11.12.2012 - Culture Sector

The Arabic language in UNESCO translation programs

As UNESCO prepares to celebrate International Arabic Language Day on December 18th, it is important to recall that translation constitutes a major pillar of dialogue, and has remained a major focus of UNESCO’s undertakings since its creation. An analysis of the ways in which translation has facilitated and nourished exchanges between countries, regions and languages allows us to understand, and to thereby better foster and promote intercultural dialogue.

In 1948, in the very early stages of UNESCO’s existence, the Organization took up the idea of creating a Collection of representative works – a sort of list of the literary heritage of humanity. The program ended about a dozen years ago, all while resting a major reference point for editors on the quest for reference texts to re-edit and translate into other languages. Upon consulting the collection, we come across 62 titles of works translated from Arabic into three vehicular languages (English, French, and Spanish): and more than thirty texts translated into Arabic.


The Translationum Index, created in 1932 by the Society of Nations and taken over by UNESCO in 1948, is the sole existing international repertory of translated texts in the world.   Accessible online, the Index Translationum provides us straightaway with the most up-to-date up to date statistics regarding the evolution of translations around the world, ordered according to country, language, author, theme or year.

For a period extending from 1979 until 2009, the index’s database inventories 11,500 books translated into Arabic across practically the entirety of the world’s Arabophone countries.

This finding is the fruit of Index’s collaboration with national libraries, bibliographic institutions and ministries in Arab countries. UNESCO is working to promote and to proffer an image that faithfully reflects the exchanges that have been accomplished through the work of translation between Arab countries and the rest of the world.

The database of The Translationum Index also provides us with the possibility of measuring the global presence Arab literary and intellectual creations.

In addition to the collection of data, the Translationum Index collaborates with other Arab countries on a number of projects associated with translation. Its aims are directed as much at the national level, as attests its work with Moroccan translators during the conference, The translated book and its role in cultural development, which took place in Rabat in September 2012, as at the international level, as we saw with the participation of the Ana Lindh Transeuropean Foundations in the production of a vast report on translation in the Mediterranean region.

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