The Slovenian translator Barbara Pregelj (Ptuj, 1970) has translated more than 60 works from Spanish, Galician and Catalan. And in recent years, after completing a 6-month stay at the barnetegi (center for learning Basque language) in Zornotza a new language has caught her interest: Euskara. Pregelj has translated works by Juan Kruz Igerabide, Patxi Zubizarreta, Bernardo Atxaga and Arantxa Urretabizaia, the latter as part of the ´Itzultzaile berriak - New translators´ program. We asked her how a Slovenian translator experiences the Basque language and here’s what she told us:
- What moved you to translate books by Bernardo Atxaga, Mariasun Landa, Juan Cruz Igerabide or Patxi Zubizarreta?
By reading their work, which I would never have known about if not for Marijo Olaziregi, Xabier Etxaniz, Lourdes Otegi ... and Bernardo Atxaga himself – whose work is translated into Slovenian. And a strong curiosity about the literature written in Euskara. And a lot of support from my partner Aleš and my sons, Filip and Gašper, who shared my reading and enthusiasm. I improvised my first translations by reading children’s books to them out loud. And what I´ve discovered over the years is a kind of literature that focuses its attention not so much on its adult or young readers (although them too), but on the world it’s trying to describe. That aspect impacted me so much that I can’t stop reading or translate it. Of the 60 some books I’ve translated into Slovenian, 16 were written in Basque.
- What was your first contact with Euskara? Had you heard of it before you came to the Basque Country?
When I came to the Iberian Peninsula for the first time in 1988, I stopped in San Sebastian. Then I returned several times to the Basque Country, but always in passing. One time, I bought the book Bakarka, but I didn’t have time to learn Basque, so before coming to the Basque Country to really study Euskara, the only thing I could say was eskerrik asko.
- Thanks to the ‘Itzultzaile berriak’ program you’ve translated several books from Euskara to Slovenian. What has it been like to work from the Basque language?
Indeed, the program helped me to learn the language and start to translate directly from Basque. It is a very particular situation linguistically speaking. I can only express myself in simple phrases; but literature is the most complex verbal expression known. I mean I´m on the first rung, but I´m working my way up. Now it’s important for me to be able to access books written in Basque, compare them with the Spanish or English (or Catalan) translations and to continue improving my Basque.
The program led to the translations of Bernardo Atxaga’s Xola eta Ameriketako izeba, Xolak badu lehoien berry and Xola eta Angelito and to Arantxa Urretabizkaia’s work. Children´s literature in Basque, even Atxaga’s, is quite scarce in Slovenia. The decision to translate Urretabizkaia, which is starting to circulate and gaining recognition among Slovenian readers, was a good one.
The project has also allowed me to translate other works from Basque: Jonasek arazo potolo bat du; Jonas larri; andAdio, Jonas (Juan Kruz Igerabide). Now I’m translating poetry.
- Have you had contact with the authors themselves during the process? Have they offered any advice?
Yes, I’ve been in touch with them but they haven’t given me advice. In fact, we haven’t talked about specific aspects of their writings, but we have talked about their work in general. Contact with the authors is essential for me because it’s how I create my own cultural landscape of the Basque Country. It also helps me with my research.
- Euskera and Slovenian are very different languages. Does that effect how you approach your translations?
I think that my translations from Basque are different from the ones I’d done before, I mean from Spanish. You notice that the source language is different.
Euskera is different from all the other languages I’m familiar with. But the other languages of the Iberian Peninsula are also different from Slovenian. Euskera is much more synthetic than other languages and in that respect, it’s more like Slovenian.
But translating is also a matter or translating culture in its broadest sense. That’s why it’s fundamental to understand the source culture. Understanding this culture makes it less and less distant. Between the Basque Country and Slovenia there are many cultural similarities that I think have to do with the number of speakers of our languages and the landscape in which we live. Slovenian is also surrounded by majority languages (German, Italian, and what was formerly known as Serbo-Croatian). Keeping it alive has resulted from the effort of several generations. The Slovene culture is now known as a peripheral culture. The role of the mother in our culture is very important, mountaineering for centuries was a sign of the national spirit, cycling is a very widespread sport...
- You’ve also translated from Catalan and Galician. Is the translation process different depending on the language of origin?
The process itself isn’t, because it’s based on reading and the philological and literary interpretation of the text. But I have noticed that the synapses for my Euskara are very different and have to be strengthened much more.
- As a translator, is there anything about Euskara that is unique or particularly noteworthy?
I’m new at Euskara and am amazed at the language. I’m very curious about the whole learning process and about the language itself. I am very excited that I can understand, say and write something. As you see, my reasons are mostly personal.
- What books have you translated in the context of ‘Itzultzaile berriak’? How has the editing and publication of the books been?
I’ve already mentioned the titles. I had no problems with publishing since my husband and I have a small publishing house that did the work. A good part of the Malinc catalogue is of Basque authors and in fact it was a book by Mariasun Landa, Elefante txori-bihotz, that made us think about doing our own publishing. I was looking for an editor to publish the book and couldn’t find one… The book became very popular and is already out of print.
While before I said that literature in Slovenia is also quite marginal, it has an indisputable value in terms of the socialization of readers. I am very proud because this year more than 4,500 children participated in Leo, Leo, a project that we organize every year to encourage reading. And what did they read? The three Xola books, from the Itzultzaile Berriak project, but also the last of the Jonás series (Adio, Jonas), poetry by Juan Kruz Igerabide and a very curious book written by Patxi Zubizarreta and Juan Kruz Igerabide,Siete noches con Paula.