The Assembly of Delegates, meeting at the 81st PEN International Congress in October 2015, adopted the Quebec Declaration on Literary Translation and Translators, sponsored by PEN International’s Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee and spearheaded by PEN Quebec.
The Quebec Declaration is founded on the principles set out in a series of documents that include the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1886-1979), the Universal Copyright Convention (1952) and the Recommendation on the Legal Protection of Translators and Translations and the Practical Means to improve the Status of Translators (1976). Louis Jolicoeur of Quebec’s Laval University, Sherry Simon of Concordia University in Montreal, and Émile Martel, President of PEN’s Quebec Centre, were charged with preparing the initial draft of the Declaration, with contributions from Esther Allen of Baruch College at City University of New York, Hugh Hazelton of Concordia University in Montreal, and Fabio Scotto of the University of Bergamo.
The initial draft was submitted to the PEN Centres that form part of the Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee, which is chaired by Simona Škrabec. Their respective representatives were given the opportunity to debate all aspects of the declaration before agreeing on a final text in French, English and Spanish at two separate Committee meetings. The first was held in Barcelona in April 2015, while the second took place during the 81st PEN Congress held in the city of Quebec in October 2015. More than fifty delegates from across the globe took part in the debate, offering an in-depth knowledge of the literary and linguistic realities of the countries and regions to which they belonged.
This wide-ranging consultation process resulted in a text containing a six-point summary of the principles and objectives that PEN International intends to promote in the area of literary translation. These principles include the importance of translation in promoting the dignity of all cultures and languages, the need to draw attention to the conditions required in order to engage in this activity and, above all, the importance of defending the people who make communication possible – literary translators.
The Quebec Declaration was unanimously approved by the PEN International Assembly on 15 October 2015. The French, English and Spanish text was finalised during the course of the Quebec Congress, and all the other translations are the result of the work carried out by the PEN Centres and their supporters. Our aim is to ensure that the Declaration can be read in the highest possible number of languages and we hope that other institutions and organisations will adopt its principles and help us to defend and disseminate them. The Quebec Declaration forms part of PEN International’s broad strategy to promote literary creativity and collaboration between cultures.
The Quebec Declaration on Literary Translation and Translators
- Literary translation is an art of passion. Promoting values of openness, acting for peace and freedom and against injustice, intolerance and censorship, translation invites a dialogue with the world.
- All cultures are not equal when it comes to translation. Some cultures translate by choice, others by obligation. Translation is a key to the protection of languages and cultures.
- Respectful of authors and original texts, translators are nevertheless creators in their own right. They seek not only to reproduce a literary work but to move the work forward, to expand its presence in the world. Translators are not simply messengers: though they speak for others, their voices are also their own. In particular, they act in favour of cultural diversity by remaining loyal to marginalized authors, literary styles and social groups.
- The rights of translators must be protected. Governments, publishers, the media, employers—all must respect the status and needs of translators, give prominence to their names, and ensure equitable remuneration and respectful working conditions—in all forms of print and digital media.
- The physical safety and freedom of expression of translators must be guaranteed at all times.
- As creative writers with specific skills and knowledge, translators must be shown respect and consulted for all questions related to their work. Translations belong to those who create them.Translated by Sherry Simon