Photo: Carl Parkes, via flikr.

Calcutta. Photo: Carl Parkes, via flikr.

There’s really no reason to be thinking which Indian languages most deserve translating. Why would any language not be worth translating? Sure there are a lot of them: the 1961 Indian census identified 1652, though it is believed that only about 880 survive. India has 51 state or national “official” languages (the 22 languages mentioned in the constitution are not actually official in the usual sense). Some of these languages have smaller numbers of speakers but there are 29 languages with more that 1 million speakers. The languages of India are written in 13 different scripts. ReadmeIndia has detail (which I at least found very interesting).

Obviously no one publisher can cover all this variety but surely you just do what you can: translate a good book, and then someone else will maybe translate another. Publishing Perspectives shares an earnest discussion of some likely candidates. Translating into English is our own understandable priority, but the need to translate works in one Indian language into another is an even bigger problem.

In another Publishing Perspectives post marking the recent international translation day Mini Krishna of OUP, India reports on a sharp increase in the number of translations in recent years. Of course getting the tone right in any translation is always a problem, but with the variety Indians must perpetually be accustomed to experiencing, their multi-linguality as she puts it, the issue must be even harder. Still that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plough ahead.

The Murty series is an standard bearer.

I had assumed that Sanskrit was like Latin and classical Greek, a dead(ish) language. Turns out it is the official language of the state of Uttarakhand and is spoken by about 14,000 people. More than 3,000 works have been written in Sanskrit in the last 60 years!