Translation of Children’s Literature

Translation of Children’s Literature

As a field of study, children’s literature, and translation of children’s literature, in particular, is often sidelined. Translators of children’s books have rarely received the acknowledgment and credit that they deserve. In recent years, research across a number of disciplines has contributed to a rapidly developing knowledge and understanding of the cross-cultural transformation and reception of children’s literature. Many essays were published during the last years, reflecting the challenges and different ways to translate literature works for young readers.

The category of children’s literature combines such different genres as books for preschool children, for teenagers and its translation requires an understanding of the inner world of children and factors, affecting the development of the child. The successful translation of works for children is an exact balance of content, creativity, a simplicity of expression, and a kind of “linguistic liberties”. On the other hand, when translating literature, addressed to the teenage audience, an interpreter must constantly remember the fragility of the teenagers’ imaginary, no longer the children’s one, but not yet the adult’s.

When translating a child’s work, it is necessary to take into account what age it is addressed to in order not to introduce into the text too associative and complicated images, epithets, comparisons, expressions, and so on. This spiritual duality raises the question of what exactly should be considered a children’s literature. Texts, written by adults specifically for children? Texts, written for adults, but readable by children with pleasure as well? Or texts that are read by both adults and children? At different times, the answers to these questions were different. Accordingly, the nature of the “adult-child” relationship has changed. For example, “Robinson Crusoe” and “Gulliver’s Adventures”, originally intended for adult readers, eventually became books for children.

The translator has the full right to clarify artistic details, of course, if this does not damage the author’s style. It happens that individual lines, and sometimes stanzas of the translated text, are difficult to translate by means of the native language. But other images can be strengthened somewhat, preserving the nature of the original source. If necessary, the translator has the right to withdraw from the original text, to omit certain details in the master’s name, or vice versa, to add some details in the name of greater artistic persuasiveness in conveying this principle. He also can expand or shorten the original text, but in all cases with one condition: these deviations should not lead beyond the author’s main idea. The freedom of an interpreter is permissible and even necessary within this imaginative system.Undoubtedly, translators, in order to more accurately reproduce the spirit, the idea, the poetics of the primary source, should avoid the formal and literal exactness, which often leads to the semantic awkwardness. At the same time, it is impossible to deal with the original text too freely. Translation, devoid of the national color of the original source, does not give any idea of the author’s originality and style to the foreign reader.

The fundamental difference between the texts for children and adults is demonstrated by the history of the development of children’s literature as a visual medium of information. Drawings in books add a new dimension to the dynamics of the relationship between the original language and the target language. An important component of the translation of children’s literature is the sound, especially in books for young children, which are usually read aloud by adults. One of the few scientists who studied the influence of syntactic changes on the “readability” of children’s literature was the Finnish linguist Marie Puurtinen. In 1995, she published the results of her research, during which two different translations of “The Wizard of Oz” by L. Baum into Finnish were compared. As it turned out, one of these translations was read aloud much easier, because his style was more dynamic and rhythmic. The sound structure of texts: lullabies, children’s songs, and poetry are of great importance for a child who is still in the process of revealing the secrets and depths of the phonology of his native language. That is why repetitions, rhyme, onomatopoeia, wordplay, nonsense, neologisms, and reproduction of sounds issued by animals are typical features of children’s texts, which require a considerable degree of linguistic creativity on the part of the translator.

One of the first scholars who paid serious attention to the translations of children’s literature was the Swedish linguist Goethe Klingberg, co-founder of the International Society for the Study of Children’s Literature for Children’s Literature Studies (IRSCL). Klingberg was an active opponent of the practice of “the adaptation of the cultural context”: foreign names, words, food, and so on, in texts, created for the children’s audience. He argued that the literary integrity of the work should be preserved as much as possible. However, the views of Klingberg were not recognized by translators and editors who did not believe in the child’s ability to independently assimilate unfamiliar concepts. And in the 1970s, the main trend in the translation of children’s literature was the transition from the principle of equivalence to descriptive methods that focused on the purpose, functions, and status of translation in the target culture.

Recently, the globalization of both the children’s book market and children’s culture, in general, has an impact on translations of literature for children. In particular, the time interval between the publication of the original text and its translations has sharply reduced, which is perfectly illustrated by the history of the Harry Potter series. The globalization also affected the translation of children’s literature. For example, modern translations of children’s literature often use dialect words or slang, which are common for the modern children and youngsters.