DP2055 English-Language Dominance, Literature and Welfare

Author(s): Jacques Melitz
Publication Date: January 1999
Keyword(s): language, Literature, Welfare
JEL(s): E00, F00
Programme Areas: Public Economics
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=2055

The tendency of a single world market to privilege the translation of English fiction and poetry into other languages for reading or listening enjoyment may damage the production of world literature and in this respect make us all worse off. In order to develop this thesis, the article begins with an economic model of the market for imaginative works in which translations are systematically concentrated on writings in the original language with the largest share in world sales. The model is then shown to agree with the facts. Next, it is argued that high concentration of translations on works coming from one particular language hurts the production of literature directly, because variety of languages of origin is enriching as such, and indirectly, because the concentration damages the incentives of those who do not write in the leading language to invest in their own talents. "Literature" in the paper refers to earlier production of imaginative works which represents capital or is still read.