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Childrens Literature in Education, Vol. 33, No.

1, March 2002 ( 2002)

Akiko Yamazaki holds an M.A. in Area Studies from the University of Tokyo and an M.A. in Childrens Literature from the University of Surrey Roehampton. She is presently studying for a Ph.D at the University of Tokyo, focusing on the representations of time in twentieth-century English childrens literature.

Akiko Yamazaki Why Change Names? On the Translation of Childrens Books

Translation of a literary work is never an automatic process but always poses many problems caused by the differences between two linguistic and cultural systems. The difficulty seems to be enhanced if the work to be translated is for children who have little knowledge about the culture from which the text originates. At least, that must be the idea behind the practice of replacing foreign names with familiar ones, a practice still common in English and German translations. The present argument is that this change not only shows a lack of respect toward other cultures but also deprives child readers of the chance to realize the wealth of cultural diversity that surrounds them.
KEY WORDS: translation; cultural context adaptation; intercultural power balance.

Cultural diversity has always been a big part of my reading experience. I am Japanese, but I started school in Germany, where I lived for two years, and learned to read German as well. Until September 2001 I lived in the United Kingdom for about two years, studying childrens literature, which means that I read a lot in English. Even during the years I spent in Japan, about half or more of the books I read in Japanese originated from cultures other than Japanese, such as British, American, German, Swedish, Australian, New Zealand, French, Canadian, Swiss, Austrian, Dutch, Russian, Italian, and Hungarian. Being familiar with the practices of translation (as a reader and also as a translator) as well as fluent in two foreign languages made me realize that there are many different ways of translating. I also noticed that basic attitudes to translation differ from culture to culture and that it is especially obvious between Japanese and English/German translations. This difference has a political implication, for translation is never a purely linguistic matter. The attitude toward and practice of translation reflect intercultural power balances. Translated texts not only reveal what kind of relationship the target culture (to which the translation is aimed) has with the source culture (where the texts 53
0045-6713/02/0300-0053/0 2002 Human Sciences Press, Inc.


Childrens Literature in Education

come from), but also affect that relationship by presenting a certain image of the source culture. From this standpoint, I am going to focus on and argue against the replacing of foreign names with more familiar ones, a practice of translation that seems to be still common in English and German translation. The first time I realized the different ideas underlying the practice of translation was when I was about nine years old. In the local library of the Japanese town where I was living at the time, I found a book written by the Swedish author, Astrid Lindgren, who was one of my favorites. When I saw the illustration on the cover, I noticed that I had read it already, but there was something wrong about it. The title showed that the protagonists name was Emil in this Japanese version, whereas he had been called Michel in the German version I had previously read. I later found out that Emil was the name given to him in the original text. I was shocked and became indignant at this change of names. I felt that I had been cheated by the German translation. For me it was a matter of credibility, and it was my first lesson on how arbitrary a translation can be.
Erich K astner, Emil und die Detektive

Another example I came across is the English translation of Erich K astners Emil und die Detektive (Emil and the Detectives).1 The first thing I noticed was that the preface was gone, the part titled Die Geschichte f angt noch gar nicht an (The story has not even begun yet) where K astner speaks directly to readers about how he came to write the story of Emil. This incorporation of direct address into the story is a style unique to K astner, through which he establishes a kind of personal relationship with the readers, making his sometimes moralistic stories less priggish and less didactic. Since he neither speaks down to children nor changes his humorous but ironical tone in order to appeal to them, the message in his books becomes more like an expression of personal belief rather than the voice of authority. It is what made K astners books special to me as a child, and I feel very sorry for English children when I think about their loss as readers. When I actually started reading the English version, I realized that more small changes had been made in the text. The names of Emil and other central characters are kept, but minor characters, whose original names seem to have struck the translator as too long or as too German-sounding, are given new names. For example, Krummbiegel is shortened into Krumm, and Zerlett somehow becomes Meyers. Characters also sound different when they speak in English. As neither English nor German is my native language, I will not go into their modes of speech, but there are instances where they express their feelings much more mildly in English. This happens most often with Emils cousin, Pony Hu tchen. For example, her straightforward words

The Translation of Childrens Books


to her father, Mr Heimbold: Alle Wetter, Heimbold, bist du ein Drecksch adel (Dear me, Heimbold, what a numbskull you are) (p. 157), is subdued into a quite ordinary You are silly, Dad (p. 215), which fails to convey her personality, characterized by a sharp tongue and a warm heart. In the paragraphs and rhythm lies another difference between the original text and the English translation, which cannot be explained by the difference between the two languages. As a means of comparison, I cite two paragraphs from the English translation (A) and attempt a faithful translation of the corresponding German passage, making as little change as possible about the length of sentences and paragraphs, the order of events, the way the situation is described, and so on (B).2 (A):
Emil leaned out of the window of his carriage to look for the guard. Then suddenly, a little distance away in the stream of departing passengers, he saw a bowler hat. At once he thought Ah! Mr Grundeis! Had he not left the train after all, but only skipped out of one compartment and into another while the train stopped and Emil was asleep? Without another thought, Emil was out on the platform. He forgot the flowers on the luggage rack, but just had time to scramble back after them, dashing in and out of the train as quickly as he could. Then, flowers in one hand and suitcase in the other, he scurried off towards the exit. People leaving the train were packed tight near the barrier, and could hardly move. In the crush, Emil found he had lost sight of the bowler hat, but he blundered on, stumbling round peoples legs and bumping into them with his suitcase; but he kept doggedly on till he saw it again. But then, all at once there were two bowler hats. The suitcase was so heavy it slowed Emil down terribly, but it might get stolen if he put it down somewhere so that he could run after his man. He just had to plunge on, and at last came nearly level with the bowler hats. But which was the right one? One man seemed too short. Emil twisted in and out of the crowd after the other, like a Red Indian on the trail, and was just in time to see his man push through the barrier, evidently in a great hurry. (pp. 64 65)

Emil leaned out of the window, looking for the conductor. Then he saw, at some distance and among many people, a black bowler hat. Could it be the thief? Maybe he did not get out of the train at all, after he had robbed Emil, but had just gone to another carriage? At the next moment Emil stood on the platform, put down his suitcase, went aboard once more because he forgot the flowers which lay on the luggage rack, got out again, clutched the suitcase, lifted it high and ran to the exit as fast as he could. Where was the bowler hat? The boy bumped against the people in front of him, shoved them with his


Childrens Literature in Education

suitcase and ran further. It became more and more crowded, more and more difficult to go through all those people. There! The bowler hat! Gosh, theres another one over there! Emil could hardly drag his suitcase any longer. He wished he could simply put it down and leave it there. But then it would be stolen too! At last he managed to come quite close to the bowler hats. This one could be the man! Was it? No. There was the next one. No. This man was too short. Emil snaked his way through masses of people like an Indian. There, there! This was the one. Thank god! This was Grundeis. He was just pushing through the barrier and seemed to be in a hurry.

The paragraphing of the original text is completely ignored in A and K astners descriptive and dynamic tone is replaced by an explanatory one. Example A seems to me to be a retelling of the original rather than a translation. It has a distinctly different style. What is the reason for doing such things? Research into the translation of childrens books and translators comments testify that it was and probably still is a common practice in Europe to make deliberate changes in the process of translation. It is known as cultural context adaptation (1986, p. 12). Go te Klingberg exemplifies one extreme type of this practice and names it localization, in which the names and the whole location are changed by the translator, and the story is set in a place familiar to the readers: the original German story, Kinderleben oder Karl und Marie, was transplanted to Sweden, and Hamburg became Stockholm (1986, p. 15). He then cites Torben Weinreich as an advocate of this idea (1978, p. 16). Concerning those books which above all aim to describe universal human conditions, where the outlines of the local milieu are blurred just because the book has to be not too specific, but universal (p. 155), Weinreich argues that localization is a useful technique which can give the audience an opportunity to concentrate on the performers as well as possible (p. 157). The idea that foreign things stand in the way of young readers appreciation of translated books is also shared by Anthea Bell, an English translator of German and French childrens books. According to her essay about the problems inherent in translation, she gives due regard to the preservation of the original atmosphere and does not go so far as to transplant a story to England, although she sometimes anglicizes

Go te Klingberg, Childrens Fiction in the Hands of the Translators

Torben Weinreich, International book production for children related to the childrens local experiences and local consciousness

Anthea Bell, The naming of names

The Translation of Childrens Books


the names of the characters. She explains that it is necessary because of the in-built English distrust of, and resistance to, anything foreign. It seems to afflict us from the publishing point of view from picture-book age onward, once the words begin to assume equal importance with the illustrations (1985, p. 3). She seems to think that this is more so with younger children: Obviously difficult foreign names will be least acceptable in picture books for the very young (p. 7). Similarly, Klingberg, who does not quite agree with Weinreich and who asserts that the source text is to be manipulated as little as possible (1986, p. 17), makes a concession about this point and admits that it may very well be that, say, books for little children dealing with their own experiences in the immediate environment could be transferred to a milieu with which they are familiar, especially since they do not yet know so much of foreign countries (p. 17).
Maria Nikolajeva, Childrens Literature Comes of Age: Towards a New Aesthetic

Maria Nikolajeva follows the same line of argument using the concepts of cultural context and semiosphere which is the semiotic space necessary for languages to exist and function (1996, p. 28). She argues that semiotic signs in a childrens book, which are known to the reader from previous experience, help the child to relate details to a whole system existing outside the text (p. 30), whereas a translated book presents the reader with unknown or misleading signs:
When signs are transposed into another cultural context they are disconnected from the original sign system and can no longer fill the telling gaps in the same manner. Moreover, when the target-text reader places them into a new semiotic space, these signs are interpreted in a new way which, from the point of view of the original context, is most often incorrect. (p. 30)

Illustrating how semiotic signs concerning such areas as everyday life, human relationships, and language can be misunderstood between Sweden and America, America and Russia, Russia and Sweden, she concludes pessimistically that childrens literature is basically nontranslatable, since childrens semiotic experience does not allow them to interpret the signs of an alien semiosphere (p. 35). I admit that a translation inevitably entails a certain degree of cultural context adaptation, because the act of translation is in itself a sort of adaptation, but surely there is no point in translating a book if it loses all trace of the country where it comes from? As I understand it, there are two main reasons (apart from a commercial one) for translating a book, whether it is for children or for adults. One is to make a book of high quality available to a wider audience, and the other is to provide a perspective into another culture. The one reason is just as important as the other. It is actually impossible to accomplish the former object at the expense of the foreign cultural elements, for something


Childrens Literature in Education

vital would be lost from the book with them. Based on this belief, I argue against excessive adaptation in translation and question the two assumptions underlying the statements I cited above: firstly, foreign elements in a story are distracting or confusing for children; secondly, knowledge about a different culture is necessary in order to accept the culture. The two of them intertwine and seem to form a vicious circle: since foreign things discourage children from reading, they should not appear in childrens books; the result is foreign things remain foreign for good and children never learn to accept another culture. I contend, however, that this vicious circle does not really exist. Firstly, can young children tell something foreign from something belonging to their own culture? Bell uses the word in-built in describing the English peoples antipathy toward foreign things, but I would say that this reaction to foreignness must be something imprinted through the surrounding culture and cannot be inborn because language itself, including ones mother tongue, is learned only through experience. Which language and culture a person first acquires depends totally on the environment in which s/he grows up. Accordingly, whether one has any negative feelings toward something foreign or, for that matter, what one regards as foreign, is determined through ones experience in childhood. To put it more simply, almost everything is foreign or new for a very young child, regardless of the culture to which the thing belongs. If you think of the popularity of Disney characters and Thomas the Tank Engine among Japanese children, or that of Japanese comics and computer games such as Poke mon in America and in Europe, it seems more probable that children do not make cultural distinctions but just accept what they find attractive from the things promoted. Secondly, older children are more likely to recognize the foreignness of unfamiliar semiotic signs, but I think this does not necessarily discourage them from reading a translated book. Difference can be a source of attraction, as it is with the genre of fantasy. The appeal of fantasy summarized by Ruth Nadelman Lynn also holds true for stories set in other countries: Unlike other genres, which tend to offer either a total escape from or total immersion in reality, fantasy can meet both needs (1989, p. xxi). The only difference is that fantasyland is imaginary while foreign countries really exist. Just as the different, sometimes even peculiar semiotic signs such as magic and dragon do not confuse the readers of fantasy, children reading a translated book would react differently from when they are reading a story with a familiar setting. Instead of simply relating the semiotic signs to their own semiosphere, they would suspend their automatic reaction to do so and try to make out from the signs what this unknown system

Ruth Nadelman Lynn, Fantasy Literature for Children and Young Adults: An Annotated Bibliography

The Translation of Childrens Books


Birgit Stolt, How Emil becomes Michel On the translation of childrens books

looks like. It is actually better not to change names but to leave them as they are as a signal to remind the readers of their entrance into a different system that requires a different mode of reading. If pronunciation causes trouble, as in an example Bell cites (1985, p. 7), this can be solved by using notes as aids (1978, p. 137). One piece of evidence I can give to support my argument is the situation in Japan, where translated books hold a substantial share in the total publication market and translation is taken very seriously. The genre of childrens books is no exception. The proportion and the importance of translated books are just as high as in other genres, if not higher. As is shown in the previously cited example of Lindgrens book, it can be generally said that Japanese translation of childrens books pays due regard to faithfulness compared with its European counterparts. The Japanese translation of Emil und die Detektive, which is the version I first read, makes no alteration in names, content, or structure, and succeeds in re-creating the atmosphere of the original text. Foreign names and customs do not seem to keep Japanese children from reading and enjoying translated books. Birgit Stolt gives an example of Japanese children who liked Astrid Lindgrens Alla vi barn i Bullerbyn (The Bullerby Children) so much that they wrote letters to the author, asking whether there really was a Bullerby, where it was situated in Sweden and whether one could move there and live there (1978, p. 132), and it is not difficult to find similar examples. In her examination of cultural context adaptation, Stolt argues that its overuse reveals a lack of respect for children, childrens books, and their authors, since faithfulness to the original text is a central issue in the translation of nonchildrens texts. The change of names is a result of the preconceived opinion of adults about what children want to read, value and understand, in other words, an underestimation of the child reader (1978, p. 134). I agree with this view, but I think there is yet another factor underlying the arguments in favour of cultural context adaptation the lack of respect for other cultures. This is what makes the rejection of foreign names seem trivial and in more extreme cases excuses the violation of the source text in the name of education. The concern of this educational intention (Stolt, p. 134) is nothing but the reinforcement of a target culture, the inculcation of its values, and the obliteration of its taboos through alteration of the original text, and the accurate presentation of source culture is disregarded. There is indeed a vicious circle at work here, but it is not the one I mentioned above, which assumes childrens inability to cope with foreign things. The real vicious circle has more to do with adults who,


Childrens Literature in Education

entangled in the general disrespect for childrens capacity, childrens books, and Otherness, fail to see the real potential of translated books. The change of names creates a false impression of a homogenous world, only to discourage children from learning about other possibilities, enhancing the feeling of strangeness when children actually come across foreign names in real life. On the contrary, translated books that retain signs of their source cultures can provide children with excellent opportunities to realize the existence of other cultures and to become familiar with them, experiencing them not as something foreign but as something that is a part of the environment. Having fully enjoyed the advantage of faithfully translated childrens books, I believe that they are an effective way to break the vicious circle of disrespect and ignorance. As I argued earlier in this essay, children are more flexible than adults, and the possibility of change lies in them. One problem about this might be that childrens books give only a disproportionate representation of cultures, even if all of them were to be translated. Not all cultures have childrens literature of their own, it being a concept that originally belongs to the tradition of the Western cultures. The countries that do have childrens books differ from one another in the number of books they produce. When it comes to the selection of the books to be translated, political, economic, and cultural relationships between countries also play an important role. According to Lars Furuland, when English books replaced German books to become the predominant source text for Swedish translation in the 1850s, it was due to the development of the economic link between the two countries as well as the increased output of childrens books in England (1978, p. 65). In Britain and America, where there are many childrens books available without translation, it is difficult to find commercial and cultural incentives to publish translated books. In Japan, where its own childrens literature was established under a strong Western influence, the majority of translated books come from Western countries, and other parts of the world are given insufficient representation on the bookshelves. This should at least partly account for the strange fact that almost all universities have an English department that attracts many students, whereas to study Chinese or Korean literature is not so common in spite of the geographical proximity and cultural similarity. As an avid reader of translated books, I myself suffer from this disproportion. I am familiar with Western names and can tell female names from male ones in most cases, but when it comes to Chinese names, for instance, I have hardly any notion. This last example about Japan and myself testifies to what a big difference the existence of translated books can make to the knowledge,

Lars Furuland, Sweden and the international childrens book market: History and present situation

The Translation of Childrens Books


image, and feeling one has about another culture. Supported by this conviction, my conclusion is that there is no good reason to discard foreign names from translation for children. On the contrary, it is important to leave them as they are. The earlier children get used to them, the better. It is an unalterable fact that there are many different kinds of people and many different ways of doing things, and books can be a great help to cope with that reality, if they are translated properly. Even though they cannot be the perfect solution for all intercultural problems, they can at least introduce children to the idea of diversity. If only a small number of books are translated in Englishspeaking countries, it is all the more important that they are faithfully translated. Appendix Emil beugte sich weit aus dem Fenster und suchte den Zugfu hrer. Da erblickte er, in einiger Entfernung und zwischen vielen Menschen, einen steifen schwarzen Hut. Wenn das der Dieb war? Vielleicht war er, nachdem er Emil bestohlen hatte, gar nicht ausgestiegen, sondern nur in einen anderen Wagen gegangen? Im n achsten Augenblick stand Emil auf dem Bahnsteig, setzte den Koffer hin, stieg noch einmal ein, weil er die Blumen, die im Gep acknetz lagen, vergessen hatte, stieg wieder aus, packte den Koffer kr aftig an, hob ihn hoch und rannte, sosehr er konnte, dem Ausgang zu. Wo war der steife Hut? Der Junge stolperte den Leuten vor den Beinen herum, stie wen mit dem Koffer, rannte weiter. Die Menschenmenge wurde immer dichter und undurchdringlicher. Da! Dort war der steife Hut! Himmel, da dru ben war noch einer! Emil konnte den Koffer kaum noch schleppen. Am liebsten h atte er ihn einfach hingestellt und stehen lassen. Doch dann w are ihm auch der noch gestohlen worden! Endlich hatte er sich bis dicht an die steifen Hu te herangedr angt. Der konnte es sein! War ers? Nein. Dort war der n achste. Nein. der Mann war zu klein. Emil schl angelte sich wie ein Indianer durch die Menschenmassen.


Childrens Literature in Education

Dort, dort! Das war der Kerl. Gott sei Dank! Das war der Grundeis. Eben schob er sich durch die Sperre und schien es eilig zu haben. (pp. 60 61)

1. The first translation in Britain was published in 1931. A new translation by the same translator was issued in 1959, which is still in print. 2. Dr. Gillian Lathey helped me with the translation. See appendix for original German version.

Bell, Anthea, The naming of names, Signal 1985, 46, 3 11. Furuland, Lars, Sweden and the international childrens book market: History and present situation, in Childrens Books in Translation, Go te Klingberg et al. eds., pp. 60 80. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1978. K astner, Erich, Emil und die Detektive, Mu nchen: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1999. (Original work published 1929) K astner, Erich, Emil and the Detectives, transl. Eileen Hall. London: Red Fox, 1959. K astner, Erich, Emil to Tantei-tachi, transl. Taro Komatsu. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1953. Klingberg, Go te, Childrens Fiction in the Hands of the Translators. Malmo : Liber, 1986. Lynn, Ruth Nadelman, ed., Fantasy Literature for Children and Young Adults: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: R. R. Bowker, 1989. Nikolajeva, Maria, Children Literature Comes of Age: Toward a New Aesthetic. New York: Garland Publishing, 1996. Stolt, Birgit, How Emil becomes Michel On the translation of childrens books, in Childrens Books in Translation, Go te Klingberg et al. eds., pp. 130 46. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1978. Weinreich, Torben, International book production for children related to the childrens local experiences and local consciousness, in Childrens Books in Translation, Go te Klingberg et al. eds., pp. 147 58. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1978.