Data Research Has Shown that the Rate of Penetration of Czech Literature into Foreign Language Markets Is Accelerating


The Institute of Czech Literature of the CAS examined data from thousands of libraries around the world. The goal was to create a comprehensive picture of Czech literature in the world and show its trends. Visitors to the festival learned about the position of Czech literature during the programme Czech Literature Without Borders.

ONDŘEJ VIMR, who engages in global and digital literary studies at the Institute of Czech Literature, explained right at the beginning of the presentation that to define the boundaries of what Czech literature actually is and what is included in the study was a complicated task. In the end, the criterion for including authors in the research was that they had to have at least one original Czech book published. This particular research left aside professional and scientific literature but included literature for children and youth.

The study covered the last 200 years of Czech literature. The researchers examined 25,621 records from 1917 to 2022 related to 1,200 writers and translations into 103 languages. More than 95 percent covered the last 100 years. Female writers used to make up only 15 percent of all authors, but in recent decades their numbers have risen to 20 percent.

The research revealed a range of interesting information and trends. For example, the pace at which Czech authors penetrate foreign markets is accelerating. The hardest thing for a writer is to get beyond the first translation. Next milestone is the translation to the fifth language. Books are most commonly translated to German, English, Polish, French and Slovak. The volume of translations varies over time. The previously widely used Russian and Hungarian are now giving way to, for example, Italian or French.

What is Czech literature really like? That was another interesting question the researchers asked. In different time periods, the British and the Russians, for example, had a completely different idea of what Czech literature was, what topics it covered and who was its main voice. The data showed 5 large clusters between 1947 and 1989 in which groups of authors were translated in a similar way. Some authors were thus translated more in the Central European region. Slightly different works were published in the Nordic countries and in Western Europe. After the social change in 1989, the view of Czech literature was more balanced. Books were translated mostly to English, Italian, French and Chinese. Around 400 translations of Czech works are published every year. The entire study was published in the literary science journal Česká literatura and is also available in an electronic version.