Translation of Children's Literature

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Translation of Children's Literature


The translation and reinterpretation of children's works into foreign languages.


While individual works of children's literature are often reflective of the idiosyncrasies of both their countries of origin and a tenor of a specific language, many display a fundamental strength and communion of spirit that transcend the limits of culture and language, helping them gain a worldwide traction through translation. Many of the classic characters of children's literature, familiar to many English-speaking children, began life in disparate parts of non-English-speaking Europe—examples include Carlo Collodi's Italian-born Pinocchio, Frenchman Jean de Brunhoff's Babar the Elephant, the Finnish "Moomintroll" stories of Tove Jansson, Johanna Spyri's Swiss mountain girl Heidi, Swedish author Astrid Lindgren's wild child Pippi Longstocking, and Hergé's globe-trotting Belgian boy reporter Tintin, to name a few. From the Greek and Roman origins of classic mythology to the folkloric influences of African storytelling to the more contemporary efforts of such Asian giants as Japanese author Mitsumasa Anno, children's literature—perhaps more than any other genre—has a worldwide platform. Possibly attributable to their simpler, more universal themes, shorter lengths, and the flexible curiosity of a younger readership, international children's works, when properly adapted from one readership to another, enable a global transmission of literary resources. The result, Ronald Jobe has suggested in the International Companion Encyclopedia of Children's Literature, is that "translations form a major part of our Western literary heritage." Part of the value that Western children derive from these stories is their exotic settings and presentations of foreign cultures—a process that goes both ways, showing children in Asia, Africa, and South America facsimiles of life in England and the Americas through literature. "Through translated books," noted children's literature translation expert Mildred L. Batchelder has argued, "children come to know the books and stories of other nations and thus make a beginning toward international understanding, toward sharing experiences with children who speak and read other languages."

Such literary empathy is the result of translation; placing special import upon interpreting both the language and meaning of a work so that message and text are recaptured for its target audience. However, for this to occur, effecting both a proper and meaningful translation is key; language is but one obstacle. Cultural signifiers, spirit, and tone must be recaptured in equal parts in order to accurately transmit a text for a new readership. As such, adaptations require the translator to recollect the primal reading experience. "Reading and translation are inseparable experiences on many levels," Riita Oittinen has noted. "Reading as such is often understood as translation; reading is also an integral part of the translation process." Every reading of a text is effectively a translation. All readers bring their own perspective to a book, resulting in a uniquely personal understanding of the story's meaning. Such is the translator's difficult role. Few adaptations offering a strictly word-for-word substitution from one language to the next are successful. Rather, it is the translator's role to utilize their own personal interpretation of a work so as to create a complete portrait of the original, a process that may require subtle alterations to both language and structure. Oittinen has asserted that the successful translator must be "a reader who travels back and forth both in and between texts, the text of the original and the text of her/his own," which, because they are the result of two different authors, must inherently be considered separate texts. Still, the translator must effect something of a personal shift, sublimating their own personality for that of the original author. Translator Anthea Bell has stated that it is the role of the translator to "stay as close to both letter and spirit of the original as possible, but especially in translating for children if a clash should arise, then the spirit of the work must take precedence." Balancing the tenor of work with the required substitutions it may ultimately require to be both understood and enjoyed by a foreign readership is a tricky proposition, as the translator—who often works in conjunction with the book's creator—must also weigh the needs of the book with the wants of the author. Indeed, "[i]t requires a dedicated and inspired translator," Batchelder has suggested, "to produce an excellent translation that transmits the author's style and tone and carries the author's story with integrity to children at the intended age level."

Simultaneously re-capturing voice, rhythm, dialogue, cultural meaning, and tense without compromising the spirit of a translated work is a delicate process, that requires, translator Cathy Hirano has argued "fairly strenuous cultural and mental gymnastics." Specializing in English translations of Japanese children's books, Hirano has stated, in The Translation of Children's Literature: A Reader, that such adaptations require both a fluency in Japanese and an understanding of the originating culture as well, particularly with regard to Japanese literature, where translators must recognize a cultural preference for subtlety of meaning as opposed to the Western reliance upon clarity of action and intent. Adaptations of cultural signifiers are an important consideration as well. For instance, in her translation of Kazumi Yumoto's Natsu no niwa (1992; The Friends), Hirano has identified the problematic term Juku, for which no English analog exists. The word plays a subtle, albeit vital part of the story—Hirano roughly translates Juku as a "cram school" where Japanese children congregate after school to prepare for specialized placements exams that exist within the Japanese school system. For the text's original author Yumoto, the term is taken for granted; it needs no explanation in Japan. But Hirano was aware that the foreignness of this idea needed further explanation, as the Juku is an important background setting to the story. Hirano's task was to insert an explanatory paragraph with no physical basis in Yumoto's original work without disrupting the flow of the sequence in which the mention of a "cram school" first appears. Such cultural signifiers are not found solely in the province of foreign languages. Even the transmission of works from England to America and vice versa can require slight amendments for purposes of clarity. One particularly recurring sticking point is the difference between the two countries' educational systems; in the British example, public schools are, in fact, the term for what American readers would consider a "private" school, that is, an institution whose student body is limited only to those who have gained admittance and generally spend the school year boarded on premises. Even such widely recognized works as J. K. Rowling's first book in the "Harry Potter" series featured slight alterations meant to make it more palatable to an American readership. Using different illustrations created exclusively for the American editions, the first book in the series also had its title changed from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997) to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone under the belief that a "philosopher's stone" might be a term not readily identifiable to an American readership. While such minor adaptations as those made to Rowling's text seem generally harmless, critics warn that these kinds of alterations walk a fine line.

One noted example of a children's text undercut by its transmission into other languages is Carlo Collodi's Le Avventure di Pinocchio (1883; The Adventures of Pinocchio). Far darker and more complicated than the version of the text popularized by the 1940 animated film, Collodi's initial work has been subject to a number of alterations even beyond those manifest in Walt Disney's version. Emer O'Sullivan's study of translation issues surrounding the international re-publication of Pinocchio—"Does Pinocchio Have an Italian Passport?: What Is Specifically National and What Is International about Classics of Children's Literature"—demonstrates how Collodi's vision has been repeatedly converted to more easily fit with the nationalist and cultural traditions of such countries as Germany and the United States. In the German classic tradition, begun with Otto Julius Bierbaum's translation of Pinocchio titled Zäpfel Kerns Abenteuer (1905), names are changed (Pinocchio's creator Geppetto becomes Meister Gottlieb), featured Mediterranean foods become German, and the book's fairy tale aspects are adapted to fit within traditional Germanic legends, as when the piece of wood that gives rise to Pinocchio is delivered to Gottlieb by a hunchback with a long white beard, recalling the mythology of German folklore. Similarly, for Walter S. Cramp's first American edition of Pinocchio, O'Sullivan has suggested that his translation was meant to reflect "the reorganization brought about by the industrialization of America in the late 19th century and the new public sense of morality which had to develop to enforce that reorganization … Scenes from Pinocchio involving violence, social criticism and any disparagement of adults in the text—especially when it involved showing children ridiculing adults—were systematically removed." Disney's later version drifted even further away from Collodi's intended social criticism and picaresque influences, recreating Pinocchio himself as a naively innocent childlike figure that Richard Wunderlich has described as "docile, loving and innocent, incapable of provoking anger and more lovable precisely because of his ‘pranks’, which have now become innocuous and cute." This was a dramatic departure from Collodi's Pinocchio, who is initially shown as a spiteful storm of anger that represented a very real physical threat to his adoptive father, a depiction that was mostly forgotten after Disney's Pinocchio, which, in turn, influenced most other subsequent American editions of the story.

Outside of Italy, Disney's interpretation of Pinocchio remains the most recognized form of the story, a faulty transmission that represents the sorts of danger inherent to children's literature translations from both national and linguistic codes. Pressures from political, social, and economic influences continue to threaten the medium. "Indeed," Marilyn Gaddis Rose has suggested, "it is time someone noted for the record that the rise of linguistic nationalism within the past thirty years heralded the resurgence of political nationalism." Historically, children's literature has repeatedly been subject to intentional alterations to fit the nationalistic tendencies and cultural mores of a society, most commonly manifested through simple censorship. Marisa Fernández López has alleged that, during the Franco regime of Spain, translations of foreign works were subject to government censors who vetted them for undesirable elements. Under their auspices, Lopéz has noted, references to a kiss in Richmal Crompton's short story "Jumble" from Just William (1922) and disparaging remarks about missionaries in "The Outlaws and the Missionary" from Crompton's Crowded Hours (1931) were removed to more readily meet with their conception of Spanish society. Similarly, cultural stereotypes often affect how a translator chooses to reinterpret a text. In her study of French translations of Australian children's works, Helen T. Frank has found that "cultural inadequacies and ‘mistakes’ may in fact reflect intentional translational choices that strongly correlate with a set of preferred French images of the Australian landscape and culture." "While it is reasonable," she has further asserted, "to attribute errors in translation to poor general knowledge of the period when a book is set, to a lack of specific knowledge of linguistic conventions, to inadequate time for the translation to be completed, or to inadequacies in the transfer of the cultural foreignness of the original text, what is often labeled as mistranslation is, in fact, an appropriation or slanting of the text to a desired set of images of the source culture." As adults are responsible for these manifest changes to a text, they are generally born as the result of their own sensibilities rather than from a real desire to understand either a child's needs or interests. Swedish translator Birgit Stolt has argued that even such simple modifications as changing the names of people and places to align with the reader's native language and homeland are the result of "the preconceived opinion of adults about what children want to read, value, and understand." Anthea Bell has concurred, noting that many linguistic and cultural amendments are made 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 illustrations."

As potentially upsetting as cultural misappropriation may be, there are other problems manifest to the translation of children's texts. Among these dangers is the systematic threat to indigenous and often nascent third-world literary cultures from those of larger developed nations. Rita Ghesquiere has warned that the "export of books and translations is not always based on the intrinsic literary value of the texts concerned; they are more often the result of cultural dominance and of the concentration of power at the level of the publishing houses." Such dominance by foreign texts, and, as a result, of foreign literary traditions, Ghesquiere has argued, "are bound to hinder the development of an indigenous literature." Citing a visit to the Philippines where American and other Western works were prominently featured in local schools, Ghesquiere has noted the inability of native teachers and librarians to name any prominent Filipino children's authors as well as their demonstrable lack of interest in promoting existing regional works. However, the problems resulting from the dominating influence of Western works is not limited to third world countries. "In Japan, where its own children's literature was established under a strong Western influence," Akiko Yamazaki has observed, "the majority of translated books come from Western countries, and other parts of the world are given insufficient representation on the bookshelves." Such poor distribution of non-Western works is also evident in the West, a market where few translated books by African and Asian authors are ever produced, thus potentially denying children glimpses of cultures outside of the narrow band regularly presented by Western publishing houses.

Despite such issues, the translation of children's literature still serves a mostly positive function, in terms of exposing children to new and unique literary perspectives. López has revisited the example of Spain, this time in the years following Franco's fall, and suggested that the Spanish national tradition was "strengthened thanks to the incorporation of external models into the national repertoire. This means that today racial, religious, societal, and cultural points of view are often similar to those found in other European and American narratives." Similarly, Chinese children's writer Li Li has highlighted the benefits that translated works had upon developing a juvenile national literature in China, a culture with otherwise little historical tradition in children's works. Indeed, Li has asserted,"without the introduction of foreign children's works there would have been no such Chinese children's works." This intermixing of literary cultures between nations may ultimately be one of the greatest contributions of translated works of children's literature. By exposing various cultures to one another through children's texts, literary traditions are challenged and adapted, allowing for the continual evolution of literature to stimulate the development of new ideas. Ghesquiere has argued that such transmissions are vital: "History teaches us that translations greatly improved the status of children's literature and that they encouraged new initiatives, since by confronting authors with the best from elsewhere, they stimulated the production of literature in the native language."


Mitsumasa Anno

Sakasama [Upside-Downers: More Pictures to Stretch the Imagination; translated by Meredith Weatherby and Suzanne Trumbull] (picture book) 1969

Tabi no Ehon [Anno's Journey] (picture book) 1977

Tendo setsu no hon [Anno's Medieval World] (picture book) 1979; translated into French as Comment la terre est devenue ronde, 1979

Allan Baillie

Riverman (juvenile fiction) 1986; translated into French as Périls en Tasmanie, 1994

Bing Xin

A Maze of Stars (poetry) 1921

Jean de Brunhoff

Histoire de Babar, le petit elephant [The Story of Babar, The Little Elephant; translated by Merle Haas, H. Smith, and R. Haas] (picture book) 1931

Lewis Carroll

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland [illustrations by John Tenniel] (juvenile fiction) 1865

Chen Bochui

Miss Alice (juvenile novel) 1933

Carlo Collodi

*Le Avventure di Pinocchio: La storia di un burattino [The Adventures of Pinocchio: The Story of a Marionette] (juvenile fiction) 1883

The Story of a Puppet; or, The Adventures of Pinocchio [translated by M. A. Murray; illustrations by Enrico Mazzanti] (juvenile fiction) 1891

Richmal Crompton

Just William (juvenile short stories) 1922; published in Spanish as Travesuras de Guillermo

William's Crowded Hours (juvenile short stories) 1931; published in Spanish as Guillermo el atareado

Roald Dahl

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory [illustrations by Joseph Schindelman] (juvenile fiction) 1964; revised edition, illustrations by Faith Jaques, 1967; revised edition, illustrations by Quentin Blake, 1998

Morris Gleitzman

Worry Warts (juvenile novel) 1991; published in French as Mes parents sont de mauvais poil

Blabbermouth (juvenile novel) 1992; published in French as Mon père est un peu ringard

Sticky Beak (juvenile novel) 1993; published in French as Le bébé de papa compte plus que moi

Hergé (Georges Remi)

Tintin au pays des Soviets (comic book) 1930; published as Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, 1989

Tintin au Congo (comic book) 1931; published as Tintin in the Congo, 1991

Tintin en Amerique (comic book) 1932; published as Tintin in America, 1978

Heinrich Hoffmann

Der Struwwelpeter oder lustige Geschichten und drollige Bildre für Kinder von 3-6 Jahren [Slovenly Peter, or, Cheerful Stories and Funny Pictures for Good Little Folks; as Reimerich Kinderlieb] (juvenile short stories) 1845

§Der Struwwelpeter [second edition; as Heinrich Kinderlieb] (juvenile short stories) 1846

Josef Holub

Der Russländer [An Innocent Soldier; translated by Michael Hofmann] (young adult novel) 2002

Roberto Innocenti

Rose Blanche [illustrations by Roberto Innocenti; translated from the French by Martha Coventry and Richard Graglia] (picture book) 1985

Tove Jansson

Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen [The Moomins and the Large Flood] (juvenile novel) 1945

Erich Kästner

Emil und die Detektive: Ein Roman für Kinder [Emil and the Detectives; translated by May Massee] (juvenile novel) 1928

Der kleine Mann [The Little Man; translated by James Kirkup] (juvenile novel) 1963

Astrid Lindgren

Pippi Långstrump [illustrations by Ingrid Vang Nyman] (juvenile fiction) 1945; published in English as Pippi Longstocking, translated by Florence Lamborn; illustrations by Louis S. Glanzman, 1945

#Pippi Långstrump går ombord [illustrations by Ingrid Vang Nyman] (juvenile fiction) 1946; published in English as Pippi Goes on Board, translated by Florence Lamborn; illustrations by Louis S. Glanzman, 1957

Charles Perrault

Histoires, ou Contes du temps passé, avec des moralitez (fairy tales) 1697; translated by Robert Samber as Histories or Tales of Past Times, 1729; revised as Fairy Tales or Histories of Past Times, with Morals, 1794

Shen Congwen

Alisi Zhongguo youji. 2 vols. [Alice's Adventures in China] (juvenile novel) 1928

Johanna Spyri

Heidis Lehr und Wanderjahre: Eine Geschichte fuer Kinder und auch fuer solche welche die Kinder lieb haben [Heidi: A Story for Children and Those That Love Children; translation by Louise Brooks; illustrations by Cecil Leslie] (juvenile novel) 1880

Jules Verne

Vingt mille lieues sous les mers. 2 vols. [Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas; translated by L. Mercier] (juvenile novel) 1869-1870

Kazumi Yumoto

Natso no niwa [The Friends; translated by Cathy Hirano] (juvenile novel) 1992

Haru no orugan [The Spring Tone; translated by Cathy Hirano] (juvenile novel) 1999

*Pinocchio was originally published serially in the children's periodical Giornale per i bambini, between July 1881 and January 1883, under the title La storia di un burattino (The Story of a Marionette). The title of the serialized narrative was eventually changed to Le Avventure di Pinocchio (The Adventures of Pinocchio) after the first fifteen installments were published.

All original publication dates refer to the first collected French language editions.

Includes the stories "Die Geschichte vom bösen Friederich/The Story of Cruel (or "Naughty") Frederick"; "Die Geschichte von den schwarzen Buben/The Story of the Inky (or ‘Black’) Boys"; "Die Geschichte von dem wilden Jäger/The Story of the Wild Huntsman"; "Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher/The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb"; and "Die Geschichte vom Suppen-Kaspar/The Story of Augustus who did not have any Soup."

§Hoffmann added two new stories to the original five for this edition: "Die gar traurige Geschichte mit dem Feuerzeug/The Dreadful Story of Pauline and the Matches" and "Die Geschichte vom Zappel-Philipp/The Story of Fidgety Philip."

The United Kingdom edition of Rose Blanche, also released in 1985, features new text by Ian McEwan, based on Gallaz's original text.

#Pippi Långstrump går ombord was also translated as Pippi Goes Aboard by Marianne Turner with illustrations by Richard Kennedy in 1956.


Mildred L. Batchelder (essay date May-June 1988)

SOURCE: Batchelder, Mildred L. "Children's Books in Translation." Five Owls 2, no. 5 (May-June 1988): 65-7.

[In the following essay, Batchelder discusses the value of translated children's texts to young American readers, as well as the difficulties in bringing them to a broad readership.]

It does not matter to children whose native language is English that Heidi or Pinocchio or Don Quixote or Nils or the Moomins or Pippi Longstocking or the Little Prince or Rapunzel or the Bremen Town musicians are characters from stories that were originally published in a language they cannot understand. But it does matter to a culture, our culture, and a country, our country, that children through these and many other translated books in libraries and bookstores have access to some of the same stories read by children in other countries. This is especially true for American children who grow up where country boundaries and oceans make it very different from European countries, many of which are separated not by geography but by language and culture.

Through translated books, children come to know the books and stories of other nations and thus make a beginning toward international understanding, toward sharing experiences with children who speak and read other languages. Over many years, a considerable number of children's books, especially from European languages, have been translated and published here, and many have been favorites for generations. We are grateful for the wonderful foreign books of earlier years, which our children love and which are known to them only through translation. We must wonder whether there are not many excellent foreign children's books of recent years that, translated and published in America, would further increase the opportunity for our children to share through stories some feeling of other cultures and people.

Admittedly, there are many problems in publishing translations. The first is identifying and selecting books for possible translation and publication in the United States, or in any country. How can publishers and children's book editors see children's books published in other countries that might be good candidates for translation and publication here? In our country, too few of us are skilled in languages other than our own. Publishers and editors usually have had to depend on literary agents and other second-hand knowledge of books before choosing them. With the advice of a literary agent or a "reader's" recommendation, the decision whether or not to translate and publish a book begins. In addition to the normal costs of publication, translations involve numerous extra costs. To mention a few, payments must be made to the publisher and the author and the translator. And if the original illustrations are used, costs, and perhaps more problems, are added. How essential is the original art to transmitting the book to children of a different geography and language? For some books the illustrations in the original are an integral part of the book, and without them the impact of the author's book is reduced.

On the translator depends the quality of the book in its new form. Translators of children's books need special skills and experience. It requires a dedicated and inspired translator to produce an excellent translation that transmits the author's style and tone and carries the author's story with integrity to children at the intended age level. Assuming that the translator's native language is the language into which a book is to be translated, and this is of first importance, he or she also needs an intimate knowledge of the language of the original book. Anthea Bell, a translator of many children's books into English says, "Any conscientious translator will of course stay as close to both letter and spirit of the original as possible, but especially in translating for children if a clash should arise, then the spirit of the work must take precedence. Any necessity for adaptation may vary from book to book, and from age group to age group, but I would rather—with the author's permission, needless to say—adapt, than lumber a text with footnotes."

By the 1980s, there were opportunities for publishers to see books from countries throughout the world at the annual Frankfurt and Bologna book fairs. Each has extensive displays by publishers and others of books from many countries. Bologna shows children's books exclusively. U.S. publishers, editors, and literary agents, as well as some librarians, attend the fairs. Here books are easily seen, publication rights can be negotiated, and first steps taken toward sharing internationally a wide variety of children's books. Also, ever since its founding in 1949, the International Youth Library in Munich has been building a collection of children's books from all over the world, and it provides a place where editors, publishers, and agents can see and consider children's books for possible translation and publication. By now, IYL has a collection of more than 400,000 children's books.

In the U.S., even after a children's book is chosen, translated, and published, there are further problems before it reaches young readers. Editions of translated children's books may not be large. Publishing experience indicates they may not sell well. Then they are not in print and available for very long. In the twenties and thirties, publishers printed larger editions of children's books, and libraries could buy from publishers' backlists books that had been published several years earlier. Long since, extensive backlists have ceased to be economically feasible, so decisions to buy have had to be made promptly.

Librarians know that translated books for middle and upper grades must frequently be given special introductions. They may have an unusual setting or unfamiliar geographical or historical background and characters. Situations that are obvious to children reading the original book in their own language take for granted such references, but for children reading the story in another language, some explanation in the text or in the librarian's introduction to the book is sometimes needed.

With such considerations in mind, it is understandable that public and school librarians are cautious in buying translated books, waiting for dependable reviews or firsthand examination or a chance to read the book. If too much time elapses in this process, the book may already be out of print before it is ordered. The values that come when children in different countries and languages read the same stories are usually recognized. It may take imagination and patience, however, to open up for children the possibilities and excitement of reading good books in translation.

As U.S. librarians have become active in international library organizations, their interest in the quality and extent of recent translated books has grown.

For thirty years as the representative of the children's librarians' organization within the American Library Association (ALA), I talked with the many children's librarians from other countries who visited ALA and went on to visit libraries in many parts of our country. We were interested in their libraries but also in their books, especially our books that were translated and in their libraries. The children's librarians in the U.S. for some years had a committee that made selected lists of U.S. books that the committee believed other countries should consider for translation and publication. The lists were sent to these visitors and to members of such organizations as the International Federation of Library Associations, the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), and UNESCO. This did not seem a satisfactory way to channel the suggestions of books in English that might be translated, and reciprocally, it did nothing to encourage the publication of recent outstanding children's books from other languages for English-reading children.

From the visits of foreign children's librarians and from my experiences on a sabbatical in 1964 in eleven European countries, talking with librarians and publishers, I became persuaded that we should emphasize learning what current outstanding foreign children's books were being translated and published in our country and bring more attention to them. I was impressed with our need to promote these books. My intense interest in the field of foreign children's books through translation led, when I retired, to the establishment of an ALA award to recognize a U.S. publisher each year for choosing, translating, and publishing a children's book of merit from another country and language. The proposal for such an ALA award was made and accepted. It would be called the Mildred L. Batchelder Award and would be selected by a committee of the ALA Children's Services Division, now called the Association of Library Service for Children. Announcement of the publisher to be honored and of the book selected is made each year at the ALA midwinter meeting and presentation is made at the ALA summer conference. The first Batchelder award went to Alfred A. Knopf for the translation of The Little Man from the German of Erich Kästner and was given at the 1968 ALA conference. In January 1988, the latest award was announced; it was given to Margaret K. McElderry Books for the translation of Ulf Nilsson's Swedish book, If You Didn't Have Me.

Illustrating the problem of the limited period for which translated children's books remain in print is the experience of the twenty-one books whose publishers have received the award. Nine are out of print, and four are available in paper binding. Only nine are still in print in the form in which they were originally published. Seventeen publishers have received the award, three of them receiving it a second time. No award was given in 1978, although in 1979 winners were announced for both 1979 and 1978.

Existing hand-in-hand with the translated book is the book in its original edition. In American children's libraries, it is very desirable to include some children's books in languages other than English even when neither children, librarians, nor teachers read those languages. Choosing and obtaining appropriate foreign books for U.S. children's libraries has become easily possible since 1972 with the foreign children's books lists selected by committees of the ALA Association for Library Service to Children and published in the ALA Booklist. At first appearing only occasionally, they have become nearly monthly. Over the entire period, lists from twenty different languages have been printed. For some languages for which there is a demand in some parts of the U.S., additional lists have appeared. There have been nineteen lists of children's books in Spanish, six each in German and Chinese, five each in French and Japanese, four in French Canadian, and three in Slovenian. Sources for purchasing the books are always given. It is a welcome development that through these lists good foreign language children's books, perhaps some of them translations of books American children know well in English, can be obtained for children's libraries.

Seeing what other languages look like in print may make the experience of reading translated books more inviting. And how exciting when a visitor or parent or teacher or classmate can read one of them! Seeing books in French, German, Italian, or Japanese can also arouse curiosity and perhaps stir a wish to read and speak another language sometime in the future. Our financial markets are finding they must become global in today's world. So, too, children need to begin early to feel their relationships to children throughout the world. Translated books can begin to bridge the gap.

Riita Oittinen (essay date 2000)

SOURCE: Oittinen, Riita. "Readers Reading." In Translating for Children, pp. 15-40. New York, N.Y.: Garland Publishing, Inc., 2000.

[In the following essay, Oittinen emphasizes the role of the reader in interpreting a children's text—in itself a meansof translation—and its import in creating a representative and meaningful translation of foreign-language children's books.]

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Rita Ghesquiere (essay date 2006)

SOURCE: Ghesquiere, Rita. "Why Does Children's Literature Need Translations?" In Children's Literature in Translation: Challenges and Strategies, edited by Jan Van Coillie and Walter P. Verschueren, pp. 19-33. Manchester, England: St. Jerome Publishing, 2006.

[In the following essay, Ghesquiere offers a history of the impact of translated children's works in several countries—particularly with regards to central European nations—as well as the effect that these foreign influences can have upon the development of a national literature.]

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Marilyn Gaddis Rose (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: Rose, Marilyn Gaddis. "The Translator and the Voice of the Other: A Case in Point." In No Small World: Visions and Revisions of World Literature, edited by Michael Thomas Carroll, pp. 20-33. Urbana, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English, 1996.

[In the following essay, Rose examines the various influences that inform how a translator chooses to translate a work of children's literature, including social, economic, and political pressures.]

How does one speak for the Other as a matter of course, when doing so is regarded as epistemologically impossible and ethically prohibited? This is the problem of representation and re-presentation in translation. And yet, if translation is to occur at all, the translator must assume the Other's voice in order to repeat it. This ventriloquial act requires presumption—Douglas Robinson would say "guts" (5)—or at best a neutrality that needs conscious examination and, occasionally, explanation. Emanuel J. Mickel's recent retranslation of Jules Verne's Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea) serves as my metonymic conceit, for its unobtrusive translation strategy caused me to rethink this problem. Verne's novel—in which "submerged" characters have the choice of rationalization, resistance, or capitulation—causes one to wallow, perhaps drown, in Otherness, and is thus, along with its English translations, a good point of departure for an investigation into the problem of translation and Otherness.

One of the best-known image sequences in Twenty Thousand Leagues occurs toward the end of the novel when an attacking octopus jams the helix of the Nautilus with one of its tentacles. Captain Nemo, members of his multinational crew, and his three prisoner-passengers rush out and up to disengage the helix by slashing the tentacle. With seven tentacles amputated, the octopus uses the one remaining to seize the sailor occupying the vanguard position protecting Nemo. Professor Aronnax, Verne's chief spokesman, relates the event:

Quelle scène! Le malheureux, saisi par le tentacule et collé à ses ventouses, était balancé dans l'air au caprice de cette énorme trompe. Il râlait, il étouffait, il criait: "À moi! à moi!" Ces mots, prononcés en français, me causèrent une profonde stupeur! J'avais donc un compatriote à bord, plusieurs, peut-être! Cet appel déchirant, je l'entendrai toute ma vie!

          (474-75; emphasis in original)

And, after the octopi phalanx has been routed and the submarine is back up to speed, Aronnax ranks the moments of horror and terror in his record:

Pour moi, au milieu de cette lutte, c'était le cri de désespoir poussé par l'infortuné qui m'avait déchiré le coeur. Ce pauvre Français, oubliant son langage de convention, s'était repris à parler la langue de son pays et de sa mère, pour jeter un suprême appel! Parmi cet équipage de Nautilus, associé de corps et d'âme au captaine Nemo, fuyant comme lui le contact des hommes, j'avais donc un compatriote!


As you may recall, Aronnax (a French marine scientist), Conseil (his valet-taxonomist), and Ned Land (the Canadian ace harpooner), essentially begin the novel as victims of the Nautilus, rescued and incarcerated by the ship's crew. (They might be considered prisoners of war since they were on board Admiral Farragut's frigate Abraham Lincoln, seeking out the presumed monster whale that was making the seas unsafe.) Their collective polylingualism—French, English, and German—is no asset in effecting their release: they are land-dwellers speaking "natural" languages, while the Nautilus's crew, men of the sea, speak an "artificial" language (Nemo, at some point prior to the beginning of the novel, created a new language for his crew). However, we assume that French, the medium of the narrative, becomes the medium of communication for the speaking characters since Aronnax is French, Conseil is Belgian, and Ned is Canadian, while Nemo knows all major world languages.

There are four inferences to be made regarding the Otherness of languages in these two passages, all of which are related to the translator's inescapable presumption of speaking for the Other. First, one infers from Nemo's characterization as a ruthless genius that he had forced his language on his crew—had taken their tongues and given them one unheard (of) on earth. Second, Aronnax and his two friends, speaking French only among themselves and with Nemo, and not hearing others speak French, would have supposed that French was a foreign language for the crew. Therefore they would have assumed that they could speak French in front of them without being understood, for inasmuch as the Nautilus's language would have been a special excluding code, so, for the purposes of the three captives, would have been French. Third, Aronnax with his two fellow captives have a we/they relationship and attitude toward Nemo and his crew, and this separation is reinforced by language use.1

Our fourth inference is language-bound and therefore opens up to a whole host of complexities. We note that Aronnax, a bachelor like his two companions Conseil and Land, is stricken by the instantaneous realization that in life-and-death distress the French sailor spontaneously called out in the language of son pays et sa mère (not sa langue maternelle, "his mother tongue," but "the language of his country and his mother"). We note that the ways in which the two languages structure the message are diametrically different. English specifies the action: "Help!" French specifies the object: "À moi!" "Come to me!" And we note further Verne's choice of idiom; we would usually expect "Au secours!" for "Help!" Thus, the sailor asks his mother, as it were, to come to him.2

Grammatical gender can be intriguing in Verne's works, where, by implication and apparent absence, woman is Other, where romance and love are overt only in Le Château des Carpathes (The Carpathian Castle)3 and where, consequently, only those reading Verne's French note that key nouns are feminine: e.g., la science, la nature, la machine, la mer (sea), la mort. Generally in a Verne novel men and boys are engaged in solving problems for mankind, but they are immersed and surrounded by the feminine, using the resources of la science and la machine to enlist la nature in the struggle for la victoire of la vie against la mort on behalf of l'humanité.

While I would hesitate to say that the feminine principle has a voice in the French language, at the same time we all recognize that this implicit, covert, nearly automatic shading will not be carried into English. The men of Dickens, Hawthorne, even Melville—to mention only a few of Verne's contemporaries—may need the help of women, but in the English-language Verne, the fellows do what must be done by themselves. Any English translation of Verne will inescapably omit the helpful and nurturing female voice in the text, whether Same or Other. There is no record, it is true, that Verne consciously sought out feminine nouns. And I think it can be assumed that gender compensation never entered the mind of Verne's first and determinative translator, Lewis Page Mercier. Emanuel J. Mickel's careful and first-ever integral translation of Twenty Thousand Leagues, in fact, allows us to see how much Mercier, a Church of England cleric translating Verne to the obvious satisfaction of Victorian book buyers, knew what the Other—all the Others—wanted said. (The closeness of the two translations also shows how much control Verne exerts over a translator.) In the era of high Western imperialism, translation was a tool, a function, an activity, almost a weapon of cultural aggrandizement, and Mercier, it would seem, used it to lasting effect. In French, Verne (1828-1905) is at best an ambivalent romantic, and in fact is wistfully nostalgic for the time when he thought progress was within reach of l'intelligence and l'industrie. After all, Verne can be claimed by science fiction, but not by fantasy fiction. He was not out to show that there are more resilient mysteries than can ever be explained in ways congenial to Enlightenment rationalism; rather, he (or his narrators and tragically flawed superheroes) was out to show that what appeared to be resilient mystery was largely explicable in rational terms. In short, Verne the romantic inventor of plots replete with symbolism coexisted with Verne the realist/positivist editor. Mercier's more realistic Aronnax/Verne is subtly more at home with himself—and insensitivity to grammatical gender may have had as much to do with that fact as a judgmental attitude.

Mercier's chief aggression was excision. His 303-page translation contains roughly 144,000 words. Verne's novel contains roughly 226,800 words. My calculation for Mickel is 192,000 words, but I noted no omissions. (The Verne edition has no illustrations. The Mercier contains the original illustrations but does not include them in the numbering. Mickel's translation numbers the illustrations. A typical Mickel page has 480 words; however, the critical apparatus is so extensive that there are few typical pages.) For Mercier, Aronnax as Other clearly did not need to say so much; more particularly, he did not need to describe the underwater world in such great detail. Therefore, Mercier cut out the parts we are tempted to skip—like the cetological taxonomy in Moby Dick. For Mercier, readers were also Other, but he identified with them, rather than with Aronnax or with Verne. They—Mercier and the readers—were Others together, and Mercier as the clergyman who knows what is good for his parishioners decided how much of the sea world was pertinent for this adventure. Because of this abridging, Verne's English readers, we can assume, are younger and less sophisticated than his French readers and would not have appreciated Aronnax/Verne's ambivalences. Moreover, since Mercier had, after all, looked up all the words, his translations probably dominate subsequent English translations. Even Mickel's meticulous revision keeps much of Mercier intact.

Discounting Mercier's excisions, his Verne translations are not poor. They are matter-of-factly Victorian in sound and spelling. His errors, as cited by Miller in the annotated edition, are few, and Mercier can surely be excused for referring to North America's mauvaises terres, for example, as a "disagreeable region" instead of as the Badlands. Verne's French is of sufficient formality and impeccability that it cues a similarly correct standard English, with the result that Mickel's retranslation uses the same register and diction and thus does not sound different from Mercier's. Since Mickel appears to follow the Société Jules Verne's no-nonsense approach, eschewing reading across the text, he has the apparent aim of neutrality: just let Verne speak through Aronnax as he would have spoken had he, Verne, been writing in English. Of course, neutrality is a strategy with its choices, if not so many or so noticeable as an a priori interpretation, neither domesticating nor foreignizing, but straddling a fluctuating middle border. In Aronnax's recollection of the octopus who strangled the French sailor, the 1870 Mercier and 1991 Mickel translations are virtually identical:


What a scene! The unhappy man, seized by the tentacle, and fixed to the suckers, was balanced in the air at the caprice of this enormous trunk. He rattled in his throat, he was stifled, he cried, "Help! Help!" These words, spoken in French, startled me! I had a fellow-countryman on board, perhaps several! That heartrending cry! I shall hear it all my life.



What a scene! The unhappy man, seized by the tentacle, and fixed to the suckers, was balanced in the air at the caprice of this enormous trunk. He rattled in his throat, he was stifled, he cried, "Help! Help!" These words, spoken in French, startled me! I had a fellow countryman on board, perhaps several! That heartrending cry! I shall hear it all my life.


And in the second section of our quotation:


For me it was the despairing cry uttered by the unfortunate man in the midst of the struggle that had torn my heart. The poor Frenchman, forgetting his conventional language, had taken to his own mother tongue to utter a last appeal! Amongst the crew of the Nautilus, associated in body and soul with the captain, recoiling like him from all contact with men, I had a fellow-countryman.



For me it was the despairing cry uttered by the unfortunate man in the midst of the struggle that tore my heart. The poor Frenchman, forgetting his conventional language, had taken to his own mother tongue to utter a last appeal! Among the crew of the Nautilus, associated in body and soul with the captain, fleeing all contact with men, I had a fellow countryman.


In the penultimate chapter, however, Mercier's identification with Aronnax and against Nemo comes to the foreground. The Nautilus has sunk a mystery battleship by using itself as a torpedo and piercing the enemy vessel, drowning its hundreds of men. Aronnax's ambivalence toward Nemo abruptly ends; he joins Conseil and Ned Land in their escape plot. Aronnax realizes, "Ce n'était plus mon semblable, c'était l'homme des eaux, le génie des mers" (511). Mercier's Aronnax is superior: "He was no longer my equal [emphasis mine], but a man of the waters, the genie of the sea" (299). Conversely, Mickel's Aronnax is horror-struck: "He was no longer a fellow human being, but the man of the waters, the genie of the sea" (494). In short, as is often the case with literature in translation, readers are ill-advised to rest their case on the translation.

As translators, our own appropriation of the Other may be more subtly domesticating or more openly foreignizing. We may inflict futile apologies on those who read our translator's notes. We may envy the Victorians their confidence and their nerve. But since they knew what literature was and how it should sound, since they knew what was good for their readers, they knew what to choose and how to translate it. For us it is different: our insecurity, uncertainty, and uneasiness—if not unwillingness to presume—leads to an impasse which simply calls for rerouting and going on. Speaking for the Other is an inevitable fact of translating. I am not sure that it qualifies as a dilemma: perhaps it is simply a condition of the activity. Or should I say an encompassing complex of conditions as unavoidable as la mer and la langue de sa mère in Twenty Thousand Leagues? The translator is the Self and the self-same. The text and all its impulsions, and intentions, and patrons both instigating and receiving the translation are Other. The language of the source text is the Other's language. The language of the target text is for the use of others, and the translation text, once expressed, is outside or Other.

I am not quite proclaiming that the question of the Other is moot, but I am suggesting that among moderately self-aware writers, translators, and readers, it can be managed. It can be offset in the classroom by stereoscopic reading, where the text is available in both the author's language and that of the class (at least for the instructor). It can be obviated in reception by the translator's admission of the interpretation developed and the strategy employed. In this respect as well, Mickel's Verne is exemplary. Traveling below the text in footnotes are his exegeses. He tells us what he thinks the import of a passage is. We are free to skip the footnote, but the caveat principle has been observed.

Aronnax ends with the claim that he and Captain Nemo alone have seen what hitherto has been only suspected. As the writer/recorder he has taken upon himself Nemo's role, the "No man" or "Nobody" in Latin who claimed "I can do and undo everything and transform ‘yes’ into ‘no.’" This claim belongs deservedly also to the translator. I mean not only Mickel—but, yes, Mercier, as well.

Translating always involves usurping the Other's voice, and the need to make multicultural expressions maximally available means that those other voices will necessarily be altered. When we read popular press interviews with 1992 Peace Nobelist Rigoberta Menchú, whose native language is a special variety of Quiché, we needed a printed proviso to inform us that not only were we reading a translation, but also that in speaking Spanish to the interpreter, Menchú was probably first translating her own thoughts into Spanish. However, since we wanted to know approximately (rather than not at all) what Menchú was thinking, we were prepared to risk the distortion. And we probably should have allowed a little distortion also for the editorial policy of that particular newspaper.

What is always true in any translation project is that there is some kind of purpose behind it and that translators must accede to that purpose, which always includes some component of decision making for two Others—the source author and the target audience. Most generally we, both translator and "patron" (a term I will discuss later), have decided that the Other needs something: the author needs a wider audience; the target audience needs exposure, if not persuasion, to different values, goods, attitudes, motivations, different information, whether true, false, or mixed. Our intentions are not necessarily malefic, but as I have insisted, they are always to some extent presumptuous. And what we cannot claim is that our intentions can ever be completely disinterested. Unwitting, inadvertent perhaps—but innocent? Never. Even conscientious, conscious neutrality is a purposeful choice.

Anna Lilova, an eloquent and elegant Bulgarian who headed the Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs in the 1980s, claimed that translation was a link between eras, civilizations, and peoples. She was always careful to close at this point, leaving her audience of translators with the impression that linkage of this sort always had a positive value, and we always left with a very good feeling about our mission. As long as Madame Lilova's spell lasted, we felt, even believed, that communication always had beneficent effects, and that if there were more and better translators, the world would be a much better place. It is enough to state such premises to refute them. The best we can truthfully aver is that the world would probably be no worse for more and better translators.

We must now recognize that some of the most formidable translation projects have been mounted on behalf of inherently conflicted causes. For example, in the East the U.S.S.R. had its most talented writers organized and systematized to translate. After all, it was more prudent for Boris Pasternak to translate Shakespeare than to write Doctor Zhivago, and when Efraim Etkind even made an allusion to that situation, he was thankful to be allowed to emigrate to France. One explicit grand design at which the Russian translators were, it now seems, fated to fail was the integration of the separate heritages of the constituent republics into a common, shared culture through translation.

In the West, the United Bible Society, through its affiliates, still supports a worldwide network of evangelical Protestant translators who are committed to preserving and stabilizing many of the world's 5,300 discrete languages by converting their implicit grammars to writing systems. Of course, along the way, they have brought those preliterate cultures the Bible and Judeo-Christian ethics, including Western material culture and all that it entails. Their translator corps are trained by Western standards: they study preliterate grammars in a grid of Western grammars (specifically, Graeco-Latin, Franco-German, and Anglo-American) to transcribe texts as their Western-trained ears hear them. This, as Lauren Leighton has painstakingly documented, was true of the Russian translators as well.

In the mid-1970s the Polysystem group in comparative literature/translation studies—which includes scholars from Amsterdam, Antwerp, and Tel Aviv4—introduced the term "patronage system" to designate the constraints imposed by whatever persons or groups authorize a given translation. The patronage system can designate an overt centralized system of control over what can be translated and published. This can be seen in the Foreign Language Publishing House in the People's Republic of China, or in the U.S.S.R.'s censorship system prior to 1991, or in other prereform Eastern Bloc censorship systems (Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being recounts such an incident in Czechoslovakia, when the physician begins his material descent by citing Oedipus in a newspaper). The patronage system, of course, can be so covert as to be nearly invisible, as in the U.S. system, where the economics of publishing (including advertising and market analysis) determines what gets published and hence what gets translated. "Market" here includes the government, organized religions, and so-called public service/public interest groups, from pro-life to pro-choice, from the NRA to Handgun Control. Since market analysis and the taste of key people in that market are determined by various socioethical values, this patronage system is open to majority domination and can be oppressive, although in the United States the small press, little magazine, and university press establishments to some extent counteract this monolithic tendency.

What may be paradoxical is that the Polysystem proponents—who unmistakably imply that the standards of taste imposed by the publishing system under corporate capitalism risk deforming literature—have for the most part learned English or French well enough to use those languages for their own publishing. With the exception of Susan Bassnett (of Warwick University), the Polysystem proponents are generally from countries with small language bases, and they are only too aware of the handicap of venue. Bassnett, in the afterword to her revised, tidy, and Western introduction Translation Studies, writes that she is going to make comparative literature a subfield of translation studies rather than the other way around. However, when into translation and creative writing on their own, the members of this group aim at publication with publishers such as Grove Press, the University of Chicago Press, Routledge, and Sun and Moon, and their products follow the norms of publishing economics—and do not sound like translations.

In the 1990s the vanguard position in translation studies is being assumed by Lawrence Venuti. His supporters (myself included) have yet to acquire a label, but we can take a cue from his essay "The Translator's Invisibility," and call our project "visible translation." The dilemma of dealing with the Other makes this group of "visibles" want to do more than mark texts as translations and foreground the translator. This group wants translators to be open about their ideological and stylistic strategies: honest with themselves, first of all, and, second and repeatedly, with their readers and patrons.

Here again, the responsibles, as the French would say, are not necessarily evil hypocrites; they can be benign activists. The benevolent and sincere can be found everywhere. But whatever our individual convictions regarding benevolence, sincerity, openness, and the relativity of such values, these responsibles do make decisions on behalf of the Other. If we translate, neutral as we often claim to be, we are either making such a decision or acceding to one. Let us, at least for our purposes here, avoid the most obvious and overt instances—of which I have next-to-firsthand knowledge because I know translators with the Summer Institute of Linguistics, which sends linguist/missionaries along the Amazon or in the remote villages of New Guinea. Let us not take issue with their decision that these peoples need Westernizing. As translators, let us look into our own consciences.

Let us look at instances of decision making for the Other which I wholeheartedly endorse. Mickel's retranslation is such a decision, for he recognized that the existing English translation was incomplete and contained some inaccuracies. Of course, Verne is in our Western tradition, so the presumption level, if I may put it that way, is slight. A more overt example of deciding what the others need or what the Other has to say comes with Francophone literature. For example, if A. James Arnold of Caraf Books thinks that the American English audience needs to hear the French Caribbean voice, he is making such a needs analysis. Carrol F. Coates, associate editor of Callaloo, a journal of Caribbean and African American literature, makes such decisions on a weekly basis.5 In such matters we are no more self-reflective than Anna Lilova, whom I cited earlier: we simply believe that we here need to experience as tellingly as we can the lives and insights of those there.

Furthermore, once the decision to translate has been made, other decisions are in order. These decisions are likely to make neutrality either impossible—and/or undesirable. In the first place, like members of a jury who presumably are not supposed to have read newspapers or watched television for several months prior to being called to duty, translators cannot really claim not to know anything about the subject nor to have no preformed judgments; indeed, someone with no prior information and no shared opinions would not be qualified to do the translation. (Anyone retranslating Verne, for example, has already discovered the flaws in the prior translations, and has a conviction that Verne is worth serious critical attention.) This is no paradox. Translators are not practitioners of the traditional Western scientific method. They are, rather, more like critical theorists, for they must both share bias and be aware of it while processing their material.6 In this regard, their competence depends on knowledge of both the source and target languages as well as knowledge of the subject matter, including knowing where and how to research the background.

Furthermore, more insidious decisions inevitably arise during translating, depending upon what response is desired from the readers. The spectrum is usually between target-language acceptability and source-language fidelity, and as a result the translator must face a number of hard questions. Should some integrity of the original be sacrificed to make sure that readers pay attention to it? Should the giveaways, such as strained effects, odd syntax, peculiar words be altered? Will the response be greater if it sounds as if the author wrote in English? There is a related problem: often, through either more extensive knowledge or highly convincing role playing, translators find errors in fact, sense lapses in register; in short, they find that the text needs "improvement." It is a presumptuous decision, and yet may have to be made simply to ensure publication.

On the other hand, the contrary may look just as convincing. Perhaps we should let readers look at the Other face to face, thus hearing some of the text's alienating resonances. Perhaps we should allow the text to present itself. This is what Mickel did for Indiana University Press, because university presses are moving toward this new literalism. (The popular press still wants style to conform to Anglo-American norms.) In this way, readers know that this is a translation, a voice from another culture or another era. Indeed, a study of translating over the past five years shows that power centers and power languages (e.g., New York and English, Paris and French) are engaged in power struggles with the periphery. Even though in French literature the center has moved from Paris to sites on the periphery, it is we in the center (however that center may be constituted) who decide what is read and heard, what the rhetorical standards will be, what traditions will be followed, and what will be profitable. Translation always reacts to the center, whether through serving it (by bringing what is fashionable somewhere else over to English), or through countering it (by bringing in something the center would prefer to ignore or exclude).

It is, quite literally, inexpressibly convenient to be born into a dominant language milieu. While official bilingualism may undermine monolingual privilege, translation in an officially bilingual community like Canada—or a quasi-officially bilingual community like Haiti—maintains privilege. In Canada, translators can reduce creative language usage by their need to standardize expression and hence keep language the tool of conformity. Unapologetically, in Canada and on the continent, you speak French correctly or you speak something else, and Termium, the Canadian Secretary of State's formidable database in the praiseworthy pursuit of nonambiguity in information exchange, makes this effort machine-readable.

This kind of standardization emanates from the center and keeps the periphery in a neat circle. In Canada, the translation office is a subdivision of the Secretary of State. In Quebec, a state agency and a civic agency in Montreal try to monitor language—yet they do not concern themselves with the Algonquin minority at its border. Many a nation-state we envy (Sweden) or like to visit (France) makes an official effort to protect usage and hold the line on borrowings. Indeed, it is time that someone noted for the record that the rise of linguistic nationalism within the past thirty years heralded the resurgence of political nationalism. And before politicians, translators were confronting the concomitant resurgence of linguistic nationalism and world-language learning; that is, groups were bending their efforts to learn the colonizers' languages, voluntarily this time around, while committing themselves to the defense and illumination of their own language(s). The motives have been complex, even conflicted.

Whatever the motives may have been, translators have been mobilized to use their skills as weapons in the conflict of cultures—a conflict many would like to transform into a living mosaic through evenhanded curriculum. With such we try to give the Other's words, not so much our own (although that will be inescapable), but words the Other would have used.

Of course, what we decide those words would have been is a matter of judgment, compounded of intuition, experience, and immersion. This judgment will be personal and subjective. In all translation there is a complex, multilayered, subjective factor. Various branches of applied linguistics (computational, descriptive, neural, and terminological) have been able to limit the subjective element in nonliterary language. Canada and the European Community have been able to limit the subjective element to such an extent that for sheer information transfer, there is a fair degree of reliable automatism in translating. Editing, obviously, is still necessary, so a degree of subjectivity remains, even in nonliterary translation. And in literary translation the subjective must take precedence.

In the final analysis, it is evident that literary translation is part of literature. Hence not only is translation appropriately deconstructed or explicated by literary criticism but also, and more important, literary translation is a response to the literary taste of an era, for what is accepted by the target audience determines, consciously or unconsciously, the decisions translators make.

When we encounter new literary translations that sound somewhat stilted and antiquated or, conversely, suspiciously smooth, it is likely that the translators have not been reading the target literature. What makes Mickel's retranslation of Twenty Thousand Leagues so persuasive is that as a specialist in the nineteenth century Mickel knows Anglo-American literature well enough to keep his Verne credible. Comparative, chronological charts (such as those made by the Leuven School under José Lambert) can show us what can happen lexically, syntactically, and grammatically in the interval separating the Mercier and Mickel translations. The passages from these translations that I have herein cited show minimal change. A time lapse of 121 years, a space distance of the Atlantic Ocean, and the considerable cultural differences between a nineteenth-century Oxford cleric and a twentieth-century Bloomington academic resulted only in the removal of a hyphen in the phrase, "fellow countryman." The tenses, mood, and voices stayed the same. Word order was preserved. Cognates were used confidently.

Mickel's decision to stay neutral and let the readers, all of us Others, see as nearly as possible what Verne would have written had he used English, was the best one. It mandated a certain rhetorical formality, fittingly associated with nineteenth-century novels, and in this form his Twenty Thousand Leagues reenters the multicultural curriculum with integrity.

Translators, then, are not unlike Professor Aronnax—although they may feel at times like the unfortunate, nameless French sailor. They cannot rescue the original just as it is. But they can transcribe and attempt to render cet appel déchirant … "that heartrending cry!"


1. There is no indication that Nemo, who speaks French natively, is a native speaker; Verne had originally planned to make Nemo a Pole, but his editor had too large a Russian market to permit the implication that Russian repression was responsible for Nemo's inhumanity. My Russo-Ukrainian colleague Georgui Derlugian informs me that in the Russian translation Nemo is a Hindu wronged by British colonialism.

2. Given Verne's passion for opera, "À moi!" almost certainly echoes Faust's call to Mephistopheles in Gounod's libretto. This would suggest that the sailor wants his mother but is calling on the devil, i.e., the diabolical Nemo. It is probably also no coincidence that "Nautilus" was the name of Robert Fulton's submarine model, which had a successful trial run in France in 1800.

3. Here there is affection and devotion between the affianced innkeeper's daughter and the game warden. But the eroticism is displaced. The castle owner, long exiled from this section of Transylvania presumably for his political activism, has returned with a charlatan who manipulates color slides and a recording to simulate the deceased opera singer whom the chatelaine loved. Simultaneously the opera singer's grieving fiancé and his valet pass through the area on a walking trip.

4. The leading proponents are José Lambert, André Lefevre, Itamar Even-Zohar, and Gideon Toury. For a brief guide to the Polysystem see LEfevre's "Beyond the Process."

5. Coates's Haitian issues of Callaloo received the Council of Journal Editors' 1992 monograph award, so such "presumption" was judged both valuable and attractive.

6. See the results of my survey of translators in "Seeking Synapses: Translators Describe Translating." Also relevant is my taxonomy of translator-text relations in "Crossroads or Spectrum: Translators' Range of Relations to a Text."

Works Consulted

Bassnett, Susan. Translation Studies. Rev. ed. London: Routledge, 1991.

Coates, Carrol F., ed. Callaloo. Special issues on Haitian literature, 15.2 (Spring 1992) and 15.3 (Summer 1992).

Kundera, Milan. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. New York: Harper-Collins, 1988.

Lefevre, André. "Beyond the Process." In Translation Spectrum. Ed. M. G. Rose. Albany: State U of New York P, 1981. 52-59.

Leighton, Lauren. Two Literatures, One Art. De Kalb: Northern Illinois UP, 1991.

Robinson, Douglas. The Translator's Turn. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1991.

Rose, M. G. "Seeking Synapses: Translators Describe Translating." In Translation Theory and Practice: Tension and Interdependence, ed. Mildred L. Larson. ATA Series 5. Binghamton: Center for Research in Translation, 1991. 5-11.

———. "Crossroads or Spectrum: Translators' Range of Relations to a Text." In Languages at Crossroads, ed. Deanna Lindberg Hammond. Medford, NJ: Learned Information Systems, 1988. 297-303.

Venuti, Lawrence, ed. Rethinking Translation. New York: Routledge, 1992.

———. "The Translator's Invisibility." Criticism 28: 199-202.

Verne, Jules. Vingt mille lieues sous les mers. Edition intégrale. Simone Vierne, ed. Paris: Garnier-Flammarion, 1977. The Mercier edition is Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas (Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1875); the annotated edition of the Mercier was compiled by Walter James Miller (New York: Thomas Crowell, 1967). The Mickel edition is Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1991).

Cathy Hirano (essay date 1999)

SOURCE: Hirano, Cathy. "Eight Ways to Say You: The Challenges of Translation." In The Translation of Children's Literature: A Reader, edited by Gillian Lathey, pp. 225-31. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters Ltd., 2006.

[In the following essay, Hirano—the English-language translator of Kazumi Yumoto's award-winning children's book The Friends—discusses the challenges of translating a foreign text, suggesting that recreating the meaning, tone, and spirit of the work is more important than mere linguistic accuracy.]

Last year I had the honor of attending the Boston Globe-Horn Book awards ceremony in Massachusetts, not as an award recipient but as an accompanist—as the translator for Kazumi Yumoto's The Friends (1996), which won the fiction award.1 It was exhilarating to meet so many people who had actually read the book. Not only had they read it, but they had been touched by it, moved by it, as I was every time I read it during the translation process—which must have been at least ten times. These people shared the insights it had given them into their own lives, the encouragement it had brought them in a time of grief, the laughter it had sparked. And I thought, ‘Yes! This is why I translate!’ It's my way of sharing what I (a Canadian woman married to a Japanese man, with two children who speak primarily Japanese) have experienced here in Japan, both the universal and the unique; experiences that have forced me to think in new ways and look at life with new eyes.

People who have never translated often assume that it is a purely mechanical process. The translator, proficient in both languages, simply has to substitute one word in the source language for an equivalent word in the target language. To some extent this is true, particularly for texts with specific and frequently repeated terminology such as machine manuals, and especially if those texts are being translated into a language related to one's own. If you have ever read some of the incomprehensible manuals that have come out of Japan for VCRs or electrical appliances, however, you will realize that there is more to translation than owning a good foreign language dictionary. Translation of literature is far from mechanical, and translating between languages that, like Japanese and English, are very different from each other requires fairly strenuous cultural and mental gymnastics. A cursory glance at Japanese sentence structure and some of the idiosyncrasies of Japanese composition will give you an idea of what a Japanese-to-English translator is really required to do.

Japanese sentences do begin with a subject, but it is often unstated and must be inferred from the context. There is no plural, either—or rather, there can be but it is rarely used, again requiring the reader to guess from the context whether there is only one of the subject or more. The subject is followed by the object, and then finally the verb. Suffixes on the end of the verb establish the tense and make the sentence a positive or negative statement while an additional suffix makes it into a question. The first task of a translator, then, is to unravel the sentence and rearrange the appropriate pieces in English order. When the sentences are embellished with extra clauses, this is rather like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, trying to find where each piece fits into place. Here is a sentence randomly selected from a Japanese magazine I happen to have on my desk. In Japanese, the order would be as follows: ‘International cooperation, when said, country or government or local administrative body do something is, we direct relation is not.’ Rearranged in English order and with the addition of implied nuances and unstated information, the sentence becomes: ‘When we talk about international cooperation, we usually assume that it is the domain of the country, the government, or the local administrative body, not something that directly concerns us.’

More than grammar, however, it is the differences in writing style that are a challenge for the translator, because these reflect differences in cultural perspective and ways of thought. The most obvious differences between Japanese and English writing styles are organization and tone. My English composition classes in high school taught me that English is supposed to flow in a linear fashion, from introduction to body to conclusion, and that statements should be supported by logical explanations. Even in literature, a book works towards a climax and then a conclusion. In contrast, Japanese composition appears almost circular, and although it has its own logic and organization, it is very different from how I learned to write in school. Whereas in English we stress clarity, in Japanese subtlety is preferred. The Japanese writer dances around his theme, implying rather than directly stating what he wants to say, leaving it up to readers to discern that for themselves. He or she appeals to the reader's emotions rather than to the intellect, and tries to create a rapport rather than to convince. The Japanese reader, in turn, is quite capable of taking great leaps of imagination to follow the story line. Direct translations of English into Japanese, therefore, often appear crude and abrasive, insulting the reader's intelligence with their bluntness, while direct translations of Japanese into English are often frustrating to read because they come across as emotional, even childish, and without any point or conclusive ending. Although they may be faithful to what is actually written, this type of translation fails to achieve its purpose because it does not convey the author's intended meaning. It is worth noting that there is considerable controversy about this issue amongst translators themselves and among authors being translated. Although translation should convey the meaning, and not necessarily in precisely the same words, there is a very fine line between translating and tampering with or rewriting the original text.

The first thing I need to know before I even start translating is the intended readership and the purpose of the translation. That information determines how I deal with implied but unstated content and foreign cultural assumptions. For example, when I am translating academic works or articles for publication in the West, if the purpose is to make an impact on the author's Western peers, I will, with the author's permission, occasionally go so far as to reorganize and even rewrite some sections to present the author's point more clearly to the intended audience, overstepping the bounds of strict translation. I also routinely weed out inconsistencies and repetition that are unobtrusive and, in the case of repetition, even effective in Japanese, but very distracting and annoying in English.

Literature, however, is another matter, because to both the reader and the author the form is as important as the content. I must strive to remain true not only to the essence, but also to the style and tone of the writer in the source language while at the same time render it in a way that is understandable to someone from a very different culture and way of thinking. It is a balancing act, requiring sensitivity and intuition, a combination of humility, vigilance, and arrogance. I say humility because as a translator I must be willing to accept that the author comes first, and that even if I don't agree, or think that I can say it better, the author is always right. Moreover, it is dangerous to assume that I understand, and thus I must be constantly vigilant. In Kazumi Yamoto's second book, The Spring Tone (1999, original Japanese title Haru no orugan), she uses the word jersey, a term borrowed from English. The Japanese dictionary defined it as a garment made of jersey cloth and the English dictionary as a close-knit upper garment. A sweater, I assumed, and translated it as such, but it was one of the many small points that continued to niggle at me. When I mentioned it to Kazumi, she hastily informed me that she had meant a sweat suit or tracksuit, with pants and top, and not a sweater at all.

Arrogance and humility may appear to be contradictory, but I need a certain amount of arrogance to believe that I have the ability to become the author in another language. If, for example, you give ten excellent translators the exact same passage to translate, you will invariably end up with ten excellent, but very different translations. Which one of those is ‘right’? I am terrified of reading my translation after it has been published because I know that I will find errors, omissions, or things that I would now say differently. I need that arrogance during the translation process to sustain me to the finish. Otherwise I would be paralysed by doubts.

The target audience of the Japanese literature I translate is young adults. The objective is to bring the world of Japanese children and adolescents closer to them, to help them feel what Japanese kids feel, view the world through their eyes, while still appreciating the differences. Ideally, the translation should make them laugh where a Japanese reader would laugh, cry where a Japanese reader would cry, etc. Although I may be underestimating them, I do not expect this audience to have much prior knowledge of the daily life of an ordinary Japanese child or much tolerance for assumptions that are foreign to their culture.

Here's an example. The Friends (Japanese title: Natsu no niwa) is about three twelve-year-old boys who are afraid of death. They decide to stalk an old man in their neighborhood in order to witness what really happens when a person dies, and the story follows the relationship that develops between the boys and the old man. I knew from the outset that school and juku, a kind of school after school, were going to be major obstacles to understanding for American readers. Although most of the story takes place outside of these venues, they set the rhythm of the boys' lives and are an essential part of the backdrop. Elementary school conjures up similar images in both cultures, but the school year in Japan begins in April, and summer holidays are much shorter, with fairly heavy homework assignments. Without some knowledge of these aspects, many of the things the boys do just would not make sense to target readers. Similarly, although the word juku conjures up a common image for Japanese children, there is no real equivalent in North America. To simply translate it as cram school and leave it at that would make it impossible for North American readers to appreciate its implications in Japanese children's lives.

These problems were solved through a three-way communication process. I consulted the author, who was very clear that her priority was to make her work accessible to the North American audience, and asked her to describe in more detail how she envisioned school and juku in the boys' lives, including how often they attended, the time of day etc. I faxed this information to the American editor at Farrar, and she suggested a few key places in the text where additional description could be naturally woven in as briefly and unobtrusively as possible. For example, the longest addition reads:

Every day, Monday to Friday, we have cram school after regular school. We're there from six until eight and sometimes even until nine o'clock at night, trying to cram in everything we'll need to know to pass the entrance exams for junior high school next year. By the time we get out, we're exhausted, not to mention starving.

It is short, but it makes a tremendous difference to how readers experience the rest of the book.

You can see from this example the amount of cultural significance that is packed into a single word. Trying to convey those unspoken cultural assumptions without overdoing it is one of the challenges of translation. Similar problems arise because of the different levels of speech in Japanese. Just off the top of my head, I can think of eight ways to say you, each with a cultural nuance that reflects the speaker's sex or social status in relationship to the listener: a form only used by male speakers, a polite form for someone of a higher status, a more neutral form for a peer, a more familiar form for someone of lower status, etc. Moreover, the use of you is generally avoided because it is too direct, and therefore when it is used the translator has to consider whether it contains information crucial to understanding a character or a relationship. If it does, then an alternative way to reflect that in the dialogue must be found, because the word you will of course convey nothing of the above to a North American reader.

The Spring Tone follows the internal journey of Tomomi, a thirteen-year-old girl. She is angry and resentful at having to leave behind her childhood naïveté and sense of security and begin the painful process of growing up. We experience her dawning awareness of herself and others, her letting go of anger and judgment, through her changing perception of the world around her and her relationships with her brother, her grandfather, her parents, and a woman who cares for stray cats. At one point in the story, there is a brief encounter between Tomomi and Kinko, a boy from her school, that reveals an internal shift. Being rather timid and fastidious, Kinko is appalled to see Tomomi petting a stray cat. Parrotting his mother, he blames the proliferation of strays on the people who feed them. Tomomi hotly refutes this, demanding to know why he does not blame the people who throw their cats away as if they were garbage. The tone of the encounter is set at the beginning by the following exchange:

‘Was that your brother?’

‘Yeah, so what?’ He said ‘your.’ Why is he putting on airs, that jerk?

Tomomi's anger seems totally unwarranted in the English. The boy appears to be asking an ordinary question. The word he actually used, however, was kimi. When this form is used by a child to his peers, it has a slightly snobbish although not condescending tone. It is an unconscious affectation of someone ‘well-brought up’ and protected from vulgar society, a member of the upper class. To Tomomi he seems to be putting on airs, and she bristles with indignation. In order to give the reader the same impression, I settled for making his speech sound slightly affected and altered Tomomi's response to correspond, as follows:

‘That was your brother, I presume?’

‘Yeah, so what?’ you presume indeed. You jerk.

Even without the differences in levels of politeness and familiarity in speech, translating conversations often requires more ingenuity than descriptive passages. Having lived in Japan for 20 years, Japanese as a spoken language is very alive for me. I spend much of my time talking to children—my own children's friends and schoolmates, and the many children who approach me on the street because I look so different. Kazumi Yamoto is adept at capturing the tone and easy-flowing banter of children's conversations, yet the actual words sound stilted or strange in English. In a scene in The Friends, one of the boys has been trying to convince his friends to spy on the old man. He finally succeeds, and the resultant altercation directly translated would read:

‘All right.’

‘… say?’ Yamashita is nervous.

‘To be more precise,’ I avoid Yamashita's accusing eyes. ‘It must not cause trouble for the old man.’


‘Did it! Two against one!’ Kawabe dances a little jig.

This does not convey any of the humor or rhythm of their give and take. To maintain a feeling for the way North American children speak and to prevent the Japanese language from dominating, I read American children's books and watch American movies constantly during the translation process. Then, after reading a section like the one above, I close my eyes and visualize English-speaking children and imagine what they would say in the same situation. The result in this case was as follows:

‘All right,’ I say.

‘All right what?’ Yamashita asks nervously.

I avoid Yamashita's accusing eyes. ‘But only on condition that it doesn't bother the old man.’

‘No!’ Yamashita explodes.

‘Yes! Two against one!’ Kawabe shouts gleefully, and he dances a little jig.

The words in English are very different, but they capture the tone of the Japanese more accurately.

Probably one of the trickiest problems I face in translation is humor. More often than not, slapstick and situational humor transcend cultural boundaries. Culture specific jokes and puns, however, usually do not. There are several ways of dealing with this, ranging from the extreme of deleting the joke entirely to making it a completely different joke. In The Friends, there is a very humorous scene in which the main character Kiyama is caught daydreaming in class, a situation also familiar to children in America. The teacher puts him on the spot by asking him a question. Kiyama's friend prompts him, whispering ‘round’ and ‘smooth’, which Kiyama parrots. But he hasn't a clue what the subject matter is. The question was actually about the characteristics of pebbles in the earth's stratum, but the teacher traps him by rubbing his head and saying, ‘Right, round and smooth. Just like me. And whom do you think we are talking about?’ Kiyama panics and blurts out the name of Tokugawa Ieyasu, a famous figure in Japanese history. The whole class, of course, bursts out laughing. The use of this name in the English translation, however, would be meaningless to an American child, and would rob the situation of its humor. An alternative was needed—someone with a round, smooth head who would be readily recognized by Americans but still plausible in a Japanese context.

The American editor suggested Buddha, and after consultation with the author, this is what we used. The solution is a compromise: it does not convey the same meaning as the original Japanese, but at the same time it does not detract from the overall humor of the situation.

There are so many facets to translation, so many problems and so many different ways of solving them, that I could go on forever. Instead, I would like to share with you something that was very meaningful for me as a translator. The Friends was published in recorded book form in 1997, and I was sent a copy. It is five hours long, and I started playing it for myself during a car trip with my children. My son, then ten, had never read the book, and I thought that he was too young to understand, especially in English. I was surprised therefore to find him laughing at the funny parts and listening intently to the rest. When we reached our destination, he carried the tapes inside and listened non-stop for two more hours until it was finished. He wept, heartbroken, at the old man's death (I still cry there, even now), and at the end, he said with satisfaction (and in Japanese), ‘that was a good book, Mom’. It is indeed a good book, and it was a gift to be able to share it with my own child, born of both cultures; to see him experiencing Japanese literature through the medium of the English language. And to know that it still came through.


1. Cathy Hirano's translation of The Friends won the 1997 Mildred Batchelder Award for translated children's fiction published in the USA for its publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Akiko Yamazaki (essay date March 2002)

SOURCE: Yamazaki, Akiko. "Why Change Names?: On the Translation of Children's Books." Children's Literature in Education 33, no. 1 (March 2002): 53-62.

[In the following essay, Yamazaki argues against the theory of "cultural context adaptation," in which the cultural elements of a children's work are transposed or altered to parallel the practices and settings of a more dominant culture.]

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 children's 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 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 protagonist's 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.

Another example I came across is the English translation of Erich Kästner's 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 fängt noch gar nicht an (The story has not even begun yet)’ where Kästner 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 Kästner, 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 Kästner's 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 Emil's cousin, Pony Hütchen. For example, her straightforward words to her father, Mr Heimbold: ‘Alle Wetter, Heimbold, bist du ein Dreckschädel (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


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 people's 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 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, there's 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?


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 Kästner's 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 children's 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). Göte 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 children's 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 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 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 children's 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 ‘children's literature is basically nontranslatable, since children's 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 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 children's 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 people's 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 one's 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 one's 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 Pokémon 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 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 children's 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 Lindgren's book, it can be generally said that Japanese translation of children's 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 Lindgren's 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, children's books, and their authors, since faithfulness to the original text is a central issue in the translation of nonchildren's 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 children's inability to cope with foreign things. The real vicious circle has more to do with adults who, entangled in the general disrespect for children's capacity, children's 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 children's 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 children's books give only a disproportionate representation of cultures, even if all of them were to be translated. Not all cultures have children's literature of their own, it being a concept that originally belongs to the tradition of the Western cultures. The countries that do have children's 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 children's books in England (1978, p. 65). In Britain and America, where there are many children's books available without translation, it is difficult to find commercial and cultural incentives to publish translated books.

In Japan, where its own children's 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, 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 English-speaking countries, it is all the more important that they are faithfully translated.


Emil beugte sich weit aus dem Fenster und suchte den Zugführer. 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 nächsten Augenblick stand Emil auf dem Bahnsteig, setzte den Koffer hin, stieg noch einmal ein, weil er die Blumen, die im Gepäcknetz lagen, vergessen hatte, stieg wieder aus, packte den Koffer kräftig 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, stieß wen mit dem Koffer, rannte weiter. Die Menschenmenge wurde immer dichter und undurchdringlicher.

Da! Dort war der steife Hut! Himmel, da drüben war noch einer! Emil konnte den Koffer kaum noch schleppen. Am liebsten hätte er ihn einfach hingestellt und stehen lassen. Doch dann wäre ihm auch der noch gestohlen worden!

Endlich hatte er sich bis dicht an die steifen Hüte herangedrängt.

Der konnte es sein! War er's?


Dort war der nächste.

Nein. der Mann war zu klein.

Emil schlängelte sich wie ein Indianer durch die Menschenmassen.

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 Children's Book Market: History and Present Situation," in Children's Books in Translation, Göte Klingberg et al. eds., pp. 60-80. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1978.

Kästner, Erich, Emil und die Detektive, München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1999. (Original work published 1929)

Kästner, Erich, Emil and the Detectives, transl. Eileen Hall. London: Red Fox, 1959.

Kästner, Erich, Emil to Tantei-tachi, transl. Taro Komatsu. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1953.

Klingberg, Göte, Children's Fiction in the Hands of the Translators. Malmö: 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 Children's Books," in Children's Books in Translation, Göte Klingberg et al. eds., pp. 130-46. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1978.

Weinreich, Torben, "International Book Production for Children Related to the Children's Local Experiences and Local Consciousness," in Children's Books in Translation, Göte Klingberg et al. eds., pp. 147-58. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1978.

Helen T. Frank (essay date July 2003)

SOURCE: Frank, Helen T. "Missing the Point? Misprints, Mistranslations, and Transformations." Traffic 3 (July 2003): 164-81.

[In the following essay, Frank highlights various French mistranslations of Australian children's works to study the effects of culture and language as barriers to effective translation processes.]

The translation of literary works necessitates a process of linguistic and cultural transfer. This paper analyses French translations of twentieth-century Australian children's fiction and highlights the variety of translational tendencies and interpretive choices at work in moving texts from one culture to another. While ‘mistakes’ in translation represent an undesirable yet inevitable side effect of the translation process, they offer choice moments of insight into constraints of culture and language. These constraints account for the important distinction between simple error, reinterpretation, and the appropriation of cultural content to reflect a preferred set of images.

Mistranslation is a common feature in the process of transferring any text from one culture to another. While some mistranslations are simply entertaining, others can be detrimental to the quality of the translation and misrepresentative of the culture of the source text. Common sources of linguistic ‘mistakes’ leading to mistranslation include ambiguous syntax and semantics, metaphors, irony and humour, with accidental omission of simple words or the insertion of additional material often resulting in serious translational differences. Cultural ‘mistakes’ commonly result from a lack of specific knowledge of the practices and conventions of other cultures.1 However, the concept of ‘error’ in translation is problematic as it presumes a certain notion of equivalence, whereby the translated text is expected to be the same as the original text through recourse to a normative template that dictates what the translator should and should not do. Translation goes well beyond equivalence and involves textual re-creation through adaptation and composition for readers in another culture.

This article demonstrates the position taken by translators in the specific case of the transfer of Australian children's books into a French-speaking environment, and highlights two major issues in the translation of children's literature. The first issue concerns the translator's prioritisation of the accessibility of the text for the child reader in another culture. In the process of translation, the translator selects items from the information offered in the source text and processes them anew for readers in the target culture who in turn select what is meaningful in their situation.2 Translation as interpretation, rewriting, and adaptation means that translators emphasise and deemphasise different aspects of the original work consistent with the goal of making the content as explicit as possible for children in another culture. The second issue concerns the linguistic, stylistic and cultural constraints that operate in the translation of Australian children's books into French, and the consequences of their impact on transmission of Australian cultural specificity. Translations that reveal cultural inadequacies and ‘mistakes’ may in fact reflect intentional translational choices that strongly correlate with a set of preferred French images of the Australian landscape and culture.

Culture, Child Readers, and Translation

The expectation and indeed assumption of authors, readers and cultures that texts will somehow be ‘equivalent’ sits uncomfortably with translation theories, which claim that translation is never more than partial restatement, whereby the translation takes the reader away from the specificity of the original. Wetherill, for example, speaks of ‘the law of diminishing returns’, or reductive tendencies of translations, where one thing is rejected in order to emphasis other effects not dominant in the original.3 While acknowledging that translators may achieve semiotic equivalence by retaining, modifying or even omitting whole sequences within a text, Wetherill warns that such freedom can increase the risk that translations can be subject to distortion, inadequacy, mistranslation, redistribution of meaning, and cultural misappropriation. However, translation as transformation means that the translator's reading of the original work allows such interpretation, improvement, recreation and deviation for a new audience, resulting in each translation being, by definition, different from the original text.4

When books move from one system to another, or from one culture to another, forms of adjustment are often necessary. In literature for adults, the framework of literary criticism assumes norms of sophistication and complexity that aim for high literary quality and aesthetic value, norms that become modified and simplified when writing for young readers. The practice of adjustment of the text to assumed levels of children's comprehension and in accordance with norms of morality in the children's social system invariably mean a shorter and less complicated target text. The aim for brevity and ease of comprehension implies deletion and simplification, supporting the view that children's literature is by definition a literature that leaves things out.5 While leaving something out may in part imply a deliberate process of textual deviation on the part of the translator, it also reflects oversight and negligence that may be attributed to a lack of judgment or failure to recognise the need for cultural and linguistic adaptation. Against this background, I will present selected passages of French translations of twentieth-century Australian children's fiction as representative examples of a variety of simple mistakes and more serious translational transformations. These passages will be analysed within the context of translators as readers, writers and interpreters of texts, and of translation as acculturation.6

Relatively simple examples of carelessness in translated works that are not the fault of translators are bibliographical and typographical mistakes in the information commonly found on the verso of the title page. For example, the translation Mon père est un peu ringard (1998) gives the original title of Morris Gleitzman's work as Worry Wats [sic], both the incorrect title (the correct title is Blabber Mouth)7 and a misspelling (another of his titles is Worry Warts).8 The cover also lists the title as Papa est un peu ringard rather than Mon père …, as per the title page. With the reissued translation in 2001, the chance to correct all errors is missed, as the Australian title is given as Blaber Mouth [sic], another misspelling. A further case of incorrect bibliographical information is the attribution of the wrong original title in the translation of Joan Flanagan's The Squealies (1987),9 where the original title is unfortunately cited as The Return of the Baked Bean (actually a work by Debra Oswald, 1990), and this latter title is recorded on the verso of the title page of its correct translation as The Return of the Backed [sic] Bean.10 While clearly unintentional, such differences are proof of a lack of editorial precision and would surely be disappointing to the authors of the original works, and are a poor reflection on the professionalism of the French publishing house.

It is sometimes the case that the time allocated to the task of translating works is so limited that errors creep in due to tight deadlines. The ideal scenario of taking a long time with a translation is often totally impractical when publishers require a number of translations to be published as quickly as possible in order to capitalise on the popularity of an author. Morris Gleitzman, for example, is an author currently enjoying immense success in English-speaking countries. His French translator had the onerous task of translating seven of his works in 1998, a remarkable feat that has its drawbacks, as there are many errors in his translations concerning numbers and cultural equivalents. The following examples from Gleitzman and other authors illustrate some obvious misunderstandings leading to differences in interpretation.11

Morris Gleitzman, Worry Warts (1991) / Mes parents sont de mauvais poil (1998)

A year-four kid … a year-five kid.

          (p. 1)

Un gamin de quatre ans … un enfant de cinq ans.

          (p. 5/6)

[A four-year-old kid … a child of five]

Yakking on for thirteen minutes.

          (p. 1)

Jacasser une demi-heure.

          (p. 6)

[To chat for half an hour]

Only seventeen months old.

          (p. 2)

Il n'a que sept mois.

          (p. 7)

[He is only seven months]

The clock on the war memorial across the street said eight minutes past eleven.

          (p. 5)

L'horloge au-dessus du mémorial de la Guerre indiquait huit heures onze.

          (p. 14)

[The clock above the war memorial showed eleven minutes past eight]

Peter Carey, The Big Bazoohley (1995) / Le jackpot (1998)12

He knew they now had only forty-four dollars and twenty cents

          (p. 3)

Il ne leur restait plus en tout et pour tout que quarante-cinq dollars et vingt cents.

          (p. 9)

[Among them they now only had forty-five dollars and twenty cents]

Allan Baillie, Riverman (1986) / Périls en Tasmanie (1994)13

Jean staggered back into the kitchen, leaning back from the quarter-full tub and holding the door open with her knee.

          (p. 24)

Jeanne revint dans la cuisine en tirant avec peine le tub aux trois quarts plein et s'aida d'un genou pour maintenir la porte ouverte.

          (p. 34)

[Jean came back into the kitchen pulling with difficulty the three-quarters full tub and used her knee to keep the door open]

In the first example the translator has misunderstood the age categories referring to the education system in Australia, and has read them as ‘a child of four/five’, etc. In the second example, the translator has perhaps confused thirteen with thirty, or he deliberately alludes to a reasonably long and colloquially expressed period of time. In the third and fifth examples the translator has again misunderstood simple numbers, while in the fourth example he has misunderstood time, and has reversed it. In the sixth example, there is either some confusion with the fraction pertaining to the amount of water in the tub or the translator assumes that one can hardly have a bath in a tub containing so little water. Again, these mistranslations do not affect the overall sense of the narrative, but are indicative of misunderstandings and different interpretations of the original passages.

Stylistic differences are another category of apparent translational error. Although not always employed, the use of technical language in translation is one form of explicitation where stylistic changes account for deletions and substitutions.

Allan Baillie, Riverman (1986) / Périls en Tasmanie (1994)

That was the tree that almost killed Oskar … He drew with a stick the lumpy circle of the ugly tree, as if cut through the trunk. He drew a smaller circle inside the lumpy circle like a fat doughnut.

          (p. 121)

A l'aide d'un bâton, il dessina un grand cercle—environ la circonférence de l'arbre si affreux—puis un autre plus petit à l'intérieur, correspondant à l'arbre qui avait blessé Oskar.

          (p. 206)

[With the help of a stick, he drew a large circle—about the circumference of the hideous tree—then another smaller one inside, corresponding to the tree that had hurt Oskar]

Colin Thiele, River Murray Mary (1975) / Mary, la rivière et le serpent (1985)14

She could see the current doing it … the water slowly ate into the hole … And there would be another rush with spades to mend the break.

          (p. 8)

Mary voyait le courant s'y engouffrer … L'eau s'infiltrait lentement dans le trou … Et c'était la précipitation, pelle à la main, pour boucher l'ouverture.

          (p. 23)

[Mary saw the current surging there … The water slowly filled the hole … And there was the rush, with spades in hand, to plug the opening]

‘Circonférence’ and ‘correspondant’ are far more technical or formal than the familiar ‘lumpy’ and ‘like’, and a difference in interpretation is evident in ‘that almost killed Oskar / ‘qui avait blessé Oskar’ [which had hurt Oskar]. The change in style from the familiar of the original passage to the scholarly of the translation accounts for the deletion of references to ‘lumpy’ and ‘a fat doughnut’. With Thiele, neutral language (‘doing’, ‘another rush’, ‘to mend’) receives translations that are more imaged and technical (‘s'y engouffrer’, ‘la précipitation’, ‘boucher’). While it is not unreasonable to expect that childlike language in the source text is ideally suited to retention in translation, these examples illustrate differences in the function of texts in their source and target cultures. Where the Australian texts have chosen simple terms, the translators' choices emphasise the fact that the translated works are intended to perform an educative role in the target culture. While not incompatible, the two aims of educating and entertaining children can receive different emphases as books move from one culture to another.

Australia and Austrlianness

Mistranslations that result from simple negligence or from some form of misunderstanding are different from deliberate translational modifications that aim to focus on, or divert the reader from, Australianness. References in Australian fiction to cultural traditions, behaviour, architecture, clothing, weights and measurements, finance, and flora and fauna are sometimes the fodder for translational mistakes. Translations that lead to misinformation constitute a more serious form of error. If one of the aims of the translation is to inform French children about Australian culture, it is to be expected that deletion and change will be kept to a minimum. However, if the aim is to reduce the cultural difference or foreignness of the source text, then the cultural setting of the source text will be reworked to more closely match the readers of the target text through the substitution of French cultural referents. Evidence of these tendencies is found in simple examples from Morris Gleitzman's Worry Warts / Mes parents sont de mauvais poil, such as the ‘TV Times’, ‘drive-in bottle department’, ‘fish and chip shop’ or ‘Chiko roll boxes’, where the translator's strategy has been to substitute a general term for the specific (‘le programme télé’ = the TV guide), attempt an equivalent (‘une buvette’ = refreshment room), provide a footnote (‘un fish and chips’ is explained through recourse to its place in English culture), or simply omit the term (‘Chiko roll boxes’).

David Martin, Frank and Francesca (1972) / Frank d'un mardi à l'autre (1975)15

‘I always was a great one for going walk-about, even when I was small, no more'n five.’

          (p. 32)

Je faisais toujours des fugues, même tout petit. A cinq ans-!

          (p. 40)

[I kept running away, even when quite young. At five!]

Soccer was as weak as lolly-water

          (p. 23)

Translation: Omitted

          (p. 31)

Deleted from the translation, the references to ‘going walk-about’ and to the Australian weak sugary drink known as ‘lolly-water’ represent a choice to negate the cultural referents entirely. Further examples illustrate another choice by translators to substitute a generic description in French for the Australian referent:

Paul Jennings, The Gizmo Again (1995) / Le machin-bidule (1998)16

There is a Mr Whippy van parked by the road. The gang are all stuffing their faces with double-dip chocolate and nuts.

          (p. 15)

Il y a la camionnette d'un marchand de glaces rangée le long du trottoir. La bande est en train de s'empiffrer des cornets de glace italienne nappée de chocolat et saupoudrée de noisettes.

          (p. 60)

[There is an ice-cream seller's small van parked along the footpath. The gang is busy stuffing their faces with Italian ice-cream cones topped with chocolate and sprinkled with nuts.]

Max Dann, Adventures with My Worst Best Friend (1982) / Mon meilleur ennemi (1987)17

I could hear footsteps. They were crunching across the gravel. Either that, or it was someone eating butternut snaps.

          (p. 29)

J'ai entendu des pas. Ils crissaient dans le sable. C'était cela ou quelqu'un qui mangeait des biscuits aux noix.

          (p. 45)

[I heard footsteps. They crunched in the sand. It was that or someone who was eating nut biscuits.]

Here the translators modify the cultural content, substituting an equivalent item familiar to French child readers. Although Mr Whippy vans sell ‘soft serve’ ice-cream and gelato, in this example the referent is the creamy white ice-cream, not gelato. The choice of translation suggests that ‘soft serve’ is not sold in this way in France, but that gelato is. As Arnott's ‘Butternut snaps’ is clearly a strong cultural reference for Australian readers, the translator has had to resort to a substitution, ‘biscuits aux noix’, that performs an auditory function (crunchiness). These cultural substitutions are obviously not limited to food items, as the same translation strategies apply to names and media:

Morris Gleitzman, Worry Warts (1991) / Mes parents sont de mauvais poil (1998)

Keith lay there through the rest of Play School, all of Danger Mouse, and some of Gumby.

          (p. 46)

Il était resté étendu le temps qu'aient fini de défiler à la télévision Mickey, Tom et Jerry et un troisième dessin animé dont il avait oublié le nom.

          (p. 52)

[He had stayed lying there the whole time while Mickey, Tom and Jerry and a third cartoon whose name he had forgotten had finished showing on television.]

Adaptation here takes the form of substituting a rough equivalent via American or global culture, although it is an unusual reference by the translator to the third program. This passage caused the translator some problems in conveying the same quantity of items, and it is surprising that the translator did not choose to simply omit the third item. The most important aspect of this translation is that the translator has decided to use American programs, given that French children are more familiar with popular culture in the United States than Australia.

In children's books, there is a tendency to adapt the source text to the target reader's level of experience and understanding, and to move the cultural setting of the source text closer to the readers of the target text. Strategies of adaptation and explicitation adopted by translators in the interest of readability shield the reader from the foreignness of the work, and constitute a method that modifies or excludes distinctive characteristics in favour of the familiar. This leads to the expectation that translations of Australian cultural material will display varying degrees of manipulation consistent with French perceptions of the land and its culture. Such strategies of adaptation may well account for what may be judged initially as translational error.

French perceptions and understanding of Australia underscore the issue of the portrayal of Australia and Australianness for Australian readers and the subsequent interpretation of these constructs by other cultures. Throughout the twentieth century, the representation of Australian culture in influential sources, such as film, television, literature and tourism, encompasses a range of images from the simplistic one-dimensional to the multidimensional. Traditional one-dimensional images of Australians that receive popular exposure are those of the blond, surfy larrikin, the itinerant knockabout (otherwise known as the ‘Mad Max’, ‘Crocodile Dundee’ or ‘Steve Irwin’ figure), the Aboriginal Australian playing the didgeridoo, and the successful athlete.18 In terms of the landscape, Australia is portrayed as hot with nature in the form of endless deserts, beaches, tropical rainforests and the outback, and as exotic in terms of its flora and fauna. In contrast, the multidimensional images portray Australia as a sophisticated, cosmopolitan and cultured country with representations of a variety of ways of being Australian. Both sets of images abound in the national psyche, taking shape on the pages of works of fiction to be read in translation by readers in other cultures.

Just as Australian authors construct representations of national culture, so too do French publishers and translators hold a specific, although not necessarily explicit, set of stereotypes of Australianness that is likely to have been influenced by the media and tourist marketing, among other factors, of Australia in France. French critical reviews of Australian feature films screened at Festival de Cannes (Cannes Film Festival), for example, reveal strong evidence of a reading of Australia as a younger version of America, with a succession of serious feature films described as ‘des westerns kangourou’ [kangaroo westerns].19 Stressing themes of domination of the landscape, mapping the void and ownership and power, part of Australia's exoticism in the eyes of French critics is its perception as a pioneering nation in need of perpetual discovery. Tourist literature in France promotes Australia as a place of adventure in terms of its size and distance from Europe, and as a landscape teeming with exotic flora and fauna. Consistent with this image, the press release for Pons' recent overview of the Australian nation speaks of ‘Aborigènes, kangourous, surf, grand espaces … Aux antipodes de la France, l'Australie reste synonyme de dépaysement et d'aventure’20 [Aborigines, kangaroos, surf, large spaces … On the other side of the world from France, Australia remains synonymous with changes of scenery and adventure], while Pons argues for a new understanding of Australia as a country with sophisticated technology, a buoyant economy and a high standard of living.

In order to gain some idea of the range of images of Australia portrayed in French translations of Australian children's fiction, the following examples highlight the identifiers of Australian culture that are consistently retained, appropriated or deleted.

James Vance Marshall, The Children (1959) / Dans le grand désert (1968)21

Far below them, in the bed of the gully, a little stream flowed inland—soon to peter out in the vastness of the Australian desert.

          (p. 5)

Loin au-dessous d'eux, dans le lit du vallon, un ruisseau s'enfonçait dans les terres avant de se perdre dans les immenses solitudes du désert australien.

          (p. 9)

[Far below them, in the bed of the gully, a stream flowed into the earth before losing itself in the immense solitudes of the Australian desert]

Morris Gleitzman, Worry Warts (1991) / Mes parents sont de mauvais poil (1998)

‘Being a teacher,’ he said, ‘is like walking across Australia. It's lonely, it's hard going and every day you stub your toe on exactly the same thing … we dream that one day, somewhere in this great land of ours, we'll come across a precious stone.’

          (p. 32)

Etre professeur, c'est comme marcher dans le désert australien. C'est dur parce que chaque jour, on trébuche sur la même chose … Parce que nous rêvons qu'un jour, quelque part dans ce désert sans fin, on trouvera une pierre précieuse.

          (p. 58/59)

[To be a teacher is like walking in the Australian desert. It's hard because each day, you stumble over the same thing … Because we dream that one day, somewhere in this endless desert, we will find a precious stone]

Here there are images of Australia transmitted to French readers that are not present in the original: ‘ce désert sans fin’ and ‘immenses solitudes’. In the example from Gleitzman, we see Australia metonymically equated simply with desert (‘le désert australien’), emphasising desert over urban, rural and coastal settings. The use of the desert image reinforces the elements that go with it: sun, heat, drought, sparseness of people and vegetation, and promotes a possible associative function in the mind of the child reader of Australia as emptiness or void. The more familiar language ‘to peter out’ in Marshall's work, meaning to eventually come to an end, is given a sense of giving way to something much greater in the use of ‘se perdre’ [to disappear].

In the following example from Baillie, the ‘wild’ aspect of the western part of Tasmania has been transferred to the entire island in the phrase ‘de l'ouest de la sauvage Tasmanie’, and the ‘blank’ areas on the map in the Australian text are interpreted as ‘totally unexplored and mysterious’ by the French translator.

Allan Baillie, Riverman (1986) / Périls en Tasmanie (1994)

Great Uncle Tim had been a pioneer in the wild west of Tasmania when there were no roads and great areas of the map were blank.

          (p. 9)

Le grand-oncle Tim avait été un pionnier de l'ouest de la sauvage Tasmanie. A l'époque, les routes n'existaient pas et de grandes zones sur les cartes demeuraient totalement inexplorées et mystérieuses.

          (p. 8)

[Great-uncle Tim had been a pioneer in the west of wild Tasmania. At that time, roads did not exist and large areas on the maps remained totally unexplored and mysterious]

Here the translator has chosen to use strategies that serve to maintain an antipodean and exotic paradigm in portraying Australia as a wild landscape and as a place to be discovered, whereas in the next example the translator has suppressed Australianness in the form of a major cultural referent.22

Morris Gleitzman, Sticky Beak (1993) / Le bébé de papa compte plus que moi (1998)23

Ayers Rock hit me in the guts … Suddenly Ayers Rock wasn't in my guts anymore, it was in my head and had gone volcanic …

          (p. 96)

Un énorme trou a creusé mon ventre … Soudain le trou n'était plus dans mon ventre, il était remonté dans ma tête, il était devenu un volcan bouillonnant …

          (p. 181)

[A huge hole dug into my stomach … Suddenly the hole was no longer in my stomach, it had gone up to my head, it had become a bubbling volcano …]

Ayers Rock is considered to be one of the three great icons of Australia, the other two being the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. These three icons of Australia abound in tourist brochures and are instantly recognisable by many people throughout the world. For this very reason, it is all the more intriguing that the translator has deleted such a marked feature of Australianness. In addition it is worth noting that the translation ‘trou’—a hole or cavity implying emptiness—is the negation of the very large cultural and geographical object, Ayers Rock.

In the following passage describing the kookaburra—definitely a marked form of Australian specificity and an ‘exotic’ creature—the translator has not reproduced the anthropomorphism so typical of children's fiction but has possibly seen the passage as highly ‘poetic’ and therefore difficult to translate.

Mary Patchett, Wild Brother (1954) / Frère sauvage (1955)24

Kookaburra gives his long, ribald, chuckling laugh, which rises through the stillness of dawn. His great beak is wide open, his big head and round body, even his stumpy tail, shake and quiver with gutsy laughter, for he is the buffoon of the bush, friendly, comical, enchanting.

          (p. 41)

Translation: Omitted

          (p. 29)

The translator has also deleted another poetic passage where the Australian landscape is presented as a canvas of intentional and unintentional colour. The translator has chosen not to re-create the canvas, thus ‘whiting out’ the literary and the cultural content.

Mary Patchett, Wild Brother (1954) / Frère sauvage (1955)

Rain fell onto the desert in patches so that tiny oases, crimson carpets of brilliant Sturt Pea, sprang up as though a giant had shaken drops of red ink from his pen on to vast sheets of brown blotting-paper.

          (p. 66)

Translation: omitted

          (p. 51)

The tendency in translation to delete can also apply to whole chapters, as in the work by James Vance Marshall, The Children (1959) / Dans le grand désert (1968). Chapter eleven, consisting of one and a half pages only, is the shortest chapter in the book and is deleted from the translation. The content is highly didactic in its explanation of Aboriginal mythology regarding life and death, and in its discussion of the power of autosuggestion in the Aboriginal psyche. The author quotes medical and psychoanalytical experiments on the influence of the Aboriginal mind-set over the body, and he refers to the ‘mental euthanasia’ commonly recognised in Aboriginal communities, and referred to as ‘the Spirit of Death’. It is to be noted that the original work was written for adults whereas the translation was intended for children, a situation that immediately raises the issue of the degree of adaptation of the text for a younger audience, given the rather frightening content for a child reader.25 Seen in this light, the chapter represents an adult ideological discourse, which the French publisher may well have decided is not suitable or edifying for child readers, especially with its constant references to ‘terror’, ‘death curses’, ‘self-induced apathy’, ‘impending death’, ‘no flicker of hope’ and ‘dying’.

Further examples of the concern for edifying over ‘negative’ material for children are evident in works where authors present images of regressive and aggressive children's behaviour and use children's literature to appeal to the sense of the anarchic in their readers. In the terms of Rousseau, these authors are testing the dichotomy of the precivilised versus the civilised child, and the tension between innocence and experience. The tendency in French translations to suppress and euphemise the strong foregrounding of the combination of Australianness and vulgarity highlights the issues of the social class of the readership and the function of children's literature. If the target text is not intended to be the same as the source text—in other words, is not intended to appeal to the anarchic or regressive in the child reader—but presents a more diluted or sanitised version of opposition to authority and civilised behaviour, then it is likely that the social codification of the reader is different from that intended by the source text author.

With a penchant for portraying Australian cultural identity as the vulgar and the brash, Morris Gleitzman and Paul Jennings are authors who consistently appeal to the anarchic child and who privilege youth as a cultural group. In particular, books by Jennings provide a pertinent example of the particularity and specificity of the intended reader. The social groups in his works are composed of young male adolescents who are interested in having a bit of fun. The works of humour by these authors are riddled with slang, particularly vulgar slang, much of which is suppressed, toned down, neutralised or euphemised in the translations.

Paul Jennings, The Gizmo Again (1995) / Le machin-bidule (1998)

I watch as half of my lovely lunch disappears down his cake-hole.

          (p. 3)

Je regarde disparaître la moitié de mon merveilleux déjeuner dans sa vilaine bouche.

          (p. 51)

[I watch half of my marvellous lunch disappear in his ugly mouth.]

I'll give him black and white spots on his backside.

          (p. 23)

Je m'en vais lui en mettre, moi, des points noirs et blancs sur le dos.

          (p. 54)

[I'm the one who is going to give him black and white marks on his back.]

Morris Gleitzman, Worry Warts (1991) / Mes parents sont de mauvais poil (1998)

Dad spent two hours in the public dunny with the trots.

          (p. 8)

Papa avait eu mal au ventre.

          (p. 18)

[Dad had a stomach ache.]

Gary Murdoch's dad'll chuck his guts with envy.

          (p. 10)

Quand le père de Gary va voir ça, il va être vert de jalousie!-

          (p. 21/22)

[When Gary's dad sees that, he's going to be green with jealousy!]-

Rack off you boring old chook’, said Tracy (to her mum).

          (p. 21)

- Allez, arrête! Tout le monde pleure!, rétorqua Tracey.

          (p. 40)

[Hey, stop! Everyone's crying!, rebuffed Tracy.]

‘Well,’ said Keith, ‘our shop's operating in a pretty cutthroat business environment up here … and it's really hard to make enough profit which is putting a serious strain on Mum and Dad plus we're living in a small house with really thin walls so they can't even have sex that much.

          (p. 25)

Voilà, notre boutique est bien placée mais il y a une concurrence atroce … C'est très difficile de gagner assez d'argent, ce qui stresse beaucoup Maman et Papa. En plus, on vit dans une toute petite maison aux murs si fins qu'ils ne peuvent pas avoir de vie privée.

          (p. 48)

[Well, our shop is well situated but there's dreadful competition … It's very difficult to earn enough money, which is stressing Mum and Dad. On top of that, we're living in a very small house with walls so thin that they can't have a private life.]

These examples present varied intensities of Australianness in terms of vulgarity and Australian slang that are euphemised, toned down and censored in the translations. Rather than illustrative of what may be regarded as translational oversight, these examples from Gleitzman and Jennings show that where the Australian texts deliberately foreground Australianness in terms of linguistic markers, the translations equally deliberately minimise or suppress such Australianness. There is mildly vulgar slang, such as ‘dunny’ and ‘old chook’, and some quite vulgar slang, such as ‘trots’, ‘cake-hole’, and ‘chuck his guts’, all of which are manipulated in translation. The translation for the example dealing with ‘thin walls’ represents the substitution of acceptable neutral phrases to conform to the perceived social class of the readership. The mere mention of adults having sex is extremely rare in books for young children and is usually censored by editors before press. It is rather surprising that Gleitzman's publisher has allowed the expression to remain, but the fact that it does suggests that the intended readership is perceived to be worldly enough to accommodate such references. However, it is not at all surprising that the French translation has chosen the euphemistic ‘vie privée’, showing complete consistency with tendencies favouring suppression and euphemism, such as ‘sur le dos’, ‘sa vilaine bouche’,-'mal au ventre', ‘il va être vert de jalousie!’ and ‘Allez, arrête!’—all ‘safe’ choices for what may be seen as provocative ones.


The issue of mistranslation is just one consequence of the constraints imposed upon translators in the profession of translating. While it is reasonable to attribute errors in translation to poor general knowledge of the period when a book is set, to a lack of specific knowledge of linguistic conventions, to inadequate time for the translation to be completed, or to inadequacies in the transfer of the cultural foreignness of the original text, what is often labelled as mistranslation is, in fact, an appropriation or slanting of the text to a desired set of images of the source culture. If we think translation is merely a matter of producing equivalence, then we are missing the point. Translators as mediators between cultures, ideologies and languages aim to produce a text that is meaningful to readers in the target culture consistent with two major constraints. The first constraint concerns the translator's judgment on what is considered ‘appropriate’ material for young French readers and covers a range of translating tendencies—from softening tendencies associated with the use of euphemistic and toned-down language to extreme cases of ideological and cultural deletion and substitution. The second constraint concerns the French perception of Australia, whereby the constructs of Australia and Australianness are manipulated in ways that reflect a consistent set of images. Where the ‘softening’ tendency elides cultural differences, the manipulative tendency reinforces them, suggesting that the degree to which Australian children's books are ‘translatable’ in terms of their culture, language and ideology varies in accordance with the different levels of interest attributed to signifiers of Australia and their perceived typicality or exoticism. In translating for children in another culture, these levels of interest can lead to significant slanting and pre-consumption of the text. Such manipulation may at first seem to reflect errors in translation, but the examples presented in this paper highlight the difference between what is simple misunderstanding and what is, in fact, the significant negotiation of cultural and linguistic difference by outsiders looking in.


1. Max Hall, ‘An Embarrassment of Misprints’, Scholarly Publishing, October, 1993, 11-20.

2. Christiane Nord, Translating as a Purposeful Activity, St Jerome Publishing, Manchester, 1997.

3. Peter Michael Wetherill, ‘Translation and Cultural Transfer’, in Geoffrey T Harris (ed.), On Translating French Literature and Film, Rodopi, Amsterdam, 1996, 161-72.

4. Anthony Pym, Pour une Éthique du Traducteur, Artois Presses Universitaires, Arras, 1997.

5. Perry Nodelman, ‘We are All Censors’, Canadian Children's Literature, vol. 68, 1992, 121-33.

6. These examples have been selected from the author's completed doctoral thesis. Helen T Frank, Pre-empting the Text: French Translations of Twentieth-Century Australian Children's Fiction, Ph.D. thesis, University of Melbourne, 2003.

7. Morris Gleitzman, Blabber Mouth, Pan Macmillan, Sydney, 1992; Mon père est un peu ringard, Hachette Jeunesse, Paris, 1998.

8. Morris Gleitzman, Worry Warts, Pan Macmillan, Sydney, 1991; Mes parents sont de mauvais poil, Hachette Jeunesse, Paris, 1998.

9. Joan Flanagan, The Squealies, Penguin, Ringwood, Vic., 1987; Mon frère et autres creatures bizarres, Milan, Toulouse, 1992.

10. Debra Oswald, The Return of the Baked Bean, Penguin, Ringwood, Vic., 1990; Le retour du haricot cuit, Milan, Toulouse, 1993.

11. The use of italics in the examples represents the present author's use. For each example, a literal translation of the French translation is supplied in square brackets.

12. Peter Carey, The Big Bazoohley, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1995; Le jackpot, Gallimard Jeunesse, Paris, 1998.

13. Allan Baillie, Riverman, Blackie, London, 1986; Périls en Tasmanie, Castor Poche Flammarion, Paris, 1994.

14. Colin Thiele, River Murray Mary, Rigby, Adelaide, 1985; Mary, la rivière et le serpent, Castor Poche Flammarion, Paris, 1985.

15. David Martin, Frank and Francesca, Thomas Nelson, Melbourne, 1972; Frank d'un mardi à l'autre, Hachette, Paris, 1975.

16. Paul Jennings, The Gizmo Again, Penguin, Ringwood, Vic., 1995; Le machin-bidule court toujours, Gallimard Jeunesse, Paris, 1998.

17. Max Dann, Adventures with my Worst Best Friend, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1982; Mon meilleur ennemi, Milan, Toulouse, 1987.

18. Geoffrey Macnab, ‘(Strewth cobber!), Bazza Turns 30’, Age, 7 March 2003, 1 & 3.

19. Andrew McGregor, ‘Merging and Emerging Images: French Critical Interpretations of Australian National Identity in Film’, Australian Journal of French Studies, vol. 39, no. 3, 2002, 400-12.

20. Xavier Pons, ‘L'Australie, entre Occident et Orient’, Collection Les Etudes de la Documentation française, Paris, 2000. Communiqué de presse, La Documentation française, mai, 2000,

21. James Vance Marshall, The Children, Michael Joseph, London, 1959; Dans le grand désert, Gallimard, Paris, 1968.

22. For coverage of broader long-term European perceptions of Australia see William Eisler and Bernard Smith (eds), Terra Australis: The Furthest Shore, International Cultural Corporation of Australia, Sydney, 1988.

23. Morris Gleitzman, Sticky Beak, Penguin, London, 1993; Le bébé de papa compte plus que moi, Hachette Jeunesse, Paris, 1998.

24. Mary Elwyn Patchett, Wild Brother, Collins, London, 1954; Frère sauvage, Robert Laffont, Paris, 1955.

25. The novel was made into a highly successful Australian film Walkabout, and gained international success with audiences in Europe, including France.


Marisa Fernández López (essay date spring 2000)

SOURCE: López, Marisa Fernández. "Translation Studies in Contemporary Children's Literature: A Comparison of Intercultural Ideological Factors." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 25, no. 1 (spring 2000): 29-36.

[In the following essay, López explores how cultural factors play into translations of children's works in France and Spain.]

In children's literature, and more particularly in mass-market literature, a formal instability of the text may be observed, manifested in its gradual modification over the years; the scant literary value assigned to this kind of writing probably makes it more susceptible to censorship and alteration. Original works are modified in subsequent editions to conform to the social standards prevailing at a given time and thus to satisfy the specific demands of the market. These modifications exist alongside a culturally-imposed self-censorship by the author. In American Childhood, Anne Scott MacLeod lists a series of taboos that have traditionally been avoided in American children's literature (179). For example, violence may be present in a tale provided that the author does not allow more violence to breed from it; likewise, children rarely die except in the case of some martyrs and heroes.1 If parents die their death occurs prior to the commencement of the tale, and subjects such as divorce, mental illness, alcoholism and other addictions, suicide, and sex are all avoided; murderers do not usually appear, although thieves are permitted; racial conflicts do not arise or are merely referred to in passing; and the tale has a happy ending. This code has been applied systematically and on a world-wide basis, particularly where the theme of sex is concerned, as this subject was taboo in children's literature until the 1960s.2

Sometimes the motivation for the modification of reprinted (and perhaps already self-censored) texts is commercial, for example updating in order to increase sales. A paradigmatic case is the treatment during the twentieth century of the novels produced in the United States by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Series such as the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and the Happy Hollisters, which appeared in the first third of the century, were systematically changed in later editions in order to render them acceptable to consumers whose lifestyles and social customs were changing rapidly—especially, though not uniquely, with respect to food, fashion, and means of transport (Hildick 191).

In addition, these textual modifications are attributable not only to strictly commercial motives, which habitually affect secondary aspects of the work. They are also owing to profound ideological motivations and affect important passages of text, normally through a process of purification that involves textual elimination. In the last sixty years, numerous examples may be found of this kind of ideological purification of children's literature written in English, especially in the case of popular literature. The work of Enid Blyton, in particular that published during the 1940s, and the work of Roald Dahl in the 1960s and 1970s provide typical examples of the manipulation of texts. In these cases publishers themselves censored works in order to avoid problems.

But in recent years the criteria for censorship have changed. While the inclusion of sex, vulgar expressions, or liberal views no longer represents a problem in children's literature, censorship is applied to texts that are considered racist or sociopolitically incorrect. The fundamental rationale for this new censorship is today, as it was in the eighteenth century, didactic in nature. Those who defend censorship where children's literature is concerned do so not so much for political reasons but out of a romantic idea of the power of the printed word on impressionable young minds. They do not consider censorship an act of intolerance but see it rather as a positive step in safeguarding childhood innocence and for maintaining the well being of society in general (West 507).

Children's literature translation studies are particularly interesting when they can highlight the differences between cultural behaviors by comparing contrasting treatments of a specific text. During the course of a systematic study of translations into Spanish of popular twentieth-century novels for young people written in English, I observed a peculiar phenomenon: fragments of the source text that were purified of racist and xenophobic elements in subsequent English-language editions were published in Spanish in a translation that remained faithful to the original English versions editions.3 This characteristic even extended to illustrations. For example, take the pictures of the Oompa Loompas in Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (British edition 1985): after textual and graphic purification, they were represented as white, when in the original (and in Spanish editions) they are Black. The discrepancy reveals ideological differences between the Spanish literary system on the one hand and that of Great Britain and the United States on the other. In other words, a society's patterns of behavior and its moral values are not only reflected in the textual modifications introduced in translations of foreign works, which Göte Klingberg defines as cultural context adaptations (18), in the case of Spain they are also reflected in the fidelity to the first editions of texts that have been modified in their countries of origin.4

The translation of works for children has traditionally been mediated by pedagogical and didactic considerations that affect the so-called operational translation norms, such as what Gideon Toury terms stylistic elevation and stylistic homogeneity (Theory 128). Under these norms translators tend to use the standard literary language of the target system. Where Spanish is concerned, this practice implies eliminating repetitions and void pragmatic connectives and substituting lectic substandard forms or those that characterize an ethnic or social group for the standard variety. As Zohar Shavit writes,

In contrast to adult canonized literature, in which the norm of complexity is the most prevalent today, the norm of simple and simplified models is still prominent in most children's literature (canonized and non-canonized), as is also the case with the non-canonized adult system. This norm, rooted in the self-image of children's literature, tends to determine not only the thematics and characterization of the text, but also its options concerning permissible structures.


As a result we find unmarked direct speech is substituted for marked speech and that clichés are stressed by expansion.5

The Spanish system is not markedly different from those of other countries, although it evinces a greater respect for source texts, to the extent that it considers first editions in regard to translations as something of a preliminary norm. This fidelity does not mean that respect for the source text comes at the expense of problems of acceptability of the target text but rather that, in general, only those features of the text that could conflict with criteria considered canonical within the Spanish children's literature system undergo any kind of modification. Thus climination is preferred to cultural context adaptations, while culturally linked elements—"overt" in Juliane House's terminology—are preserved untouched (246). Under the strong censorship that existed until the 1970s, the elements that were traditionally eliminated were those that related either to sex or to religion. Thus, in the Spanish version of "Jumble" (a story in Richmal Crompton's 1922 Just William, translated in 1935 as Travesuras de Guillermo), the fifteen lines referring to a kiss were eliminated. Similarly omitted was a paragraph in Crompton's story "The Outlaws and the Missionary" in William's Crowded Hours (1931, translated as Guillermo el atareado, 1959), in which William complains, according to his own peculiar logic, of the behavior of certain missionaries whom he compares to thieves. These omissions cannot be attributed to the translator, as otherwise there are no textual omissions that extend beyond a single sentence. Censoring by the publisher would appear to be the most probable reason. The elimination of the paragraph where William kisses his girlfriend must be assessed in the context of Franco's Spain. The long period of dictatorship in Spain (1939-1975) was characterized by a perfectly structured censorship that enforced general taboos concerning sex, politics, and religion. At the time the book was translated, taboos regarding sex included even the most innocent behaviors. Where religion was concerned, the reference was always to Catholicism, and the word Christian was always synonymous with Catholic. The Catholic church supported Franco's government, and any negative references to priests were forbidden and always considered defamatory.

When the original contained material contrary to the Spanish system, especially in regard to unacceptable political references, publishers resolved the problem by simply ignoring its existence and not publishing it in Spain. Crompton's William series, although she has never been suspected of leftist tendencies, had some problems in Spain. The most obvious gap is the absence of any Spanish translation of the work William the Dictator (1938).6 The problem stems from the cover illustration by Thomas Henry, whose drawings have become inseparable from Crompton's text in English and from most Spanish versions as well; the reader's idea of William is Henry's image of him. On the jacket, William is saluting in the fascist fashion wearing torn blue trousers, a brown shirt, and a greenish bracelet attached to his sleeve with a safety pin; he is standing in front of his guerrilla group, the Outlaws (Proscritos in Spanish).7 The satire on Nazism is confirmed by the title story, which is about William's attempt to obtain extra living space by invading his neighbors' gardens in a parody of the German call for Lebensraum.

Presumably Spanish censors remained ignorant of this volume; otherwise, it is inconceivable that so much of Crompton's work could have been published in Spain in the 1940s and 1950s, when Franco was most powerful and political censorship was at its height. It is probable, however, that the Spanish publisher, Molino, did know of the existence of William the Dictator but managed to keep it concealed during Franco's hegemony. Where the William books were concerned, the publisher had the advantage of being in a position to manipulate the texts with unusual ease, since the volumes were composed of short stories. Any of these could easily be omitted or replaced without the reader, or indeed the censor, having the slightest idea that the volume had been tampered with. Such tampering is probably what happened to the short story "William and the Nasties," written in 1934 and included in the volume William the Detective (1935). This tale was withdrawn by the British publisher for the second edition due to the possibility of problems with the German embassy; the Nasties were, of course, a reference to the Nazis, William having invented the name for his gang when they decided to attack the village candy store, owned by a Jew, in order to take over his stock. The story reappeared in successive English-language editions only to be withdrawn again in the 1980s, when it was once more considered politically incorrect. The tale was never published in Spain, and it appears neither in Guillermo Detective nor in any other volume of the collection. Its absence suggests either censorship or that the source text was an English edition from which the tale had already been removed.

But if political climates change, a more prolonged tendency over the years has been toward stylistic homogeneity: the elimination of registers considered unacceptable for children and adolescents, which may be considered an authentic kind of purification (Klingberg 58). For example, there have been numerous substitutions for insults in Blyton's work. In Five Go off to Camp (1948), translated as Los Cinco van de camping (1965), "You're perfect pigs over the tomatoes" (48) becomes "Sois unos verdaderos glotones comiendo tomates" (43) ["you're absolute gluttons with the tomatoes"]. The phrase "The beast!" in The O'Sullivan Twins (1942, 62) is rendered as "¡Qué insolente!" ["How rude"] in Las Mellizas O'Sullivan (1960, 78). And Los Cinco frente a la aventura, the 1966 translation of Five Fall into Adventure (1950), turns "ass" (21) into "tonta" [idiot] (21). The use of the word "pig" in the first example, for instance (and there are many synonyms for this word in Spanish), would be considered highly insulting in Spain. This general tendency to alter insults is more obvious when we are dealing with texts that were supposed to be appropriate for children, especially at a time in Spain when didactic considerations obliged the translators to purify even innocent insults.

The existence of an original text that over time undergoes modifications even in its native language because of the low status of children's literature and its perceived moral and didactic function causes difficulties when we seek to compare the translation with its source. Given this peculiarity, it often becomes necessary to perform what Toury calls a "retrospective analysis," the analysis of the target text to ascertain which of the possible source texts is its pair (Studies 102). In this way changes in the source text have been detected by means of a primary analysis of the Spanish translations that have remained unaltered.

In fact the fidelity apparent in Spanish editions to certain passages of text that have been profoundly altered in successive British editions is all the more noticeable in a social context that permits textual modifications of topics deemed taboo or of speech registers considered inappropriate for certain ages. This fidelity to original editions seems to be due not just to the fact that some Spanish translations were published in advance of the purification of the source text (as is the case with some of Blyton's works) but also to the Spanish tradition of adherence to the original version of a given text. This translation norm may in turn be due to the high regard shown by Spanish children's literature for its English-language analogue, a regard not demonstrated by other, less permeable children's literature systems. For example, the French have systematically adapted Blyton's works to suit their own national repertoire (see Bordet). Whereas in Great Britain and in other countries such as France with highly impermeable children's literature systems, Blyton's work has always been considered of scant literary worth, in Spain it has never received a word of negative criticism—at least during the author's "golden age" in Spain (1960-1980)—inviting comparison with the work of canonized authors in English-speaking countries.

Thus while in Spain the translations of Blyton's adventure series retain the cultural traits of the source text (both geographical and cultural, and including the behavior of the characters), the French translations tend to eliminate all the details that might associate the text with specific places or cultures. This approach gives the text a universal flavor but deprives it of its British characteristics, which the author expressly wished to retain.8 It is interesting that strong literary systems tend to be impermeable, thereby facilitating the tendency of the translations to transform foreign repertoires (and ideologies) into those of the source nationality, especially when the source text is not considered an integral part of the original literary system's canon, which is usually the case where popular literature is concerned. In comparing the translations of Blyton's series into French and into Spanish, we can see the different responses of two literary systems that, in the case of children's literature, adopt a very different stance (dominant, like France, and weaker and historically influenced like Spain).9 The translations of Blyton's series are representative and are, taken as a whole, quantitatively of considerable importance where studies of this type are concerned. In Blyton's case the sum of Spanish and French translations (517 and 259 respectively) represents one-third of the total number (2,168) registered in the author's name in the fourth (cumulative) edition of UNESCO's Index Translationum.

Marie-Pierre and Michel Mathieu-Colas's work on the Famous Five series in France is particularly interesting in comparison with Spanish translations. The synchronic study in both countries of the translations and of critics' reactions to them shows the tendency toward impermeability in dominant systems that avoid all exterior ideological influence.

Take, for instance, the translations of some of the titles of Blyton's works. Whereas the Spanish translation respects the source text and maintains cultural elements associated with the country of origin, the French translation eliminates them systematically, as can been seen in Table 1.

Table 1.
        Five Run Away Together (1944)
        Five Fall into Adventure (1950)
        Five on Kirrin Island Again (1947)
        Five Go to Demon's Rocks (1961)
        Five Go to Billycock Hill (1957)
        Five Go to Mystery Moor (1954)
French Translation
        Le Club des Cinq contreattaque (1955)
        Le Club des Cinq et les gitanes (1960)
        Le Club des Cinq joue et gagne (1956)
        La boussole du Club des Cinq (1963)
        Le Club des Cinq et les papillons (1962)
        La locomotive du Club des Cinq (1961)
Spanish Translation
        Los Cinco se escapan (1965)
        Los Cinco frente a la aventura (1966)
        Los Cinco otra vez en la isla de Kirrin (1965)
        Los Cinco en las Rocas del Diablo (1970)
        Los Cinco en Billycock Hill (1969)
        Los Cinco en el páramo misterioso (1968)

No less striking is the treatment given to the characters, whose names in the source text and in the French and Spanish translations appear in Table 2.

Table 2.
        Georgine ("George")
        Timothy (the dog)
TT (French)
        Claudine ("Claude")
TT (Spanish)
        Jorgina ("Jorge")

Similarly, while the surnames of the source text are respected in the Spanish translation, French ones are given in the respective French version.

In addition, there is the question of geography. Although the exact location of the action is not explicitly indicated in the source text, one can deduce that it is set in the western region of Great Britain, Cornwall or Wales. The French version modifies the name Kirrin to Kernach, which the French reader might well associate with a French Celtic area, that of Brittany (Mathieu-Colas 99). Although there is an equivalent Celtic locality in Spain, Galicia, the Spanish translation maintains all the cultural indicators of the original text. In the illustrated French editions of the 1970s, the nationalization of the text is complete right down to the police who appear in the illustrations as French gendarmes.

A common phenomenon in children's literature translations, that of super-explicit textual amplification (which can be considered part of the normal use of simplified models), is found extensively in the French translations of Blyton's works. According to Geneviève Bordet, the use of textual models that are less sophisticated than the originals is due to an attempt by the editors to target readers younger than those for whom the originals were written (30). In Spain, on the other hand, the same works were published with an adolescent reader in mind, as a consequence of a different evaluation of the text. The French judgment of Blyton's work as inferior and as such liable to radical change also becomes evident when the translator of these works is sought. While in Spanish translations the translator's name is always given, only in the first two volumes of the Famous Five series, published by Hachette, does the name of the translator appear—never in any later editions (Mathieu-Colas 157).

No less revealing is the behavior of French and Spanish critics over the years in response to Blyton's work and that of other noncanonical British authors. In France, opinion of Blyton's work is generally negative, condemning its textual poverty and supporting the numerous anti-Blyton arguments of British critics, although we find significant exceptions, such as the work of Denise Escarpit, who points out that the French texts are clearly different from the source texts.10 In Spain, where the translated text is generally most faithful to the original, critics are generous to Blyton, recognizing her ability to interest young people in reading and to introduce other cultures (albeit from the point of view of the writer). If their criticism refers to some textual poverty, it is not to be compared to the virulent attacks by French or British critics (see, for example, Company; Colomer, "Niñas"; Ruzicka; Gárate).

Thus whereas there are no fundamental changes evident in the Spanish texts when compared with the first editions of the original text, the changes made in the French translations represent a reinforcement of the hierarchies and a distortion of values that are not present in the Spanish ones. Bordet (30) provides two examples: first, "one of the farmmen" becomes "l'ouvrier de M. Penlan"; second, while in the source text some pirates are driven by their wish for "a bit of excitement," in the French they are "heureux de vivre une aventure et de gagner de l'argent." The distortion of values is obvious.

Similarly, this differential behavior, derived as it is from the permeability of the literary system, can also be seen in Portugal, where the children's literature system is similar to the Spanish one. The translations of Blyton, for example, are analogous to the Spanish ones as far as editorial type, presentation, types of translated texts, and target market are concerned, while the translation itself falls somewhere between French and Spanish practices. The translator's name appears, as it does in Spain, but the titles of the different stories are a mixture of a faithful translation from the source text (as in the Spanish case) and a descriptive title of the adventure (as in the French case). Thus Five Fall into Adventure becomes Os cinco e a ciganita (cf. Grimaräes de Sá).

In the translation of children's literature, the Spanish norm of fidelity to the original text is only displaced by another norm of greater force, such as the primacy of pedagogic and didactic considerations. If the Spanish editions still have not eliminated the racist and xenophobic elements present in the works of Blyton and Dahl, it is without a doubt because a social consciousness that rejects discrimination against ethnic minorities did not exist in Spain until the 1990s. Ethnicity and issues relating to color had no forum in Spain, and any understanding of them was imbued with colonialist attitudes: the white man and his developed society were responsible for rescuing inferior cultures and civilizations plagued with barbarous customs arising from ignorance and underdevelopment. The only important ethnic minority in Spain during the Franco period was the Gypsies, with whom delinquency was traditionally, though wholly unjustifiably, associated.11

Thus Franco Spain did not reflect the situation in Britain and the United States where, in the 1970s, the influence of the works of Wallace Hildick, the Children's Rights Workshop, and, above all, Bob Dixon persuaded publishers to change some racist, sexist, and classist passages in certain works. Some of these modifications were made after the editing of the first Spanish version; still, in later Spanish editions and even in fresh translations, these passages were not modified, probably because they did not actively conflict with what Spanish society considered appropriate for young readers. For example, important modifications were made to Blyton's Five Fall into Adventure—in all probability as a result of Hildick's harsh criticism—in Hodder and Stoughton's English edition of 1986. The Spanish edition of 1990 did not incorporate any changes at all in the translation, and remained faithful to the original English text of 1950. The fragments that were modified in the source text refer to Blyton's treatment of Gypsies, as characterized by an offensive lack of hygiene. Not so in the Spanish translation, in which not only characters but also the narrator of the story discriminate against a Gypsy family because of their smell: "Al punto un olor raro, nauseabundo, alcanzó las narices de los niños ¡Que asco!" [Just then a strange, sickening smell reached the noses of the children. Ugh!] (18). On other occasions in the 1986 English edition the ethnic reference vanishes or is changed to the English term for Gypsies common today, "travellers": "The girl stared at him" (18) still appears as "La niña que parecía un gitano le contempló con fijeza" [The girl, who looked like a Gypsy, stared at him intently] (20). "It's a big place. Don't get lost! And look out for the travellers. There's usually hordes of them there!" (86) is rendered "Es un bosque muy grande ¡Tened cuidado, no os vayais a perder …! Y manteneos vigilantes, porque hay en él muchos gitanos" [It's a very big wood, so take care not to get lost! And keep a look out because there are lots of Gypsies there] (99). Moreover, an offensive reference to Blacks eliminated in the English edition was also not modified in Spain: instead of "It had nasty gleaming eyes—oh, I was frightened!" (25) we find, "Sus ojos eran crueles y relucían. Todo lo demás estaba demasiado oscuro. ¡Quizás era el rostro de un negro! ¡Oh, qué miedo he pasado! [Its eyes were cruel and gleaming. It was too dark to see anything else. Perhaps it was the face of a black man. Oh, how afraid I was!] (28).

In both these cases the attitude is openly racist. The Gypsies, Spain's only sizeable ethnic minority when the work was translated in the sixties, had persistently suffered harsh discrimination; although it was officially unacceptable, nevertheless in practice segregation existed. In the reference to the "rostro de un negro," the treatment is different. There was no such minority group to speak of in Spain, and the popular image of the Black man was closer to that of Hugh Lofting, the primitive African in need of redemption. Hence the general acceptance of Black artists (mostly Latin American musicians and singers), who enjoyed warm hospitality.12

A similar transformation in Britain but not in Spain occurs in the representation of strongly marked sex roles. Making clear divisions between boys' and girls' roles is characteristic of Blyton; this trait was modified in post-1970 editions in Great Britain.13 One example is the subtle elimination of the universal in the source text in Five Fall into Adventure where "you" becomes "niñas" [girls]: "You can't go about fighting" (19) appears as "Las niñas no deben pelear" (21).

In England, such purification was applied not only to Blyton's works, but to others. Take the case of the story "William and the League of Perfect Love," which disappeared from the English edition of William the Detective at the same time as "William and the Nasties," mentioned above. Eliminated in England because it included a bloody rat hunt, rats being William's favorite animal, it has been continuously reprinted in Spain without arousing protest.14 And in addition to the purification of Crompton's work, in the U.S. there is the case of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where changes occur in English editions that are not reflected in the Spanish versions. Here, the modifications are largely superficial: references to the ethnic origin of the Oompa-Loompas, the workers in Willy Wonka's factory, which first appeared in the U.S. during a period of great activity among pro-Civil Rights groups. All references linking the color of these fictional characters with that of chocolate, contained in three paragraphs at the end of chapter fifteen, have been eliminated, but no modifications were made in the corresponding Spanish translations. Similarly, at the beginning of chapter sixteen, where the text talked about the geographical origin of the Oompa-Loompas, "Africa" is replaced by "Loompaland," and in case any doubts remained, the adjective "black" was changed to "rosy-white": "His skin was rosy-white, his long hair was golden-brown, and the top of his head came just above the height of Mr. Wonka's knee" (85) is rendered in Spanish as: "Su piel era casi negra, y la parte superior de su lanuda cabeza llegaba a la altura de la rodilla del señor Wonka" (95) [His skin was almost black, and the top of his woolly head came just above the height of Mr. Wonka's knee].15

Parallel cases exist not only in works that critics consider on the fringes of children's literature, but also in works that some scholars consider to truly belong to the canon, as in the case of Lofting's Doctor Dolittle stories. Just as he had done with Blyton, Dixon launched a furious assault on Lofting's work in his Catching Them Young I: Sex, Race, and Class in Children's Fiction. His complaints focused on chapter eleven of The Story of Doctor Dolittle (1920), which tells the story of the Black prince Bumpo. The ascendancy that Dixon and other critics achieved in the late 1970s over the relevant editorial sectors in Britain and North America meant that Lofting became one of the children's authors whose works were most thoroughly purified. In general, "white man" disappears or is replaced by "man" or "European." The same thing happens with "black man," which in the purified source text appears as "man" or "African." Textual purifications of the original are not limited to such minimal lexical modifications, but extend to the elimination or modification of whole paragraphs or entire chapters. The Spanish editions are not purified.16

From the 1960s onward the influence of translations changed the nature of children's literature in Spain. With the end of the dictatorship in the mid-1970s came the end of censorship, which brought with it a major increase in the publication of translations of more recent works. The Spanish children's literature system continues highly permeable. More than half of the published children's literature in Spain appears in translation, and nearly two-thirds of that literature is translated from English. So British and American literature is, by far, the most important area for study and the most influential in the Spanish literary polysystem.17 The influence of recent English-language works, incorporating themes and narrative styles from the last quarter of the century, has meant that the current literary panorama is not very different from the American, British, and German ones. The Spanish system has been strengthened thanks to the incorporation of external models into the national repertoire. This means that today racial, religious, societal, and cultural points of view are often similar to those found in other European and American narratives. By 1990, in a collection of studies carried out by reputable authors of children's literature in Spain, Pablo Barrena and his collaborators showed how the end of the dictatorship had seen an end to taboos. Similarly, realist themes, including racism, have lately been treated in an open and positive manner. The result is a powerful literature for the young that has reached a state of maturity, as Teresa Colomer (Formación) and Amalia Bermejo have recently argued. Translation has meant not only the transfer of the works from those systems that have been traditionally dominant in the field of children's literature to the Spanish system, which has facilitated the revival of the field by means of new techniques and topics, but also the highlighting of ideological confrontations in studies of translator behavior.

The influence of extra-textual factors on translation practice and, conversely, the important source that translations constitute for experts are confirmed by these few examples, which could easily be multiplied by quotations and references from many other works and authors. Contrary to the simplistic view that holds the literary study of children's literature as necessarily of less complexity than corresponding studies of adult literature, translation studies reveal yet again the richness of the field and the need for multidisciplinary research. As Tessa Rose Chester has observed: "The study of children's books touches on literary, artistic, and historical spheres, it cuts across other major disciplines such as literary criticism, education, sociology and psychology, and it is an important part of the social history" (5).


1. Spanish children's literature in the nineteenth century contains numerous accounts of the lives of child saints, who by and large were martyrs. These tales, set more often than not during the Roman Empire, were complemented by stories of others martyred for their beliefs, which were published throughout the Civil War and early postwar period by the winning faction.

2. Thus sex whether in the context of a romantic relationship, prostitution, sexual abuse, or other behavior was considered socially unacceptable. Even today in literature for adolescents, although sex and related matters are touched upon, treatment is rarely given in depth. Homosexuality, sexual abuse, adolescent pregnancies, and so on are given far more scope in adult narrative.

3. See my Traducción y Literatura Juvenil. This study primarily scrutinizes best-selling works on which the barriers against textual manipulation are lower; for example, the works of Blyton and Richmal Crompton, who were stars in the 1960s and 1970s in Spain, and Dahl, who was a children's favorite during the 1980s and 1990s.

4. Bismat Even-Zohar's and Nitsa Ben-Ari's work on translations from English, Swedish, and German into Hebrew finds translation strategies similar to those observed in countries such as Spain or France.

5. For examples of the application of these translation norms see Fernández López for English-Spanish translation and Mathieu-Colas, Bordet, and Nières for English-French.

6.William the Dictator is the title of the volume and of one of the stories. When it was published separately in Happy Magazine its title was changed to "What's in a Name?" (Cadogan 39), probably to avoid angering certain readers belonging to the British Union of Fascists. It remains untranslated, although the reason now undoubtedly is a lack of interest on the part of publishers, with no social or political implications.

7. The text refers to William's gang as the Green Shirts, which does not correspond to the shirt colors of the cover. Such discrepancies appear occasionally throughout Crompton's other works when the Spanish translator "repairs" the text by adapting it to the message that is transmitted by means of the illustration, a medium that is not as easy to alter.

8. Blyton notes that "quite apart from many millions of English-speaking readers, I have to consider entirely different children—children of many other races who have my books in their own language. I am, perforce, bringing to them the ideas and ideals of a race of children alien to them, the British. I am the purveyor of those ideals all over the world, and perhaps planting a few seeds here and there that may bear good fruit; in particular, I hope, with the German Children, who, oddly enough are perhaps more taken with my books than any other foreign race" (qtd. Menzies 3).

9. Until the twentieth century the dominant influence on Spanish children's literature was French. Over the last hundred years, British and American works, and to a lesser extent German, have taken the place of the French. We have also witnessed a strengthening of the Spanish internal system itself, which is not as intransigent about external influence as the French system is.

10. The Mathieu-Colases present a series of interviews where eleven well-known French authors, critics, or researchers in the field of children's literature were asked to give their opinions on The Famous Five series. Only Escarpit mentions the fundamental difference between the source texts and the target texts: "lire un Club des Cinq en anglais et le lire en français sont deux choses très différentes" (198).

11. The most important minority in Spain, by far, are Gypsies (ca. 500,000), who are still considered of low status; many Spaniards are guilty of racist behavior against them (España en cifras). The treatment given to racist references in Blyton's works (in particular regarding Gypsies) in Spanish translations was similar to that in France, and in some cases Blyton's treatment was exaggerated. Such is the case of the French translation of Five Fall into Adventure, Le Club des Cinq et les gitanes, where far from removing any paragraph where discriminatory judgments against Gypsies are in evidence, they are referred to explicitly in an even more reiterative manner than in Spain. Thus while in the source text the word "Gypsy" is used nine times, the French word gitane appears ninety times in the French translation (Mathieu-Colas 111).

12. Even today the number of Black immigrants, most of them from sub-Saharan Africa (ca. 40,000 at the end of 1998), is negligible. Most of the immigrants living in Spain are from South America (120,000), and Morocco (140,000), the total Spanish population being ca. 40,000,000. Thus the presence of people of color is still minimal, although the figures here are only for legal immigrants.

13. When female characters behave in a way that Blyton deems appropriate for the opposite sex, they may find their genders reassigned, as happens to the tomboy George (née Georgine).

14. There has been renewed criticism in Britain regarding William's treatment of animals now that Macmillan has republished some of the William books for his eightieth anniversary.

15. The most recent Spanish edition, Alfaguara, 1992, includes some changes in format, but none in the text. Curiously, in both the cleaned-up version and the original, apparently reprehensible behavior went uncensored, for example, the Oompa Loompa's addiction to alcohol, encouraged by Wonka's own inventions such as the butterscotch sweets and the buttergins (the later taken with tonic water). This apparent permissiveness does not preclude the possibility of subsequent further alterations to the original text involving the elimination of the addiction to alcohol should the editors consider it necessary.

16. In this regard we only have to examine the textual modifications that are in the commemorative edition for the centenary of Lofting in which the author's son, Christopher Lofting, justifies the "minor changes" carried out on his father's text.

17. Spain has a major language, Castilian, but there are other minority languages such as Catalan, Gallician, and Basque, which are also considered official languages. Under Franco's dictatorship publication occurred only in the majority language, Castilian. At present publishing in the other languages is active and supported financially by the autonomous regions in which a given language is spoken.

Works Cited

Abbadie-Clerc, Christiane, comp. Mythes, Traduction et Creation. Paris: Bibliotèque publique d'information (Centre George Pompidou), 1998.

Barrena, Pablo, et al., comps. Corrientes Actuales de la Narrativa Infantil y Juvenil Española en Lengua Castellana. Madrid: Asociación Española de Amigos del Libro Infantil y Juvenil, 1990.

Ben-Ari, Nitsa. "Didactic and Pedagogic Tendencies in the Norms Dictating the Translation of Children's Literature: The Case of Postwar German-Hebrew Translations." Poetics Today 13:1 (Spring 1992): 221-30.

Bermejo, Amalia. La Literatura Infantil en España. Madrid: Asociación Española de Amigos del Libro Infantil y Juvenil, 1999.

Blyton, Enid. Five Fall into Adventure. 1950. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1990. Los Cinco frente a la aventura. 1966. Barcelona: Juventud, 1990.

———. Five Go off to Camp. 1948. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1986. Los Cinco van de camping. 1965. Barcelona: Juventud, 1985.

———. The O'Sullivan Twins, 1992. London: Dragon, 1986. Las Mellizas O'Sullivan. 1960. Barcelona: Molino, 1985.

Bordet, Geneviève. "Traduction et littérature pour enfants: soeurs jumelles ou parentes pauvres?" Attention! Un livre peut en cacher un autre … (traduction et adaptation en littérature d'enfance et de jeunesse). Ed. Denise Escarpit. Pessac: Nous voulons lire!, 1985. 27-33.

Cadogan, Mary. Just William: Through the Ages. London: Macmillan, 1994.

———, and Patricia Craig. You're a Brick Angela!: The Girl's Story 1839-1985. London: Gollancz, 1986.

Chester, Tessa Rose. Children's Books Research: A Practical Guide to Techniques and Sources. South Woodchester: Thimble, 1989.

CRW (Children's Rights Workshop). Racism and Sexism in Children's Books. London: Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative, 1976.

Colomer, Teresa. "A favor de la niñas: El sexismo en la literatura infantil." Cuadernos de Literatura Infantil y juvenil (CLIJ) 57 (1994): 7-21.

———. La Formación del Lector Literario. Narrativa infantil y juvenil actual. Madrid: Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruipérez, 1998.

Company, Flavia. "Enid Blyton: un fenómeno sociológico." Cuadernos de Literatura Infantil y juvenil (CLIJ) 50 (1993): 48-54.

Crompton, Richmal. Just William. Newnes, 1922; London: Macmillan, 1984. Travesuras de Guillermo. 1935. Barcelona: Molino, 1968.

———. William's Crowded Hours. Newnes, 1931; London: Macmillan, 1985. Guillermo el atareado. 1959. Barcelona: Molino, 1970.

Dahl, Roald. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. 1964. Harmondsworth: Puffin, 1985. Charlie y la fábrica de chocolate. 1978. Madrid: Alfaguara, 1988.

Dixon, Bob. Catching Them Young 1: Sex, Race, and Class in Children's Fiction. London: Pluto, 1977.

———. Catching Them Young 2: Political Ideas in Children's Fiction. London: Pluto, 1977.

Escarpit, Denise, ed. Attention! Un livre peut en cacher un autre … (traduction et adaptation en littérature d'enfance et de jeunesse). Pessac: Nous voulons lire!, 1985.

España en cifras. Madrid: Instituto Nacional de Estadística, 1999.

Even-Zohar, Bismat. "Translation Policy in Hebrew Children's Literature: The Case of Astrid Lindgren." Poetics Today 13:1 (1992): 231-45.

Fernández López, Marisa. Traducción y Literatura Juvenil: narrativa anglosajona contemporánea en España. León: Universidad de León, 1996.

Gárate, Arantza. "Niños, niñas y libros. Las diferencias de género en la LIJ." Cuadernos de Literatura Infantil y juvenil (CLIJ) 95 (1997): 7-17.

Grimäraes de Sá, Domingo. A Literatura Infantil em Portugal. Braga: Editorial Franciscana, 1981.

Hildick, Wallace. Children and Fiction: A Critical Study in Depth of the Artistic and Psychological Factors Involved in Writing Fiction for and about Children. Rev. ed. London: Evans, 1974.

House, Juliane. A Model for Translation Quality Assessment. Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 1977.

Index Translationum. Fourth Cumulative Edition (1979-1996).

Klingberg, Göte. Children's Fiction in the Hands of the Translators. Lund: CWK Gleerup, 1986.

Lofting, Hugh. The Story of Doctor Dolittle. 1920. New York: Dell, 1988. La Historia del Doctor Dolittle. 1967. Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 1989.

MacLeod, Anne Scott. American Childhood: Essays on Children's Literature of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1994.

Mathicu-Colas, Marie-Pierre and Michel. Le Dossier "Club des Cinq" ("The Famous Five" d'Enid Blyton). Breteuil-sur-Iton: Magnard/ L'École, 1983.

Menzies, John. A Complete List of Books: Enid Blyton. Edinburgh: Menzies, 1950.

Nières, Isabelle. "La traduction dans les livres pour la jeunesse." Attention! Un livre peut en cacher un autre … (traduction et adaptation en littérature d'enfance et de jeunesse). Ed. Denise Escarpit. Pessac: Nous voulons lire!, 1985. 35-54.

———. "Traduction et creation." Mythes, Traduction et Creation. Comp. Christiane Abbadie-Clerc. Paris: Bibliotèque publique d'information (Centre George Pompidou), 1998. 103-23.

Ruzicka, Veljka, Celia Vázquez, Marta Garciá, and Estela Herreo. Evolución de la Literatura Infantil y Juvenil Británica y Alemana hasta el Siglo XX. Vigo: Ediciones Cardeñoso, 1995.

Shavit, Zohar. Poetics of Children's Literature. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1986.

Toury, Gideon. In Search of a Theory of Translation. Tel Aviv Tel Aviv, 1980.

———. Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond. Amsto John Benjamins, 1995.

West, Mark I. "Censorship." Encyclopedia of Children's Literature. Ed. Peter Hunt and Sheila Ray. London: Routledge, 1996 507.

Li Li (essay date December 2006)

SOURCE: Li, Li. "Influences of Translated Children's Texts upon Chinese Children's Literature." Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature 16, no. 2 (December 2006): 101-06.

[In the following essay, Li reviews how the translation of international children's works into Chinese has influenced China's national literature.]


The year 1898 witnessed the beginning of western children's works being translated into Chinese by Chinese people. Some of Aesop's Fables were translated and published in a newspaper entitled Wuxi Baihua Bao.1 In the same year, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe was also translated and published in China. The following years saw more and more western children's works translated into Chinese (see Li 2004). Yet it was not until the year 1922 that the Chinese writer Ye Shengtao (1894-1988) created and published the first collection of fairy tales entitled The Scarecrow in China. This marked the beginning of Chinese children's literature.

In feudal China, children were regarded as property of their parents and miniaturized adults. Given this conceptualization of childhood, there existed little possibility to create child-oriented literature. However, as the translation and adaptation of foreign children's works and theories flourished, Chinese writers created their own children's works. It is unlikely that without the introduction of foreign children's works there would have been no such Chinese children's works. Or in other words, foreign children's works have exerted a tremendous influence upon Chinese children's literature. This paper adopts the methodology of the Influence Study from Comparative Literature Studies to investigate the influences of translated western children's works upon created Chinese children's literature. To be specific, the method of chronology and doxologie are singled out.

Evidence of the Existence of Influences

It is not always easy to locate and identify the actual influences on Chinese children's literature; however, the introduction of chronology provides us with the theoretical foundation and the opportunity to prove the existence of the influences. Simply speaking, chronology aims to find out the factors that influence the theme, subject matter, characterisation, plot, linguistic elements, and style of a writer or a literary genre. Chronology can be subdivided into written, oral, individual and collective. This paper mainly uses written chronology, memoirs and articles included, to examine the influences of translated western children's works.

In 1980 a book, entitled Ertong wenxue he wo [Children's Literature and I], was published by Shanghai Publishing Press for Children and Young Adults. This memoir of 29 famous Chinese writers (translators) devoted to children's literature, tells of their encounter with children's literature. Of the 29 entries, 11 explicitly expressed that they had been influenced in one way or another by the translated children's works. For example, Ye Shengtao, who was the first Chinese writer to create fairy tales for children, says:

My writing fairy tales is certainly influenced by the west. Around May 4th period, fairy tales by Grimm brothers, Hans Christian Andersen, and Oscar Wilde were gradually introduced into China. I was then a primary school teacher, and therefore paid attention to this kind of literary form which was suitable for children to read. In the end I came up with the idea of having a try by myself.2

          (Ye, 1980: 3-4)

In addition, there are some articles written by authors and translators scattered in different journals. Take Bing Xin as an example here. Bing Xin (1900-1999)3 is the most famous female essay writer for children and a poet who is noted for her short-poetic form in modern China and her themes on love of mother, motherland and nature in her children's works.

In 1959, Bing Xin wrote an article entitled How I Wrote A Maze of Stars and Spring Water, in which she explicitly admitted the influence of Tagore upon her: ‘When I wrote A Maze of Stars and Spring Water, I was not writing poetry. All I did—under the influence of Tagore's Stray Birds—was to gather together my scattered and fragmentary thoughts’ (Bing, 1959: 10).4

These explicit comments by authors serve as evidence of influences of western children's works on Chinese books for children.

Aspects of Influences

Once the existence of those influences is acknowledged, it is important to find out what exactly those influences are. In order to achieve this, the method of doxologie is adopted. Doxologie is the study on the achievement, fame and influence of a work, a writer or a literary genre in foreign countries. It provides clues about the actual influences of translated children's literature upon created Chinese children's works. To be specific, three major aspects, namely the influences on technique, content and image, are to be discussed.

(I) Influence on Technique

Technique refers to the skills for writing children's literature. Bing Xin is a useful case study here. As mentioned previously, her use of the "short poetic form" is strongly influenced by the Indian poet Tagore. Classical poetry, with its strict rhyming patterns, occupied a dominant position in traditional Chinese literature. Bing Xin's short poetic form was different from traditional Chinese poetic forms in that they can be as short as one sentence or a phrase, or as long as several lines; they can be partly rhymed or not rhymed at all. In general, it is a very free poetic form, suitable for expressing spontaneous and fragmentary ideas. In Bing Xin's Preface to a Maze of Stars, she tells readers how she began to write those short poems:

In the winter of 1919, I sat near the stove as my younger brother Binzhong read Rabindranath Tagore's ‘Stray Birds’. He said to me: "Don't you sometimes complain that your thoughts are too scattered and fragmentary, too difficult to set out in writing? Couldn't they be collected like these?" From then on, I recorded such thoughts in a little notebook.5

          (Bing, 1921)

A comparison between a few poems from Tagore's Stray Birds and A Maze of Stars and Spring Water highlights the similarities in form:

Poems by Tagore:

MAN barricades against himself.
"I GIVE my whole water in joy,"
sings the waterfall, "though little
of it is enough for the thirsty."
THE bird wishes it were a cloud.
The cloud wishes it were a bird.
"WHAT language is thine, O sea?"
"The language of eternal question."
"What language is thy answer, O sky?"
"The language of eternal silence."
THE night kisses the fading day
whispering to his ear, "I am death, your
mother. I am to give you fresh birth."
MY thoughts shimmer with these
shimmering leaves and my heart sings
with the touch of this sunlight; my life is
glad to be floating with all things into the
blue of space, into the dark of time.
CHEERLESS is the day, the light under
frowning clouds is like a punished child with
traces of tears on its pale cheeks, and the cry
of the wind is like the cry of a wounded world.
But I know I am travelling to meet my Friend.

Seen from the quoted poems by Tagore, it can be concluded that Tagore's poems in Stray Birds are very free in form. Sometimes just one line makes the whole poem (see 79), sometimes 2 lines (see 35), or sometimes one paragraph containing several sentences (see 150, 308). And there is no clear rhyming pattern involved. In addition, direct quotations are also used (see 69, 12).

The following poems are selected from Bing Xin's A Maze of Stars7:

My heart—

A lonely vessel
cuts through the ebb and swell of time.
allow me just one question,
one serious question:
"Haven't I mistaken you?"
Too monotonous?
My lute,
I forgive you—

I cannot make your strings,
sound like woodwinds.
My friend—
Have you scaled a high cliff?
Have you overlooked the ocean?
Up there,
Isn't it desolate,
alone with wordless "nature"?
Your heart,
Was it full of joy or was it bowed?

From these selections the similarities between the two poets are evident. For instance, there are: no fixed number of lines; no rhyming pattern; direct quotations are often used. While there are further similarities in form between Tagore's poems and Bing Xin's, Bing Xin was not just imitating the poetic form of Tagore; rather, she also made some changes. Tagore's poems in Stray Birds seldom split sentences into more than 2 lines. On most occasions, he kept the several sentences in a paragraph form, while Bing Xin likes to separate her poems into different lines. For Bing Xin, what she learnt from Tagore's Stray Birds most importantly was the freedom in form. This kind of short form is very suitable for expressing the scattered and fragmentary thoughts.

(II) Influence on Content

The influence on content here mainly deals with the influence of theme and subject matter upon the receiver.

Theme refers to the underlying central idea of a literary or artistic work or the generalization of the work. The poems of Bing Xin are useful examples. It was Bing Xin who first took the themes of love for mother, motherland and nature into children's literature in China. And she is also famous for expressing such themes in her works.

Bing Xin translated some poems from Tagore's Gitanjali into Chinese and wrote in the preface of the Chinese version:

Tagore is one of my favourite foreign poets when I was young…. His poems are full of his love for the motherland, his sympathy for women andhis love for children…. In this collection of his poems I have travelled in his beautiful and rich country, known the gentle and perseverant women, and the naïve and joyous children there.

          (Bing 1982, Preface p. 1)

Bing Xin's most famous children's works include a collection of essays entitled Letters to Young Readers, and two collections of poems entitled respectively A Maze of Stars and Spring Water. Now let's take a few examples from her A Maze of Stars, which was translated into English by John Carley, to see her praise on children.

Numberless angels
will rise to sing the praises of a child.
A child—
This fragile flesh
Enfolds a great spirit.

          (Cayley 1989, p. 111)
The child
is a great poet,
with an imperfect tongue,
lisping perfect verses.

          (ibid, p. 115)

Here Bing Xin used such words and phrases as "great spirit", "great poet" and "perfect verses" to describe and praise children. These poems were written during 1921-1922. No other writers had praised children like this and their sentiments were a contrast to how children were regarded during the period of feudal China. In spite of the fact that concepts about children were progressing, children-oriented writings did not appear in China until the May 4th Movement when the social and cultural conditions became mature. Since Bing Xin's praised children with great enthusiasm, there appeared then an upsurge of such a theme in Chinese literary circles both in created and translated children's works.

The subject matter refers to a specific topic of a literary work. There were some topics, such as homeless children, which were never embodied in created Chinese children's literature before the introduction of such topics into China. In 1935 Lu Xun translated and published the Russian novel The Watch by Panteleev (1908-1987). The story was about how a homeless child got rid of his bad habits and became a good boy. The book was printed in China at least 17 times by 13 publishing presses from 1935 to 1949. And there was a revised and shortened form based on Lu Xun's Chinese version in 1949. In 1935, a film director planned to adapt the novel into a film, though not successful, it indicates the kind of popularity of this novel at that time. Then in 1947 the novel was adapted into a five-act drama. Later on a film with the same title as The Watch was directed by Zuo Lin in 1949. It was regarded as one of the classics in the Chinese film history. In summary, the novel was one of the most reprinted translated children's works in China during the period of 1898-1949.

At the time when this book was translated into China, the conflicts between Chinese Communist Party and Kuomingtang had lasted for years, and there were numerous homeless children wandering the streets. But those children had never been represented in children's works before. The protagonists in children's works before that were "good" obedient children whether at school or at home. They were supposed to be good examples for other children to follow. The introduction of The Watch into China broadened the vision of the Chinese writers for children's works, making them realize that homeless children, who were not perfect and who made serious mistakes, could also be the protagonists in children's works.

After The Watch was translated into Chinese, there appeared a number of children's works with homeless children as protagonists. One such story is The Story of Big Nose written by Mao Dun in 1936.

The protagonist in The Story of Big Nose was a homeless child, whose nickname was Big Nose, a title given to him by an old woman in charge of a public toilet. When he was 7 or 8 years old, his parents were bombed to death and since then he became homeless in Shanghai. Big Nose had lots of weak points: stealing, telling lies and playing tricks. There are significant similarities between The Watch and Big Nose. The plot of the former centred on the theft of a watch, and the latter on five coins. The narrative structure of The Watch followed a redemptive pattern: stealing watch—feeling touched—correcting mistake; Big Nose followed a similar pattern.

(III) Influence on Image

Since Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland gained worldwide popularity, the image of Alice had appeared in many countries across the world. The book was first translated into Chinese by a Chinese linguist Chao Yuen Ren8 (1892-1982) in 1922. The translated version was reprinted many times and there appeared some adapted versions base on Chao's translation. Then in 1928 and 1933, two Chinese novels, which used the image of Alice, were created by two Chinese writers. The first one was written by Shen Congwen (1902-1988) under the title of Alice's Adventures in China, and the second by Chen Bochui (1906-1997) was entitled Miss Alice.

Alice's Adventures in China was regarded as the continuation of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in China. The author arranged the two characters, namely Alice and the rabbit, to come and travel in China. The white rabbit here was a gentleman named John Norchi (according to Chinese pronunciation). What they saw was actually a realistic picture of the Chinese society in 1920-1930s: hunger, superstition, backwardness and slave trading. In contrast to this, there was also a depiction of the simple age-old living style of the Miao minority people in western mountainous area in Human province, China. Actually Shen Congwen was famous for depicting the scenery and the people in that part of China in several of his novels such as The Border Town. Below is an excerpt which tells of what the characters heard on the very first day in China:

One life, although it is a life, in many parts of China it is not more expensive than that of a pig or dog. In case of a disaster or famine, children are traded in terms of their weight, at most seven cents per 500 g.

          (Shen 1999, p. 375)

The author, however, originally intended to write something quite similar to Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to amuse his younger sister and sick mother. But while he was writing, he changed both the white rabbit and Alice, as was stated in his preface of the book: ‘I changed the kind and cultivated white rabbit into a Chinese gentleman-like rabbit. At the same time, Alice is not what she was…. The rabbit John Norchi is not an amusing character at all, whereas the naivety of Alice is also lost to a great extent’ (Shen 1999, p. 339).

In Alice's Adventures in China, Alice and the rabbit served as the witnesses to the Chinese society at that time, which was quite different from what they were in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Althought Shen borrowed these two images from Lewis Carroll, Carroll's depiction was imaginary and amusing, whereas Shen's approach was quite realistic.

Chen Bochui's Miss Alice was also based on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Chen Bochui once wrote in one of his memoirs:

I was thinking of writing a novel named Miss Alice. I read Alice's ‘Adventures in Wonderland’ some years ago. I was then a young man with imagination and was totally conquered by the book … I wanted to depict a child image with naivety, brightness, courage and intelligence. But when I wrote till the twelfth chapter, the Japanese attacked China on Sept 18, which made me appalled. I realized that Alice should come back to reality from her wonderland, to realism from romanticism.

          (Chen 1980, p. 31)

So we can see that both Shen Congwen and Chen Bochui started their creations with the idea of creating an image quite similar to that in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. But in the end, both deviated from what they originally intended. Or, in other words, the Alice created for the Chinese context was actually distorted.

Complexity of Influence Study

The identification and location of the actual influences of translated children's works on Chinese children's literature is a complex process. Sometimes the influences are blended without any distinctive trace as to the original source. Also, influences may be exerted upon a work in many ways. In spite of this, it is important to make clear the influences of translated western children's works upon created Chinese children's literature. And a more in-depth study may be achieved with the adoption of new methods and revelation of more materials.


1. This was the first newspaper in China whose language was modern Chinese (baihua). Wuxi is a place in Jiangsu Province, where the newspaper was first published.

2. This is my translation from Chinese.

3. Bing Xin is the penname for Xie Wanying. Her most famous collection of essays is entitled Letters to Little Readers.

4. This was translated by John Caylery in 1989. See Renditions No. 32: 88.

5. This was translated by John Cayley in 1989. See Renditions No. 32: 108.

6. All the poems from Tagore's Stray Birds quoted in this paper were downloaded from the website:

7. Here the poems from Bing Xin's A Maze of Stars were all translated by John Carley unless otherwise indicated. See Renditions, No. 32: 108-117. The translator sometimes made some changes in the number of the lines. Here only those which have the same number of lines with the originals are chosen.

8. Chao Yuen Ren was regarded as Father of Linguistics in China. He went to study mathematics at Cornell University with a scholarship in 1910 and later switched to physics before moving to linguistics. He taught at Cornell University, Harvard University, Tsinghua University and later was professor of linguistics at University of California, Berkeley. In addition, he was also an amateur composer. He died in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1982.


Bing, Xin (1959). ‘How I Wrote A Maze of Stars and Spring Water’. Poetry Journal, 4: 10-12.

Boynton, G. M. (trans.) (1989). Spring Water [Chun Shui]. Renditions 32: 98-107.

Chen, Bochui (2000). Fairy Tales by Chen Bochui [Chen Bochui Tonghua]. Beijing, People's Literature Publishing House.

Cayley, J. (1989). ‘Birds and Stars: Tagore's Influence on Bing Xin's Early Poetry’, Renditions 32: 118-123.

Li, Li (2004). ‘A Descriptive Study of Translated Children's Literature in China: 1898-1919’. New Review of Children's Literature and Librarianship 10, 2: 189-199.

Ye, Shengtao et al (1980). Children's Literature and I [Ertong Wenxue he Wo]. Shanghai, Shanghai Publishing Press for Children and Young Adults.

Shen, Congwen (1999). Representative Works by Shen Congwen. Beijing, Huaxia Publishing Press.

Emer O'Sullivan (essay date 2006)

SOURCE: O'Sullivan, Emer. "Does Pinocchio Have an Italian Passport?: What Is Specifically National and What Is International about Classics of Children's Literature." In The Translation of Children's Literature: A Reader, edited by Gillian Lathey, pp. 146-62. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters Ltd., 2006.

[In the following essay, O'Sullivan argues that translations of children's works are strongly influenced by the cultural mores and traditions of the nations for which the translation are being composed.]

Children's books keep alive a sense of nationality; but they also keep alive a sense of humanity. They describe their native land lovingly, but they also describe faraway lands where unknown brothers live. They understand the essential quality of their own race; but each of them is a messenger that goes beyond mountains and rivers, beyond the seas, to the very ends of the world in search of new friendships. Every country gives and every country receives—innumerable are the exchanges—and so it comes about that in our first impressionable years the universal republic of childhood is born.

          Hazard (1944: 146)

This quotation is from the pen of the French comparative literary scholar, Paul Hazard, written in his influential book Les livres, les enfants et les hommes first published in 1932.

Children's literature, and especially classics of children's literature to which I would like to confine my comments here, are frequently regarded and spoken of as products of an international culture of childhood, monolingual, monocultural, in which international understanding is the order of the day. This ‘world republic of childhood’ as Paul Hazard (1944: 145) called it knows no borders, no foreign languages. On the other hand he, and others, like to take recourse to the very nationalities of the authors, to prove, by mentioning the origin of the works, that in the real world with borders and foreign languages, a large variety of nations is represented.

If you note down the name of the child classics, you will see that Germans, English, Americans, Russians, Danes, Swedes, Italians and French are all the most friendly of neighbors…. You will not find a single country that does not admire … books that come from the four quarters of the globe…. Smilingly the pleasant books of childhood cross all the frontiers; there is no duty to be paid on inspiration.

          (Hazard, 1944: 147)

To speak in this nice, rather cosy and certainly very idealistic way about children's literature, is to ignore both the conditions influencing its production and those underlining its cultural transfer. That the works change considerably in the course of time and on their ways across linguistic and cultural frontiers is an inevitable consequence of these conditions. Each book is produced in a specific culture at a specific time, and it naturally bears the marks of the region, time and literature of its origin. By examining questions of cultural transfer and cultural exchange, I would like, at least partially, to explode some of the myths surrounding the simultaneous internationality and specific nationality of children's classics.

By children's classics are generally meant books that have been commercially successful over several generations in several countries. Their status is not permanent: the assessment of what a classic is changes with altering tastes and assessments. Their value is based less on aesthetic qualities than on inscribed moral and social values, inherent images or even myths of childhood and—and this is my addition—they reveal a basic narrative moment, situation or constellation of characters which lend themselves to being retold and reinterpreted in different forms.

Classics are books that could be called the household names of what is regarded as ‘good’ children's literature. They are the books that are constantly reprinted in editions and series of varying size and quality. No two lists of classics will be absolutely identical, but there are titles that are guaranteed to find a place on each of them. One of the oldest is almost 400 years oldDon Quixote, one of the youngest—depending on the list—is not yet 50: Pippi Longstocking. The consensus is that their number is between 30 and 50. The books, figures, authors meant are, amongst others, Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, Baron Munchausen, Grimms' fairy tales, the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, Struwwelpeter, Alice in Wonderland, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Heidi, Pinocchio, Treasure Island, The Jungle Book, Peter Pan, Emil and the Detectives, Mary Poppins, Pippi Longstocking … and many more can be added to this incomplete list.

They are a motley lot, reflecting the three different origins of children's literature itself. Firstly the oral tradition of folklore—fairy tales, legends, myths and sagas. Secondly literature which was originally written for adults and adapted for children—that covers Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver and others. The third group represented—which is now probably the most dominant source of children's literature altogether—is that written intentionally for children, a source that postdates the other two.

It is, I hasten to say, not my intention to take each one of the titles mentioned to examine, in accordance with the title of my paper, what elements in them can be seen to be specific of their culture of origin, to proclaim Pinocchio identifiably Italian, Pippi Longstocking strikingly Swedish or Emil of the detectives a genuine German. What I would like to do, in three steps, is first of all to consider, using a few selected examples, the processes involved in the transfer of these works into a culture other than their own, to look at the patterns that determine this transfer. That the titles we usually accept as classics, contrary to Hazard's claims, cannot be called representative of all the continents of the world shall lead me to reflect, in the second step, on what is commonly taken to be the international character of the origin of the classics. In the third and final step I shall, as a consequence of the discussion of the traditions of handing down these texts through time and across borders, consider how their status, how their relationship to the works which originally bore their name, is to be defined.

The central moment, the pivot between cultures when a work passes from one into the other, is translation. It is here that a product of one linguistic and cultural territory is transformed into one understandable in another. Since its inception, translation theory has concerned itself with questions about the literary status of translations: are they to be seen as creative works in their own right, or are they secondary products? How is the relationship of a translation to an original to be described? To what extent is the expression of a culture so closely bound to its own linguistic means of expression that it is impossible to achieve a correspondence in another? What is meant by equivalence, when an equivalent rendering of a text is sought? Equivalence on the level of single lexical items, equivalence on the level of the reconstruction of the communicative situation reproduced, equivalence of the entire rendition? The much-quoted pronouncement made by Friedrich Schleiermacher in 1813 when writing on the different methods of translation: ‘Entweder der Uebersetzer läβt den Schriftsteller möglichst in Ruhe, und bewegt den Leser ihm entgegen; oder er läβt den Leser möglichst in Ruhe und bewegt den Schriftsteller ihm entgegen’ (‘A translator either leaves the author as much alone as is possible and moves the reader towards him; or he leaves the reader as much alone as is possible and moves the author towards him’ trans. S. S. Prawer, 1973), sets out two poles whereby either as much of the ‘foreignness’ of the text as possible is retained in the translation, without many concessions being made to the culture into which it is translated, and linguistic and aesthetic idiosyncrasies are imitated so that the reader is constantly aware that it is the product of another culture which he or she is reading in translation, or the text is translated in such a way that the illusion is created that it has been written in the culture of the reader.

These and other questions posed in studies of translations, using the original or source text as the central point of reference against which possible deviations in the translated or target text could be registered and measured, frequently concentrated on shortcomings of translations and the means by which these could be avoided or at least lessened, while accepting the premise that a translation can never replace an original text. Frequently prescriptive in nature, the ideal of a good, equivalent or at best adequate translation informed the analysis and discussion.

In the last few years a different approach has developed in the area of translation studies, one which is primarily product rather than process oriented, descriptive rather than prescriptive, in which a discussion about what an ideal translation should be has no place. Pioneered, amongst others, by the Israeli scholar Gideon Toury, this semiotic, polysystem theory approach reveals translation to be as much of a cultural process as a linguistic or literary one (Toury, 1980; Hermans, 1985). It is target text based, concentrating on the translations themselves, to examine how norms governing the target literary system—that is the literature into which the text has been translated—influenced or even determined the process of translation.

Using a theoretically related model Zohar Shavit, in her study Poetics of Children's Literature (1986), has shown how the position and status of children's literature within the literary polysystem determines its production and especially the conditions pertaining to its translation. She reminds us of the special character of children's literature which is not only governed by literary norms at a given time, but because it belongs simultaneously to the educational as well as to the literary systems, the changing educational norms, too, have to be taken into consideration in an analysis of children's literature and its translations.

I would now like to move on to take a look at what the translation of a children's book can involve, how different literary and educational norms, traditions, expectations and ideologies can influence the cultural transfer of children's literature.

Over a hundred years ago, the Tuscan puppet Pinocchio saw the light of day in print and since then Collodi's book has been translated, adapted, abridged, turned out in film and comic form and marketed in a variety of ways for a host of purposes in all the corners of the world. More than 220 translations have been made into at least 87 different languages—there are 40 versions in German alone, as the extensive study of Sonia Marx (1990) on the German adventures of Pinocchio reveals. The history of Pinocchio in German starts almost 25 years after his Italian birth with Otto Julius Bierbaum's version, Zäpfel Kerns Abenteuer, published in 1905 and ends—at least for the moment—with Christine Nöstlinger's Der neue Pinocchio (1988), a contemporary Pinocchio in terms of behaviour, consciousness and language. Here the main character has been given an explicit psychological dimension, key incidents in the story have been altered and the basic pedagogical concept is turned on its head. Children, small and weak, have to see to it that they can get what they need, have to look out for themselves; all they can expect from the adult world is lack of understanding and exploitation. Pinocchio's decision to do only what he wants is applauded by the author. He has clear notions of what his rights are and what demands he can make of his father and the world. It is an interpretation firmly rooted—obviously—in the ideas of the author on the relationship between children and adults, but they are ideas that mirror an aspect of late 20th century West-European and American thought, following a few decades of intensive research on the history and conditions of childhood itself. Nöstlinger's name and not that of Collodi is given as the author, and it has been translated, as such, into Italian.

Bierbaum as the first and Nöstlinger as the latest are the two cornerstones of translations/adaptations of Pinocchio into German and both clearly declare their purpose in a preface, stating that theirs is a retelling with appropriate adjustments. Bierbaum wrote that he could not provide his readers with a straight translation of the Italian original: the strict national character of the book made a translation impossible,1 but it also made the prospect of a very free, independently German treatment of the wonderful, invented theme a most attractive one. His adaptation was not undertaken in the spirit of pedagogical change, it was rather the prospect of being able to ‘Germanize’ the aspects which attracted him to the work: Collodi's ironic stabs and satirical treatment of figures of authority—the law, medicine, etc.—and indeed expand them by satirizing aspects of the German monarchy, of academic life and the military. This can be seen most clearly in Bierbaum's augmentation of the narrative incident of the ‘paese dei balocchi’, the country in which the children are for ever playing games, to expand it, in the guise of a fantastic incident, into a satirical attack on—amongst other things—the hooray nationalism of the Germany of his day, going even so far as to invent a national anthem for that country which parodied that of Germany under Emperor William II.

This adaptation was, then, as the scholar Erwin Koppen (1980) has pointed out, a ‘Williamization’ of Pinocchio. But other elements were culturally adapted, too. On the most primitive level, the food becomes German, as do the unfamiliar animals—the cricket becomes a may beetle, a Professor Dr may beetle, no less. But most obvious is the adaptation of that achievement with which Luigi Santucci (1964) credits Collodi, that of having acclimatized the fairy tale to the bright Mediterranean climate with all its playful jokes and its cosy probabilities, of having shown that fairies could also exist in bright sunshine and not just in dark woods and turreted castles. This achievement is reversed in Bierbaum's version in which the magic quality of the piece of wood that is to become Pinocchio, or Zäpfel Kern, is implied by the manner in which it is brought to the carpenter, Meister Gottlieb: it is presented to him by a little hunchback with a long white beard and bright, bright blue eyes: a figure who had just emerged from a German fairy tale forest. In this, as in later German versions, the tradition of the commedia dell'arte, of Pinocchio's connection to Arlecchino and Pulcinella, is replaced by that of the German Kasperletheater.

These adaptations to suit the tastes and traditions of the target culture were not only undertaken in the book which proclaimed itself to be a ‘Germanization’ and thus an adaptation of Collodi's story. In the successful German translation published in 1913, eight years after Bierbaum's version, by the educationalist Anton Grumann (1913), amongst the reasons for its success, as pointed out by Sonia Marx, were additions that referred to popular children's books in Germany at the time—Wilhelm Busch's Max und Moritz and Robinson Crusoe, for example—and the Grimms' fairy tale tone can be heard in this version, both stylistically and in terms of descriptions of places. The fairy from Italian folklore with the turquoise hair is now blonde as is the boy into whom the puppet turns in the end.

Here we have had just a few examples of how an original or source text can be changed to adapt to literary norms and traditions in the target culture, to make it more acceptable to readers there. How the text can be adjusted to conform to ideological and pedagogical norms, is illustrated in a study of various American versions by the sociologist Richard Wunderlich (1992: 198) in which he shows that ‘The popular image in the United States of what Pinocchio is all about bears little or no relation to Collodi's original.’

The first American translation2 of 1904 by Walter S. Cramp (Collodi, 1904) was written to accommodate the new social order that resulted from the reorganization brought about by the industrialization of America in the late 19th century and the new public sense of morality which had to develop to enforce that reorganization. It involved an emphasis on self-discipline, self-denial, industriousness and respect for authority. Scenes from Pinocchio involving violence, social criticism and any disparagement of adults in the text—especially when it involved showing children ridiculing adults—were systematically removed. The tone of this first American translation is ‘harsh, punitive and unsympathetic. Pinocchio, the child, is an annoyance’ (Wunderlich, 1992: 202).

What Wunderlich calls the ‘industrial moralism versions’ died out in the 1920s, gradually making way for a more endearing puppet who arouses less anger. The image of Pinocchio which was created in the late 1930s in America, which gradually took hold and still defines Pinocchio in popular culture today is one which, again, can only be explained in terms of the norms and projections of American society. It is the Disney Pinocchio—although two other versions of the 1930s, similar in tendency, appeared before and, indeed, probably influenced Disney3—‘docile, loving and innocent, incapable of provoking anger and more lovable precisely because of his "pranks", which have now become innocuous and cute’ (Wunderlich, 1992: 207). His becoming a real live boy in the end is not motivated, as in the original, by Pinocchio's desire to grow up. Here the goal of the child is no longer to reach adulthood, but to be a good child and to celebrate family unity and harmony. The image of Pinocchio has changed from Collodi's egoistic, headstrong puppet child to a personification of childhood innocence and loving acceptance.

This development was undoubtedly influenced by experiences of the Depression and the pending World War in which the only safe world was seen as the world of the family: children were better off, perhaps, not growing up. Wunderlich also sees a political message of the time in the versions of the 1930s. Unlike the empowering original in which Pinocchio is not expected to simply obey—as we know, the instances of state authority are explicitly satirized in the novel—but to assume responsibility for himself and his deeds as a precondition of adulthood, an il- lustration, in other words of the notion that people should have some control over their own lives and destinies, the American versions of the 1930s, in a time of heightened political consciousness and social activism, proclaimed the message that family harmony was crucial and to be strengthened, not threatened by the child, and, ‘just as the child should be in harmony with the family, so should the citizen be in harmony with the state—for that is the natural order’ (Wunderlich, 1992: 215).

When asking what is specifically national and what is international about Pinocchio, we assume that by the specifically national is meant: what is Italian about the book and its main character. But looking at translation/adaptations we must state that the question as to how specifically the culture into which he has been imported has been imprinted upon him, is equally valid and interesting. How German—or Austrian—is Pinocchio in any translation into that language? How American is he in a US translation? Or, to take these considerations one step further, using the passport metaphor given in the title of my talk, we might not just ask whether the docile Pinocchio has lost his Italian passport while crossing cultural borders, but whether he hasn't lost his passport altogether, being left to toss and turn on a sea of constant reinterpretation and instrumentalization taking him further and further away from his culture of origin and indeed from his original state of being. Some might claim that, despite all the chopping-up, sanitization and changes, the authentic story of Pinocchio has not been lost. Something about it endures and can never be ultimately changed, and that is the essential nature of the story. John Cech (1986: 176) is one of these. He writes about its mythoic core: it is a ‘tale about one of the most basic and universal of transformations: the process of growing up, of moving towards conscience and consciousness.’

I do not believe that this is true. This was not the tale told by Disney and it is not the tale told in the countless sequels, series and television programmes that are based on the figure. If we reduce what Pinocchio has become in popular culture today to a common denominator, we will find that the only similarity he bears with the original is the fact that he is a wooden puppet with a long nose. And that this puppet has little or nothing to do with genuine international exchange in terms of elements of one culture being accepted in another in the area of children's literature should be evident.

Children's literature is necessarily characterized by the asymmetry of its communication structure: it is written, published, reviewed, bought, etc. by adults. The translation process represents another filter through which a text has to pass before reaching child readers, and the filter is often used to ‘correct’ aspects of the original text that are not deemed pedagogically acceptable for them. An example here is the episode in the German translation of Pippi Longstocking in which the anarchic Pippi—instead of handing two pistols to her friends Thomas and Anneke—is made to proclaim in a most unlikely manner that children shouldn't play with pistols that she is going to put them back in the chest.4

It is also at the stage of translation where decisions are made as to how much a child can understand, how much can be left unsaid, how many of the ‘gaps’ (Iser, 1984) in the text that are filled in the reception process can be left unfilled in the translation for children. An extreme example of the extent to which an attempt to make something understandable to children can be brought, is to be found in the German translation of Alice in Wonderland, by Franz Sester, published in 1949. Not only is Alice presented in Sester's translation as a well-behaved, somewhat boring English-learning German schoolgirl, but in the course of the explanation of what a Mock Turtle is, the reader also gets the bonus of being told about Alice's teacher and her relatives, and he or she is also given a recipe for Mock Turtle soup. [Editorial note: For the full text of this example and further discussion, see O'Sullivan in Part 2 of this Reader.]

We have seen from our look at some translations of children's literature that the areas in which the target culture prescribes the norms of acceptability of translations cover much more than those elements which we might assume (and which often are) the first to be changed, the elements which Göte Klingberg (1986) summed up in his study on the translation of children's literature as candidates for cultural context adaptation. These include names, appearances, habits which transcend the idiosyncratic, locations—descriptions of landscapes or cityscapes—flora and fauna, the food eaten, references to historical or cultural contexts, currency, weights and measures, etc. They are the aspects which make a text—at least superficially—recognizably foreign, and are those which are most readily changed, especially in the translation of children's literature. While all texts are unquestionably culturally specific in terms of their origin, some reveal themselves to be more so than others—especially when the culture is made explicit in the book. It is rare that such books gain an international readership, and the exceptions which go to prove this particular rule are Johanna Spyri's very Swiss Heidi and Selma Lagerlöf's very Swedish Wonderful Adventures of Nils Holgersson—both of which have greatly influenced the perception of their countries abroad.

The fate of Pinocchio in some of the examples I have given here, or the admittedly rather extreme explanatory translation of the ‘Mock Turtle’ in Alice in Wonderland would seem to support the claim that the assumption that international children's classics are an example of how an understanding of and exchange between cultures can take place, is not valid. The practice of translation often involves either a universalizing or a localizing of the texts. What this means is that we cannot automatically assume that just because a book is the product of one culture that, first of all any of its specific features will have been retained in translation or adaptation and, even if they have been, that the translation will be realized as the product of another culture by its readers.

‘Every country gives and every country receives—innumerable are the exchanges’, that was what Paul Hazard (1944) wrote about the internationalism of children's books in the passage quoted at the beginning of my paper. Anyone who has ever actively worked with children's literature on an international level will know that this statement is little more than a Utopian fantasy. Up until recently, 70% of all the books produced in the world were originated in four languages: English, French, Russian, and German. As is well known, countries whose national languages rank as world languages publish a far smaller proportion of translations than small countries whose national boundaries also constitute language ones. The US and the United Kingdom, for example, belong to the countries which translate least of all: the percentage of translations in their output of fiction is only 3 to 4%5 (the comparative figure for small European countries with a high level of literacy and well-developed publishing enterprises—Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and Switzerland—is around 55%). But it is not the exchange of current children's literature that is the topic I am addressing, it is that of the coming into being and continued existence of a body of children's classics which are regarded as international.

Once again naming some of the most common titles of such classics—Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, Baron Munchausen, Grimms' fairy tales, the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, Struwwelpeter, Alice in Wonderland, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Heidi, Pinocchio, Treasure Island, The Jungle Book, Peter Pan, Emil and the Detectives, Mary Poppins, Pippi Longstocking—it is apparent that not every country is represented on the list. Those involved are the countries of Europe—north western Europe mainly, and the USA. When we talk about a World Literature for children, we actually mean books produced in the Western Tradition,6 with a significant proportion of books in English. The reasons for this dominance are two-fold. The first has to do with the development of children's literature. The second has to do with the development of a world market for children's books.

When we look at the historical development of children's literature, it is at once evident that certain attitudes and conditions had to prevail before it could emerge on any sort of scale. An awareness of childhood as being intrinsically different from adulthood and thus requiring special treatment was the first precondition. Another was the emergence of a social class whose children had the time and possibility of learning to read, in other words, children who were released from the cycle of work to enjoy an education. This precondition was an economic one. Both of these were fulfilled in the countries of Northern Europe—England, the Netherlands, parts of Germany and France—towards the middle of the 18th century, and so it was in these countries that children's literature was developed on any mentionable scale. This headstart, so to speak, is doubtlessly one of the main explanations of the dominance of England and Germany amongst the ‘classics’ of children's literature.

The production of books written intentionally for children and their exchange between countries in Northern Europe up until and during the time of the Enlightenment was, mainly, in the hands of educationalists. But the 18th century also saw the start of the purely commercial exploitation of children's literature. One of the key names in this development—as is well known—is that of the English publisher John Newbery. Although he has long since been dethroned as the patron saint of children's literature, his position in the history of this literature is significant. An alert businessman, he discovered and shrewdly exploited the new market of middle class children, or rather their parents. The English were, therefore, not only one of the first nations in history to develop a self-conscious, independent children's literature, but they also developed the commercial institutions capable of supporting and furthering it.

The exchange of children's books between cultures has, we can safely claim, nearly always been deter- mined by questions of economics, the status of the literature of one language is often tied to commercial and cultural links. Not a lot is known about the history of translation of children's literature into various languages—Sweden is exceptional here in having produced excellent studies, led initially by the comparative scholar, Göte Klingberg. In a subsequent survey of the history of translations in Sweden, Lars Furuland (1978) traces the point from which the predominance of English was established amongst the languages from which children's books are translated to, amongst other things, a general shift in orientation of trade and commerce. Its replacement of German as the dominant import, so to speak, on the children's market coincided around the middle of the 19th century with the development of Swedish children's publishing into an industry catering for a wider and growing market borne up by the middle classes around that time. A major factor which influenced the change was the fact that ‘trade and the flow of foreign exchange were tending more and more to pass through England. As well as being the foremost customer of the Swedish timber industry, England was now playing a part in the industrialization of agrarian Sweden’ (Furuland, 1978: 65). Added to that was the increase in output of children's literature in English from the 1850s and 60s, providing publishers in other countries with an abundance of material. The English publishing and literary sectors became a growing export area in the mid-19th century. The book industry behind English literature, as Furuland (1978) writes, was a force with which German and French publishers, who were also trading on the international market, could only seriously compete for short, intermittent periods.

This is an extremely brief and necessarily incomplete sketch of conditions within Europe in the 19th century, between countries who were competing in a free market. The situation on a world scale was characterized by totally different positions of power: the colonized and exploited were hardly in a position to ‘compete’ with a politically, militarily and economically over-powerful Europe. Bearing in mind that the economic and military conquest of countries is usually followed by a cultural colonization, we can see clearly the conditions which supported the canonization of an almost exclusively Northern European and dominantly English language children's literature in the world.

When speaking critically in Osaka in 1986 about the conditions of an international network of children's literature, Klaus Doderer (1986) reported on the UNESCO study according to which the European fairy tale (the genre usually held up as the model of international children's literature) was suppressing indigenous ideals in South American countries. In a storytelling competition amongst Ecuadorian children, over 80% of the stories told were variations of European fairy tales or Wild West films, not Ecuadorian tales. Evidence of the European, or more specifically, the Grimms' model influencing the way South American fairy tales were recorded was to be seen where princesses in the fairy tales of the Mapuche Indians in Chile were described as having white skin. Everything that was rich and fine was given European features. Klaus Doderer also mentioned reports in the newspaper in the 1960s, that in the Congo Grimms' fairy tales were the most widespread children's books while in China this honor was conferred upon Heidi. Examples of this variety of questionable internationalism, which amounts to little else than cultural colonization, are legion.

I would like to say a final word about the diversity of cultural origins or identities of children's classics. In Western Europe cultural differences are accurately perceived between Italy and Germany, between France and England, but when we look at the classics that are the object of our investigation then we must ask whether a certain cultural affiliation between them can be observed. Isabelle Nières (1992), in her contribution to a catalogue accompanying the exhibition ‘Livres d'enfants en Europe,’ talks about the common heritage that unites Europe: the culture of ancient Greece and Rome, and the Christian religion. She also mentions the oral folklore tradition. The history of children's literature in Europe is also a history of the formulation of images of childhood. Many of the classics of children's literature discussed here are not only originally specific to their cultures but they are also specific in the sense of a shared tradition of images of childhood, the use of collective Christian Myths—that of the divine child, for example—and in what can be seen as the step by step development in European literature of childhood towards the—gradual and mutually influenced—portrayal of the autonomous child. The story of the European classics of children's literature is ultimately the story of this development.

Studies that concern themselves with differences and similarities of classics, with continuation and breaks in traditions, reconstruct the original conditions of reception in the cultures in which these classics originated, study the conditions of their popularity, their potential for providing new impetus and new direc- tion in their own literature and for influencing the development of children's literature in general. At the centre of my concern here has not been a historical, interpretative approach. Rather I have focused on cultural transfer, on the idea of a genuine exchange between cultures which is generally held to be a feature of the simultaneously national and international character of children's classics.

Returning to the question of the systematic changes that can be observed in the texts after they cross cultural and linguistic borders, the transformations undergone by children's classics through different cultures and times, I would now like to ask how the status of these texts, how their relationship to their originals is to be defined and classified.

The classification and categorization of the classics of children's literature does not have much in common with the rules which apply to classics of general literature, which always clearly refer to specific texts, produced by one author, whose composition is sacrosanct. Taking the most common categories cited in general debates on classics—the normative, the qualitatively excellent and the exemplary—we can see that they cannot apply to a work such as Don Quixote or others adapted for young readers, because if those are the categories that apply as a general maxim, which version of Don Quixote do we take to see if it fulfils this requirement?

If we try to assess the position or status of classical figures and titles of children's books in relation to the original work which bore their name or their tale—Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe, Alice in Wonderland, Pinocchio, Heidi, Peter Pan, etc.—if we look at the tradition of handing down these works in translations, adaptations in print, in comic, in film, television series, cartoon form, then the category with which we have to describe the status of these figures and constellations cannot be that of literature.

How, then, can we describe the status of Alice when she is claimed as being an international household name for children? What is meant is not the work of literature Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, but the figure of a little girl in a strange, fantastic land, who is confronted with a medley of peculiar creatures. That which, apart from the creation of the figure Alice, characterized the text by Lewis Carroll—the constant undermining of Alice's frames of reference including the communicative nature of language itself, the arbitrariness of behaviour of the irrational Wonderland creatures, the games and tricks which constantly push the understanding of language and logic beyond their conventional borders, the elements of satire and parody in the text, the obscuring of the distinction between fantasy and reality—just to mention a few elements which are an intrinsic and important part of the literary text that we call Alice in Wonderland, not a lot of this remains in current media versions of the story. Their common denominator is a little girl in a fantastic but not even necessarily overwhelmingly threatening world. So how, to return to the question in hand, can the status of the chopped up, rewritten, reinterpreted texts or other media in which these classical figures continue to appear be described, what is the relationship of the famous classical children's figures to the works which originally bore their name?

I would like to suggest that there are two modes simultaneously involved in the transmission of the classics of children's literature. These modes are not to be seen as absolute: there is a sliding scale between them, upon which some translation/adaptations can be seen to be closer to one mode than the other. The first is an ideal mode, that of ‘literary’ translations of literary originals, that is, what, within a traditional concept of translation, is regarded as being a ‘good’ translation. I again insist that this is an ideal that puts itself outside the realities of the determining factors of translation. This mode can apply to only one of our three sources of children's literature, literature written intentionally for children and, while a literary translation will still necessarily reveal much about the target culture into which it is translated, it represents a serious attempt to recreate the original text on its own terms. It tries not to add, subtract or alter the narrative. It tries to reproduce the communication situation of the source text and it tries to find the closest approximation for the constitution of the aesthetic and linguistic idiosyncrasies and is carried out by translators who have an ideal of trying to remain true to the spirit of the work. As two examples of translations from English into German which could be generally ascribed to this mode are Christian Enzensberger's translation of Alice in Wonderland (1963) and Harry Rowohlt's of Winnie-the-Pooh (1989).

This mode, as I said, can only apply to literature composed specifically for children. The other two sources—adaptations from the sphere of general literature and literature originating from the oral tradition—fairy tales, legends, etc. cannot be adequately described using its terms. Taking literary translation as a yardstick with which to measure these other two sources and, indeed, as we have seen, many of the translations and adaptations of literature written specifically for children, too, results in having to classify them as second-rate. Because most of the texts we are talking about do not qualify on the terms of this prescriptive model, another framework is needed with which we can characterize the mode of transmission of the majority of children's classics.

As an alternative mode of transmission that we could attempt to describe how the figures of children's literature are handed down through generations of print and other media, I would like to suggest using the category of folklore. By that I do not mean redefining them all as some sort of fairy tale. What I mean is that we have to look for a different explanation of their continuing tradition other than that of our ideal concept of literature. To do this I would briefly like to present a theoretical framework.

The well-known structuralist folklore theory of Roman Jakobson was based on a theory of opposition of ‘literature’ and ‘folklore’ as two different traditions determining the passing on or handing down of texts. For Jakobson, ‘folklore’ was the means of transmission of texts within oral cultures, ‘literature’ was that within written ones. This binary concept has been enhanced in recent years to take account of the fact that there can be such a thing as written folklore, a form of written material which conforms, not to the transmissional norms of ‘literature’ but to that of ‘folklore’. Alieda Assmann (1983), who coined the phrase ‘written folklore’, concentrates on five areas of difference between written folklore and literature, which I believe can help us to explore what is actually going on in most of the cases of transmission of children's literature into other cultures and media. Hans-Heino Ewers (1990: 86) was the scholar who discovered the value of the mode of written folklore for describing different forms of children's literature. He does, however, explicitly exclude what he calls the small number of children's classics from this mode.

The first of the five areas of difference is in the openness of the work: whereas ‘literature’ is defined as being composed, complete, finished, written folklore has the character of a compilation, a collection of materials, it is like a quarry, from which pieces can be taken and put together. We could think here of collections of sagas and legends, or of an episodic work like Gulliver's Travels from which different episodes are taken and combined and new ones are added.

The second characteristic is the variant status of the texts: what applied to the openness of the compilation on the level of the whole work, applies also to the text itself, to the words, sentences, paragraphs, etc. There is no canonized adhesion to the order of the words here as there is in ‘literature’, where the impeachability of the wording of the text as a unique expression is a central tenet.

The third area in which the difference can be identified is the question of author and authority. Whereas in the ‘literature’ mode, the author, and only he or she is the originator of the text, the folklore and written folklore modes display an obliteration of the author: what is transmitted is general property, merely given different form in a new version or a compilation. The names of those involved are interchangeable.

The fourth point is that, whereas the continued existence of a literary text is linked with its being conserved as a unique work, that of written folklore is guaranteed by a series of versions which replace one another. The final characteristic is that of the use of the texts. Whereas one of the main features of ‘literature’ is its autonomous status, its lack of practical function in life, folklore is to be found bang in the middle of it. The texts have a use, often a didactic or a social one in initiation, instruction, illustration of skills, knowledge, rituals relevant for everyday life, in other words, they are orientated towards the needs of their readers—also in terms of entertainment.

A case which conforms in almost ideal fashion to all the characteristics of written folklore is that of Robinson Crusoe. Out of a work of literature, a synthesis of economic adventure and an individual story of religious salvation, elements were taken to suit the purposes of the adaptors: it became, shortly after publication in 1719, a model for a series of amazingly popular adventure stories on the continent of Europe: Silesian, Saxon, Islandic, Danish, Austrian, etc. Robinsons were produced in almost epidemic style. Robinson was a household name, his story was varied, compiled from bits of other Robinsonades and later, as we all know, found its way—by means of a recommendation by Rousseau taken up by the German educationalist Joachim Heinrich Campe—into the world of children's literature. In this sphere its usefulness for educational purposes, its character of being constantly rewritten to suit those purposes, the replacement of one version by another—as Elke Liebs (1977) showed in her comprehensive study of Robinson Crusoe in Germany, every generation rewrites their own Robinson—and the lack of importance of the names of the adaptors, the non-sanctity of the original—both in terms of content as well as of style—all these elements show the history of the transmission of Robinson Crusoe to belong to the tradition of written folklore rather than that of literature.

The mode of transmission of the classics of children's literature that is the most dominant one and indeed the only one that applies to adaptations of literature for adults for children—the adaptors and their adaptations replacing one another and disappearing into the fog of history—is the mode of written folklore. It also applies, needless to say, to works of children's literature which themselves have their origin in oral folklore: legends, myths and fairy tales. But it also applies to books written specifically for children when they are translated, edited or adapted in such a way that all that is left is a recognizable character, situation or plot that can be seen as the marketable aspect synonymous with the general idea of what that work is. These transmitted elements, these fictions of fictions that have been removed from their context to become free-floating images or myths can be a type of character: Pippi, the totally autonomous, empowered, independent, superhuman child; it can be a situation: a man alone on a island, faced with the sole task of survival—the only element which various adaptations of Robinson Crusoe have in common; it can be the exciting contrast of a tiny person in a world of huge beings and vice versa, that is what the reduction of Gulliver's Travels has become or it can be a myth of eternal childhood, Peter Pan, or the child in nature who is Heidi and so on. I could go on to name what has become the only common denominator of other classics, but I think it should be clear by now what I mean. This folklore mode is, so I believe, the most dominant one, ensuring the continued presence of these figures in the ‘world republic of childhood’. That the versions in which they appear will differ greatly in terms of composition, content and interpretation has been shown by some examples listed here. They were all, once upon a time, Italian, Swedish, English, Danish or German, the figures who populate what is taken to constitute the international classics of children's literature with the not-so international origins. But, as I have tried to illustrate, they are subject to transformations through which they are supplied with other cultural identities than those of their origin—cultural identity being taken to mean more than the superficialities of what they eat and how they look to include the literary tradition to which they belong and the cultural, ideological and pedagogical norms to which they conform. In this sense we can say that these figures are truly international because they are not fixed. But it should be realized that the international Gulliver, Pinocchio, Alice and the others are the common denominators of every cultural or national version of themselves and that they cannot simultaneously be seen to carry the passport of the land of their origin.


1. Later generations of German translators—and indeed translators into other languages—some naturally more successful than others, have, of course, proven the lie of the ‘untranslatable’ claim.

2. The first English translation was undertaken by Mary Alice Murray: The Story of a Puppet or the Adventures of Pinocchio. London: Fisher Unwin, 1891.

3. They are the play Pinocchio by Yasha Frank which premiered in 1937 and a ‘retelling’ in book form by Roselle Ross (1939) Pinocchio: A Story for Children. Akron, OH: Saalfield.

4. Astrid Lindgren (1969) Pippi Langstrumpf. Deutsch von Cäcilie Heinig. Hamburg. This ‘correction’ is removed in the revised edition of the translation published in 1987. See O'Sullivan, ‘Narratology meets Translation Studies’ in Part 2 of this Reader for further discussion if this example.

5. cf. Mary Ørvig (1981: 229).

6. Such is the accurate subtitle of the book by Charles Frey and John Griffith (1987) The Literary Heritage of Childhood. An Appraisal of Children's Classics in the Western Tradition. Of the 29 authors selected for presentation and discussion in the book, only nine did not write in English: Charles Perrault, Marie le Prince de Beaumont, the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Heinrich Hoffmann, Peter Asbjörnsen and Jörgen Moe, Carlo Collodi and Johanna Spyri.



Baetens, Jan. "Tintin the Untranslatable." Sites: The Journal of 20th-Century Contemporary France 5, no. 2 (fall 2001): 363-71.

Asserts that, despite the numerous translations of Hergé's comic strips that have been released worldwide, the Tintin series remains wholly untranslatable due to the inherent loss of important cultural subtleties when moving between foreign languages.

Joels, Rosie Webb. "Weaving World Understanding: The Importance of Translations in International Children's Literature." Children's Literature in Education 30, no. 1 (March 1999): 65-81.

Explores how the translation of children's literature between cultures promotes internationalism.

Oittinen, Riitta. "On Ethics of Translating for Children." In Children's Literature in Translation: Challenges and Strategies, edited by Jan Van Coillie and Walter P. Verschueren, pp. 35-45. Manchester, England: St. Jerome Publishing, 2006.

Discusses the ethics, morals, and needs involved in the translation of children's works into other languages.

O'Sullivan, Emer. "Rose Blanche, Rose Blanca: A Comparative View of a Controversial Picture Book." Lion and the Unicorn 29, no. 2 (April 2005): 152-70.

Examines the international reception of Roberto Innocenti's Holocaust-themed picture book Rose Blanche as well as how translations of the book reflect national divergences in both expressions of storytelling and cultural requirements.

Stahl, J. D. "Mark Twain's ‘Slovenly Peter’ in the Context of Twain and German Culture." Lion and the Unicorn 20, no. 2 (December 1996): 166-80.

Offers a cultural comparison between Heinrich Hoffmann's original Struwwelpeter and Mark Twain's Americanization of the text, Slovenly Peter.