Supporting Majida's Ph.D Thesis

Arabic feminist writers are usually translated by men. How does this impact their meaning?

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This project received pledges on Fri 15 Sep 2017

Most Feminist Writers in the Middle East are translated into English By Men. Does this matter?

Did you know that there is long established tradition of feminist writing in the Arabic World? Did you know that Arabic is a difficult language to translate directly into English, partly because of its use of metaphor? - so that 'translation' can in some cases almost be a 'rewriting'? Did you know that many of the works of these writers are translated by male translators? How do the 'translation strategies' they use impact the meaning of the work?

Who are you?

I'm Kevin Parker. I 'm a consultant working for and with a number of UK Universities. I'm trying to help Majida Ibrahim, a student specialising in linguistic and translation studies, answer the important questions above in a Ph.D at Exeter University. Majida is from Syria, but has been accepted for a place at Exeter and has raised funding to pay her tuition fees. She needs to raise personal funds to apply for a student visa. I've known Majida since 2010 and am satisfied that she has the ability to carry out this interesting and important work. Just below is her story in her own words.

Majida - My Story

My name is Majida Ibrahim. I’m from Syria and I am a freelance translator. I am hoping that you can help me raise the funds needed to do my PhD in the UK. I am a genuine student, I need to get a student visa, and this is really difficult because of the current crisis in the country. I must say that I am intending to return to Syria after the completion of my Ph.D as I want to stay close to my family and my boyfriend.

I got my first degree from Tishreen University in Syria – a BA in English Literature and Language, and I won the prize for the top graduate. I received a grant from the Syrian government to continue postgraduate studies in the UK. I consequently obtained my MSc in Translation and Conference Interpreting from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. After this I came home to Syria where I work as a translator. My home is in the pretty port town of Latakia, where fortunately we have not been too badly affected by the troubles in the rest of Syria.

For many years my ambition kept on growing to work towards a PhD and be more specialized in my field. I worked on writing a research proposal with the help of some great friends and started searching for a place as a PhD student at a British university. It was not an easy or short journey as I had to do all the communications online from Syria. I finally was so happy to find the right programme, and supervisor, at the University of Exeter. I worked hard, saved some money, and now will be able to pay for my fees. The University have offered me a place, have found accommodation, and I have my CAS number.

Right now, I am in the process of applying for my visa so that I could make the September start date of my course. That’s where I need your help. In order to apply for the visa, I have got to show that I have at least £9135 in my bank account, which is a massive amount in Syrian currency.  I did have savings after spending time in the UK, but in 2012 the UK bank closed my account because of sanctions. I had to transfer my savings into a Syrian currency account where it has lost 80% of its value. Even the cash I had became worthless when the then £50 bank note stopped being legal tender. I really need help to meet the maintenance cost requirements of the visa. So this Hubbub campaign is very important to me.

Majida - about my Work

My thesis is about translation strategies and how they impact the perception of feminist writers from the Arab World. Did you know that there is a strong tradition of feminist writing in the Middle East particularly in Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. The commonly-held belief of the woman in the Arab World is that of the oppressed object born to be the man's servant. When a woman stands out of the crowd and subverts such beliefs, she is looked at with criticism and disdain. Despite this, there are a number of feminist writers in the region including Nawal El-Saadawi in Egypt and Hanan Al-Shaykh in Lebanon. Like in other disciplines, accurate translation gives a platform for women to air their views widely and present themselves as clearly as possible. Their works are available in translation in the West, but interestingly,  most translation of their work is done by male translators. The particular nature of Arabic makes this fact of potential significance: it is rich in metaphors which seem exotic or strange when translated literally (think of ‘The Mother of all Battles’). Translators need a consistent approach or strategy according to how they want to deal with these metaphors. While not accusing any male translators of conscious bias, there are a number of different translation strategies when moving from Arabic to English and it would be good to compare different strategies and techniques employed by different translators. Are literature and translation miniatures of life, as far as reflecting the social conditions of women is concerned? The translation of Arab women's writings in the West, is a bit of a "forgotten spot" that needs to be highlighted. This is where my research comes in. I have chosen to work on the English translations of some of the works of the feminist authors Nawal El-Saadawi and Hanan Al-Shaykh. I have limited the study to investigate the translation strategies that translators of both writers have adopted to be as accurate as possible in conveying the intended aims of the original texts. Do the translators have specific aims they want to transmit to the target reader? How does the age range, educational background and the original native language of the translator affect the strategies? Here are a couple of examples.

  • In this slide the translator uses the strategy of paraphrase: by changing ‘private parts’ to ‘those shameful parts of my body’ the translators emphasizes and politicizes the text, enhancing the writer’s critique of roles and stereotypes in the Middle East.

  • In this slide, the translator uses the strategy of omission: The omission of the phrase "with a table of food inside" softens the sharp tone of the author attacking traditional marriage and the image of the greedy male.

Majida - the outcome of my work

When I complete my PhD, I am planning to do teaching at university in the areas of my expertise. I hope to get the chance I can develop my research further into a book or publish an article in an international journal specialized in translation like The Translator or Target . I am always happily prepared to present at conferences or workshops that deal with Arabic literature, translation or feminist writings and highlight my particular selected works and authors.

While I’m in the UK I will be pleased to give talks and workshops to groups interested in this subject – especially to any of my wonderful sponsors!

Because feminism is a global interest around the world, feminists can have universal shared concerns and aims. I would like to work on projects with feminist activists in the UK or other Arab countries (where they believe in the power of the woman). Perhaps consciousness-raising workshops are necessary to call for equality, to get more women politics or business management positions in Syria and the Arab World. I can reflect my experience living, studying and working in the UK, to schools or organizations in Syria to enhance the importance of female achievements in society. Being a linguist, after all, allows me to be involved exchange programs or and cultural activities to promote understanding between the UK and Syria after our present conflict has been resolved. Thank you for listening to me and thank you for any help you can give me.

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Are there any rewards?

All donors, should they wish, will receive a personal note of thanks should the campaign succeed.

Donors giving £100 or more will be able to have a live talk (either in person or by Skype), from Majida about subjects including: her work, feminist writing in the Middle East, and her life in Syria.

Donors giving £500 or more will receive copies of Majida's Ph.D thesis, either in print or as a PDF.

How can you help us succeed?

  • Well, not just by donating to this campaign. (Although, obviously, it would be wonderful if you did  - every little helps!)
  • Please share this project with friends, contacts, anyone you think might be interested - in conversation, e-mails or whichever social media you prefer!
  • Please get people to like and share our Facebook page, and place messages of support there.

Thanks for all your help