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Book Platform



research by

Kostyantyn RODYK,

president of All-Ukrainian rating “Book of the Year”,

scientific expert of Taras Shevchenko Institute of Literature,

National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine




  1. Scope, objectives, methodology ……………………… 3

  2. Summary ……………………………………………………………… 6

  3. Chronology and trends:

3.1. Late 1980s – 1992…………………………………....9

3.2. 1993–1994…………………………………………….....14

3.3. 1995-2001………………………………………………..21

3.4. Second wave of Russian-language translations

(1993–2000) ……………………………………………….31

3.5. 2002– 2012……………………………………………....38

3.6. Last decade: languages, topics, names ………………….42

4. Translators ……………………………………………………… 51

5. Recommendations …………………………………………………….53

6. Addendum: The most relevant translations of 2002 – 2012 according to expert community evaluation………………………………………..54

1. Scopes, objectives, methodology

With regard to the task itself this research is a pilot one, as this scope of translation activities has not been studied before. The repertoire of new Ukrainian book industry (during the twenty years of Independence) includes only several studies in translation theories and historical and personal essays.

The main problem of studying translations from foreign languages into Ukrainian is the lack of full register of publications in Ukraine. The task to compile national bibliography has been given by the government to the Book Chamber of Ukraine. However, this task from the state is fulfilled by mere primitive accounting of copies sent by publishers. But not all publishing houses send their products and if they do, not every published book is sent in: according to the evaluation of Ukrainian Association of Book Publishers and Book Sellers, nowadays Book Chamber of Ukraine does not receive between 10 and 15 per cent of control copies. The situation with accounting published titles in early 1990s was even worse. Still, both then and now the Book Chamber of Ukraine does not deem it its obligation to track down the real assortment of book market in Ukraine, though without such activities full national bibliography is impossible even in theory.

Therefore, due to the lack of exhaustive bibliography, only the analysis of preliminary data is possible. Besides, the available statistics of publishing provided by Book Chamber of Ukraine contains numerous discrepancies in numbers. For example, in an official bibliography of publications for 2002-2012 submitted for purposes of this research 4,607 titles are listed while the combined number of translations in ten years (from the same Book Chamber) is equal to 6,454 publications. Where almost two thousand publications not accounted for in general bibliography come from only full repeated accounting can show, which surpasses the capacities and competence of this research.

Still, the statistics of Book Chamber of Ukraine also contains some structural defects:

  • the general register includes both books and brochures on equal statistical basis as well as mass publications and those in only 100 copies;

  • departmental publications, which are issued in hundreds of titles every year, are not singled out;

  • a great number of publications from higher educational establishments designed mostly for internal use is also documented on par with market publications.

According to expert evaluation of Ukrainian Association of Book Publishers and Book Sellers, the number of publications available on retail book market amounts to only a third of the annual number reported by the Book Chamber. In this situation, the percentage of translations in the general number of publications loses a role of credible indicators.

Even the very notion of “translation” according to the understanding of Book Chamber of Ukraine is blurred. It includes both classical translations and linguistically adapted technical publications, e.g. bilingual dictionaries and phrasebooks, problem books for school leavers, advice books on breeding and keeping domestic animals, various international industrial classifications, etc. – that is, printed publications, which do not correspond to the traditional interpretation of the role and meaning of translations accepted all over the world, which is “to make an irreplaceable contribution in intellectual and spiritual progress.” 1.

Therefore, the statistics of Book Chamber of Ukraine does not provide information on the basis of which one can construct standard analytics of translation process. The official data require detailed checks by different parameters and making corrections, which allow us to come closer to a more adequate situation with publishing. That is why in this research such additional resources were used as catalogues of publishing houses on their own website as well as the statistics of All-Ukrainian rating “Book of the Year”. This campaign has been conducted regularly since 1999, and from the very beginning has been oriented on expert evaluation of the fullest possible assortment of each year. “Book of the Year” nomination lists are compiled on the basis of bibliography from National Parliamentary Library of Ukraine (which, just as the Book Chamber, receives obligatory copies from publishing houses) and monitoring of the assortment in Kyiv book shops. Naturally these lists include not all publications designed for regional markets, but among such “local” books there are no translations as a rule. On the other hand, “Book of the Year” lists do not include school textbooks and manuals, which are extremely rarely translated. Translations for internal use published in a small number of copies, advice books on housekeeping and popular astrology books, brochures for children between 8 and 20 pages are also not included in the list (all these categories are mostly translated from Russian). Therefore, we can believe that all “meaningful” translations in important segments (fiction, children’s literature, humanitarian sciences, and professional literature) are represented in nomination lists of “Book of the Year” All-Ukrainian rating.

If we take up as a workable hypothesis the evaluation of Ukrainian Association of Book Publishers and Book Sellers that only a third of all published titles accounted for by Book Chamber of Ukraine appear on the market, in 1990 – 2001 “Book of the Year” evaluated almost all newly published titles; in 2002 – 2008 it included a fifth, and in 2009 – 2012, a tenth of the whole market assortment. Besides, the percentage of translations among all books appearing on the market is comparable with the official data. A certain correlation is observed in the number of translations into the principal languages (English, Russian, French, German, Polish, etc.) and theme groups of translated publications.

The study of this problem is further complicated by the fact that the very history of new publication in Ukraine (1991 – 2012) has not been written yet. Therefore, to understand reasons and consequences of changes on translation market, we had to restore the general course of events in Ukrainian book publishing field in twenty years. This is why this research has become a sort of a historical essay.

As for the material situation among translations, the portion of expenses for translation and editing in the cost of publications, specifics of translators’ cooperation with publishers and the like, this information is accessible to a researcher only out of carefully conducted and non-recorded interviews of the participants of the process; therefore, now it is impossible to provide any tangible confirmations for that. Using the formulation of “commercial secret”, publishers never disclose any technical information, which is mostly open in countries where the shadow part of economy is much smaller than in Ukraine.

A great number of modern Ukrainian publishers does not note the number of copies in the book data. That is why even on the level of publishing statistics it is very hard to compare quantitative impact of books by these or those authors on readership. Besides, it is not a given that even the noted number of copies was really sold and did not stay behind – due to marketing and management mistakes – in stock of publishing houses (or given up for recycling when it is too expensive to pay rent for the warehouse). As for sales, Ukraine still does not have either a system of accounting book sales such as BookScan or accounting of each single copy. Therefore, we can imagine the number of books reaching the end use only in a very approximate way. In its turn, it makes it impossible to study translation market further and deeper, to find out the real impact of specific publications on the development of critical thought (intellectual, aesthetical, social and political) and the formation of popular mentality in the country.
2. Summary

The main problem of publishing translations from foreign languages into Ukrainian is the critical over-saturation of Ukrainian book market with Russian products. Russian Federation has much more publishing houses specializing in translations; they are more stable economically than the Ukrainian ones and therefore can afford buying licenses for popular foreign new publications in the amounts financially inaccessible for Ukrainian publishing houses. According to the expert evaluation of Ukrainian Association of Book Publishers and Book Sellers, the books published in Ukraine amounted to about 5 per cent from the assortment on the market in early 1990s and now amount to 25 per cent. Sociological surveys testify to the fact that Ukrainian consumers mostly choose translations from Russian publishers (i.e., into Russian language).

Therefore, excessive export of Russian book products in Ukraine is mostly noticeable for translated publications. It creates additional pressure on Ukrainian translated publications, because in most cases Russian-made translations appear on Ukrainian market earlier than the same translated literature in Ukrainian languages. Only several economically successful Ukrainian publishing houses are able to oppose and attract demand; they can issue popular foreign new titles in Ukrainian translations earlier than these books are published in Russia. These publishing houses include “Family Leisure Club” (Kharkiv), “Tempora” (Kyiv), and “A-BA-BA-HA-LA-MA-HA” (Kyiv). A “second wave” tactics is also used when the works by a certain author are translated into Ukrainian in several years after their first appearance in Russian translations; in this way, secondary demand is stimulated (this is how “Folio”, a publishing house from Kharkiv, brought to the market the works by H. Murakami, M. Houellebecq, U. Eco, A. Perez-Reverte, and others).

* * *

If we review only significant translations into Ukrainian (fiction, children’s literature, humanitarian sciences), not taking into statistical account “cheat notes” for school and university students, calendars for kitchen gardeners, interpretation of dreams, horoscopes, etc. (mostly translated from Russian), then on the basis of studying all available information we can come to a conclusion that in 20 years at the Ukrainian market approximately the following number of titles appeared (the second row contains quantitative barriers taken in a respective year):











































Small numbers of translations published in 1993 – 1997 are explained by a period of search by Renaissance international fund and other foreign institutions working on grants for an optimal model to support national book publishing. As soon as the noted programs intensified, it was immediately seen in the dynamics of publishing. The programs of Renaissance fund in 1998 – 2009 supported 768 projects (for the general amount of about 4,461,000 USD) from almost 100 Ukrainian publishing houses the contribution of which amounted to 50 per cent of each project sum.2

Practically all translations into Ukrainian language from world humanitarian sciences (philosophy, psychology, sociology, political science, cultural studies) published until the end of 2000s appeared thanks to foreign grants. Now the “non-grant” portion of humanitarian sciences translations is growing, but very slowly (now it amounts to about 3 per cent).

Fiction had also been almost exclusively translated thanks to grants until mid-2000s, when the portion of translations performed independently by publishers started to grow, but even now the publication of translations with external financial support exceeds 80 per cent of cases.

The first one to start independent publications of translated literature were children’s publishing houses (in early 2000s). However, even today over 50 per cent of translations for children and youth are additionally financed by foreign grant providers.

The structure of modern Ukrainian publishing of translations by enlarged (in comparison with classification of Book Chamber of Ukraine) theme sections looks like this:

  • humanitarian sciences – 35% (the portion of humanitarian sciences has been slowly diminishing after a peak of 54% in early 2000s);

  • fiction – 35%;

  • literature for children and youth – 22%.

As for languages from which translations into Ukrainian are done most often, the current situation is the following:

  • from English – 44%;

  • from Russian – 16%;

  • from French – 13%;

  • from German – 11%;

  • from Polish – 7%.

The noticeable trends are slow decrease of translations from Russian and small increase of translations from Polish.
3. Chronology and trends:

3.1. Late 1980s – 1992

The year of proclaiming Ukrainian independence (1991) influenced the book market of the country very little. A systemic degrading of Soviet economy of “stagnation” lasted for the whole so-called “perestroika” period (mid to late 1980s), and powerful negative trends could not but influence the publishing field as well. In 1990, in comparison with the previous one, the volumes of book publishing fell by almost 17 per cent; next year, in 1991, by 19 per cent more.3

However, the decrease in the numbers of book publishing was conditioned not only by a depressive general economic background but also by changes of work/free time correlation among the people. On the one hand, the slogan proclaimed in late 1980s “everything not prohibited is permitted” opened a way for personal welfare growth due to various cooperative activities; a great portion of citizens of the most active age group (25-45) became involved in that. It is this group that the Soviet statistics used to consider as the most active individual readers – now they had much less time for reading.

On the other hand, the structure of free time has changed abruptly. Television successfully transformed politics into an action show; the era of television series started. Live radio broadcasts from political sessions, which then took place on a permanent basis, and a new format of talk show also took up time traditionally belonging to reading. Everywhere, from the capital to district center, half-legal video salons emerged, which gathered full houses. The youth started going to the first exotic discos. The book quickly lost its monopoly right to everyday leisure for a more or less educated population stratum.

However, not only economic but also intellectual factors impacted the decrease of reader demand. The consumer refused to continue reading social realism novel, historical works unified to a format of “crash course”, and pseudo-comments on politics and philosophy – and state publishing houses of the time did not offer anything radically different from that at the time.

Then, in late 1980s, new private publishers started fighting for the return of the reader. Mostly they were recruited not from professional book publishers but from two main sources: 1) politically active humanitarian intelligentsia; 2) technical and administrative intelligentsia, which was beyond ideology.

The priority of the former was to saturate the market with historical literature prohibited during the Soviet times, i.e. publication of pre-revolution and diaspora works opening up the real picture of Ukrainian past distorted by Soviet canon. The improvised book tents massively welcomed reprints printed badly on a low-quality paper. Until 1990, the demand for this reading was mostly satisfied; then the turn for publishing fundamental works came, which could be made commercially profitable only by state publishing houses having access to paper at solid state prices. In 1990s, the academic publishing house “Naukova dumka” publishes “History of Zaporizhzhya Cossacks” in three books by D. Yavornytsky (200,000 copies) and issues the first book out of eleven of “History of Ukraine-Rus” by M. Hrushevsky (100,000). After this the age of amateur historical book publishing actually ended.

Another type of new private publishers is business people who viewed book publishing exclusively as a method to earn quick money. They betted on publishing popular foreign literature in deficit in the USSR, i.e. detective stories, science fiction, and adventure novels. Mostly classical authors were chosen for publishing, those whose rights were either already in free access or, in the opinion of publishers of the time, those could be neglected without any penalties.

The peak of filling Ukrainian market with writers from Europe and the US hardly available before was in 1992. In every issue “Drug chytacha” (Kyiv), a weekly newspaper, published bibliography lists of new titles compiled by state library of Ukraine (now National Parliamentary Library of Ukraine). That year about 500 titles of translated literary publications were documented, and it is about every tenth book out of all issued, including textbooks. There was three times more foreign prose published than works by Ukrainian writers. In no time after that the share of actual literary translations achieved such abnormally high result.

Mostly works of authors well known in the West were published: different publishing houses issued novels by science fiction writers Asimov, Zelazny, Simak, Harrison, Sheckley; detective story writers Chase, McLean, Gardner; adventure genre classic authors Dumas, Cooper, Mayne Reid, Golons, Stevenson, Collins, Druon. Despite the expensive commercial paper, the number of copies was rarely less than 50,000 (quick sales compensated expenses in a timely manner). Burroughs and Haggard, practically unknown in the USSR, started from 150,000 copies, and an erotic novel “Emmanuelle” by Arsan, from 200,000.

But those were almost exclusively translations into Russian, over 90 per cent of the whole number of titles. Only state publishing houses dared issuing foreign literature in Ukrainian. Here are some characteristic examples:

  • Артур Конан Дойл. Пригоди Шерлока Холмса. – К.: Україна (50 000 прим.);

  • Артур Конан Дойл. Собака Баскервілів. – К.: Дніпро (100 000);

  • Герман Гессе. Сіддхартха. – К.: Молодь, (15 000);

  • Роман про Трістана та Ізольду. – К.: Молодь (15 000),

  • Агата Крісті. Дельфійський оракул. – К.: Всесвіт (65 000);

  • Себастьян Жапрізо. Убивство в купе. – К.: Всесвіт (50 000);

  • Угорський детектив. – Ужгород: Карпати (б/т),

  • Жуль Верн. Таємничий острів. – К.: Веселка (100 000).

By topics, translations from foreign languages represented exclusively belles-lettres. In philosophy, sociology and psychology during the whole year of 1992 only several titles of popular occult nature in Russian language were found, and in Ukrainian foreign humanitarian sciences were represented only by a book by S. Vishnudenavanda “Full Illustrated Book on Yoga” (Kyiv, “Zdorovya” publishing house). The only noticeable exception was the translation from English of a book by history and political science professor of York University (Toronto, Canada) Orest Subtelny “Ukraine: History”, In 1992, Kyiv state publishing house “Lybid” published it twice and then printed several more editions for several years (including its translation into Russian for distribution in eastern and southern regions of Ukraine); it was the first Ukrainian longseller.

In 1992, private publishing houses graded up to state ones by the total number of published titles.4 The dynamics of private sector development was so quick that it was able to slow down the rate of book publishing field decline. When in 1990 there were 3.2 books published per capita and in 1991, 2.6, in 1992 this number was 2.4.5 This slowdown of regress happened namely due to the boom in translated book publishing (partially of popular history).

The extraordinary marketability of popular translated belles-lettres very quickly restructured the whole book publishing field: on the one hand, the “cream” of mass foreign literature finished after some time, and managers of private publishing companies required professionals who were able to evaluate the prospects of translation activities development and to denote strategies of market saturation; on the other hand, the experts from old publishing institutions noticed “high profitability achieving several hundred per cent”6 and risked to go beyond minimal, but guaranteed salary in state publishing houses. “Soon, approximately in three to five years, many professionals from former Soviet publishing houses were invited to work to new publishing institutions and stayed there.”7 It is in these years that current leaders among publishing houses by translated literature on the Ukrainian market were founded: in 1990, a group of editors from Kharkiv University publishing house registered “Oko” publishing house; in 1991 “Folio” (Kharkiv) and “Universe” (Kyiv appeared); in 1992, “Osnovy”, “A-BA-BA-HA-LA-MA-HA” (both in Kyiv) and “Missioner” with headquarter in Zhovkva, Lviv region. Lviv publishing house “Svichado” resumed its work after Soviet occupation in 1987.

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