The Spanish Riveter: Changing the Translation Landscape for Multilingual Spain by Olga Castro

Spain has always been multilingual. Yet the way multilingualism has been approached over the years has differed considerably: at times it was ignored and even violently repressed; at others it was embraced and even partially celebrated. Despite this variation, multilingualism remains an incontestable fact in Spain today − almost half of the population lives in a territory where an autochthonous minority language is spoken, according to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

The 1978 Spanish Constitution has arguably been a turning point in recent history, as it granted official status to Basque, Catalan and Galician after the attempted imposition of Castilian monolingualism during Franco’s dictatorship (1939–1975). This paved the way for the explicit support for these now official languages and their literary traditions −to a greater or lesser degree− by regional governments with devolved powers regarding culture and language policy. It cannot be ignored, however, that a few other languages (Amazige, Aragonese or Asturian, among others) still lack official recognition today.

Regardless of these efforts at a regional level, it was not until quite recently that the central Spanish government took, somewhat timidly, multilingualism as an inherent characteristic of Spain as a whole, and not just in relation to officially bilingual territories. In this regard, the participation of Spain as Guest of Honour 2022 at the strategically important Frankfurt Book Fair was seen by the Spanish government as a crucial opportunity to display Spain’s multilingualism and diverse literary heritage, leaving behind the monolithic portrait of the country offered three decades earlier, in Spain’s first Guest of Honour appearance in 1991. Indeed, ‘Bibliodiversity and Linguistic Plurality’ was one of the five strategic pillars of the Spanish Guest of Honour 2022 project, Spilling Creativity, highlighting that ‘Spain is synonymous with diversity. In the Spanish territory there are a variety of cultures and languages that enrich the literary offer’. A similar message was disseminated in the video campaign #CaminoAFrankfurt (literally, ‘#OnOurWayToFrankfurt’), which explicitly mentions that 24% of the Spanish literary publishing industry and 25% of the Spanish authors write in languages other than Spanish.

As a translation-studies scholar with expertise in publishing and translation in non-hegemonic cultures, I became interested in how multilingualism may shape Spain’s cultural diplomacy strategies, broadly understood as a government’s international outreach programme. In other words, given the significant role that literary translation plays in the internationalisation of cultural and publishing markets, I wanted to find out how multilingualism was being branded and promoted internationally to broaden the understanding of Spain’s linguistic and literary diversity abroad, not only reaching new audiences but also enabling new trading opportunities, especially with British publishers.

This is precisely the aim of my research project, Changing the Translation Landscape from Multilingual Spain: Cultural Diplomacy and the UK Publishing Industry, funded by the University of Warwick Arts and Humanities Impact Fund. More specifically, the project seeks to explore how multilingualism is materialised − and to what extent it is achieved − in recent cultural diplomacy strategies implemented by the Spanish Directorate-General of Books and Promotion of Reading at the Ministry of Culture, my main non-academic partner. My focus is on the internationalisation of the less-translated literatures of Spain, analysing how literary projects in languages other than Spanish are reflected in initiatives put in place in preparation for, during, and in the aftermath of the Frankfurt Book Fair 2022.

In my previous project, Stateless Cultures in Translation: the case of 21st-century Basque, Catalan and Galician literature in the UK, funded by the British Academy (2018–2021), I had examined patterns of creation, circulation and reception of these literatures in English translation between 2000 and 2018, engaging with regional publishers’ associations and policy-making institutions, namely the Institut Ramon Llull, Etxepare Institute, Xunta de Galicia and Generalitat Valenciana (the final workshop is available online). I found that foreign publishers interested in applying for grants to translate Basque, Catalan and Galician literature engaged almost exclusively with regional institutions, despite the Spanish Ministry of Culture’s explicit inclusion of all official languages in their yearly call for translation grants (for more information, see Castro and Linares 2022)(1).

Expanding on that previous work, in my current study I have found that the same trend persists up to 2022, not only regarding the annual Ministry of Culture translation grants scheme, but also when analysing the newly open calls for translation grants introduced in 2019, 2020 and 2021 by the public agency Acción Cultural Española (AC/E), aimed at orchestrating the promotion and internationalisation of Spain’s rich and plural artistic legacy. These three calls were part of an ambitious programme to increase the number of literary works from Spain available in English, German, French, Dutch and Italian translation before Frankfurt 2022. The approximately three million euros devoted to these translation support programmes made it possible to sell the translation rights for more than four hundred titles from Spain. With very few exceptions, however, it was mainly books, samples, illustration and anthologies originally published in Spanish that were put forward by foreign publishers and ultimately subsidised by AC/E. Despite the efforts to provide generous grants for the translation of minority languages, unfortunately, there were few Catalan, and even fewer Basque and Galician titles in the online translation rights catalogue, Books from Spain, hosted at the Frankfurt Rights website.

Having identified that more needs to be done to match the mission to increase the number of books from minority Spanish languages with its practical outcomes, my Changing the Translation Landscape from Multilingual Spain project has a crucial impact and public engagement component. Through a number of activities involving different stakeholders, my aim is three-fold: first, to influence Spanish government translation policy-making so that positive action initiatives are introduced to internationalise the 24% of the literary works published in languages other than Spanish, ultimately allowing government to better operationalise their cultural diplomacy strategy; second, to build capacity in the UK publishing industry, responding to their need to diversify the literatures made available to British readers; and last but not least, to improve British readers’ understandings of cultural and linguistic diversity in contemporary multilingual Spain. After all, readers deserve better. Stay tuned for further developments! 

Olga Castro

1. Castro, Olga and Laura Linares. 2022. ‘Translating the literatures of stateless cultures in Spain: translation grants and institutional support at the Frankfurt Book Fair.’ Perspectives 30(5), 792-810. Available at

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