Dubai: The importance of translation, its relevance and its role in cultural exchange were the focus of the keynote speech by Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, at the First Dubai Translation Conference.

The conference, which aims to shed light on the challenges and nuances of translation, is organised by the Emirates Literature Foundation, in partnership with the Dubai Executive Council began today and will conclude on Saturday at the Mohammad Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Shaikh Nahyan, during his address, said Dubai is the perfect location to hold discussions on translation as the UAE is a global crossroads. “Everyone who lives and works here translates every day. In fact, our distinctive cosmopolitan environment in the UAE can lead us to think of translation as the very act of explaining anything to anyone, even in one’s own language,” he said.

That is why, he said, the world should understand what translators do and why their work is necessary.

“The world should understand the challenges facing the professional translator. Translators must execute the so-called ‘cultural turn’. They must understand the cultural context of an original so that you can translate not just the words and ideas, but also the culture of the original into the cultural context of the target language. Translators must also appreciate the cultural reality of our global society,” he explained.

Shaikh Nahyan said this conference supports the vision of the UAE’s leaders to make everyone understand the importance of identifying and reinforcing the common bonds that unite all members of this interconnected world.

“We learn from one another. As an individual culture opens itself to the acquisition of knowledge about others, the very culture of the community changes. Its outlook broadens, curiosity sharpens, understanding deepens, respect for others increases, and its commitment to its best values strengthens. This cannot happen without translation,” he noted.

“Translation is an important tool in our quest to bridge the gap between peoples and between cultures. Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai have launched major translation initiatives that aim at enhancing the knowledge base in Arab societies, while at the same time making important works in Arabic available to readers outside our region,” he said.

He also recalled the Islamic Golden Age’s “House of Wisdom”, which he said was one of the Arab world’s greatest contributions to civilisation.

“It [House of Wisdom] operated as a library, translation institute, and academy of scholars to include Indians, Christians, and Jews, as well as Arabs and other Muslims.”

The main objective, however, was to collect and translate all works written by the ancient Greeks. Other languages that were spoken, read, and written there were Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit.

“Beginning as a project to protect knowledge, including philosophy, astronomy, science, mathematics, and literature, it soon became, and is still considered today, a symbol of the merging and expansion of intellectual traditions from different cultures and nations,” he said.

“I hope that you and your translating colleagues around the world will somehow reconstruct a 21st-century version of the House of Wisdom,” he said.

Skilled and dedicated translators remain essential to the well-being of global civilisation, he emphasised.

“Translators are successful when they are able to write well and do the necessary research that makes their translation accurate. They must also have a strong commitment to the values of honesty, integrity and professionalism.” he said, adding that Google Translate and other electronic translation engines can never substitute a good human translation.

Abdullah Al Shaibani, secretary-general of the Dubai Executive Council, said that although Arabic is the fifth most spoken language in the world, it ranks 17th on the list of original language translation (translations from Arabic to other languages) and the 29th on the top 50 list of target languages (translation to Arabic), according to the latest Unesco Index Translation statistics, which he said reflects their shortcomings.

That is why, he said, such a conference is very important.

Shaikha Lubna Al Qasimi, Minister of State for Tolerance, said, “Translation is our way to understand the other and find out more about them, through interacting with their culture and civilisation, which enriches our knowledge and communication,” she said.

Adding that translation promotes tolerance, she said dialogue, understanding and acceptance of others’ values can lead to cooperation and solidarity, “creating a harmonious tapestry of knowledge that includes all cultures, and is in sync with ourselves and our civilisations”.


What: The Dubai Translation Conference

When: October 20-22

Where: Mohammad Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences — Dubai

Fee: Free for UAE residents who register online — courtesy of the Executive Council

The conference is held under the patronage of Shaikh Ahmad Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman of Emirates Literature Foundation