How to be read here and abroad | Inquirer Opinion

How to be read here and abroad

An issue that confronts Filipino writers in English and in Filipino today is not only realizing that the language they have used limits their accessibility to the rest of the nation, one with serious literacy and readership problems. Looking beyond, they also see that many frontiers need to be broken before an international audience takes notice of their work.

Statistics show that we have “some 120 to 187 languages spoken in the Philippines, depending on the method of classification.” These are largely Malayo-Polynesian languages native to the archipelago. We also have Spanish-influenced languages, generally called Chavacano, spoken in certain communities. There are eight major languages spoken by the majority of Filipinos: Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon or Ilonggo, Bicolano, Waray, Pampango, and Pangasinense, with Filipino as the national language.


It is in recognition of this that the National Book Development Board (NBDB) has embarked on national and international translation subsidy programs, budgeted with a P6.86 million grant launched on April 27—the agency’s way of commemorating the country’s quincentennial celebrations. NBDB executive director Charisse Aquino-Tugade views this translation subsidy as helping put a focus on our storytelling tradition. “We celebrate the role and strength of Filipino storytelling over the last 500 years. Storytelling tradition not only preserves, enriches, and enhances the Philippine language and culture,” she says. Tugade also knows the necessity of venturing into international markets.

It may seem initially mind-boggling for publishers, especially in these difficult times, to know how and where to begin on the path of translations. Many may even think it a luxury while their companies are on survival mode. The subsidy details specify the areas for consideration: National translations, for instance, are open for Children’s Literature, Graphic Literature, and Classics/Creative Fiction/Non-Fiction/Historical/Cultural Works. Priority languages for 2021 are Filipino/English to Ilocano, Cebuano, Waray, Hiligaynon, Meranaw, Tausug, and Kiniray-a, although other languages are accepted.


For international translations, the grant is open for Children’s Literature, Culinary Literature and Cook Books, Graphic Literature, and Classics/Creative Fiction/Non-Fiction/Historical/Cultural Works. Priority languages are Filipino, Philippine Languages, or Philippine content in English to German, Spanish, French, Arabic, Japanese, and Chinese.

The grant, ranging from P50,000 to P150,000 per book, covers the translation, design/redesign of the book, and five copies of international standard print. The publisher will be responsible, from concept and approval of translations to design and publication.

The initial grant cycle ended on May 30, and a total of 32 books could qualify. Grant results will be announced on June 30.

NBDB chair Dante Francis Ang II elaborates on the rationale for this program: “Translations are the most important thing to bridging and understanding cultures. To encourage more people to read Philippine authorship, NBDB aims to make more Philippine content accessible through its translation grant. This initiative is envisioned to increase the number of Philippine authorship and content translated, published, and distributed.”

Philippine publishing is only too aware of how the language problem is rendered more complex for us because of our colonial history. Consider the present status of our translations: Our English and Filipino books are translated into some Philippine languages, Filipino titles are translated to English, popular foreign titles are translated to Philippine languages, and books in English are translated to foreign languages.

Before our books are noticed by foreign publishing houses, they must first be in English. As the Philippines ambitiously dreams of and plans for an international readership, it thus becomes urgent to have a vigorous translation program. At the moment, one can count on one hand the Filipino authors whose works have been translated to foreign languages—Rizal, F. Sionil Jose, Jose Dalisay Jr., Miguel Syjuco.

A database for this important program is in progress. May Philippine creativity and diversity continue to be celebrated and honored in ways such as this thrust.


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Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is founding director of the creative writing center Write Things, and was former chair of the National Book Development Board.

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TAGS: Commentary, National Book Development Board, NBDB, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, Reading
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