languages Through Translation


  • Tom Priestly University of Alberta



Translation, Slovene, minor language


The globalization of communication in ‘major’ languages has become incompatible with the claims made by the other languages. Many minor, ‘lesser used’ languages were formerly marginalized and ignored because of their incompatibility with national policies; more recently, while acknowledged by specialists, they still have had to struggle to be more publicly recognized as vehicles for important literature, and also in some cases as actually existing. Having the Nobel Prize for Literature awarded is not necessarily effective: within years of Frédéric Mistral’s Nobel prize few people would have acknowledged the existence of Provençal as a language. One potentially more profitable means of achieving recognition is through being translated into better-known languages. The paper will look at two examples. First: Slovene, the language of just 2 million people in Europe; a language with an established literature; officially a national language; but not generally known. Promotion through translation has been extraordinarily active: great efforts have been made to translate all the major works of literature into ‘major’ languages. Among the results: an enormous translation factory, where sometimes quality is sacrificed to quantity; and very high pay for translators. Second, at the other end of the ‘status-as-a-language’ spectrum: Lakhian, which very few people recognize as a ‘language’ rather than a dialect; and yet one that received huge (if temporary) recognition when the one person who wrote what is recognized as ‘serious’ literature in Lakhian, Ondra Lysohorsky, had his poetry translated by Boris Pasternak and W.H. Auden.


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Author Biography

Tom Priestly, University of Alberta

Tom Priestly was Professor of Russian and Slavic Linguistics at the University of Alberta. His main research is in Slovene, particularly the sociolinguistics of the Slovenophone minority in Austria; but he taught a variety of courses, including (for over 20 years) the Russian-English translation course. He began translating from Slovene into English in the 1980s and has been the translator or co-translator of seven books of poetry and other items, including songs for a children’s CD. He has just published sixty poems in a Slovene Academy anthology, and is working on the poetry of Cvetka Lipuπ.