Wednesday, 9 January 2013

What is equivalence for children?

I never thought before starting the MA in literary translation about translation so much. It literally invaded my life! I cannot read a book or the newspaper, watch a film or tell a story from France without thinking about domestication, adequacy or equivalence. I cannot help myself thinking: ‘This does not work.’… ‘They did that well.’… ‘What would be the best way to translate this?’ or ‘What theory is behind that?’ And I realised that translation theories could be applied not only to literary translation but also to every communicational instruments. That realization stroked me, when I thought about people in France who spend their lives surrounded by translation results; about one book published out of six is a translation and most of the films, programs and adverts of television are dubbed, but they do not really think about it or realise it. I personally think that being able to translate is opening a door on a new writer, a new story, a new style to another culture and other people.

I would like to discuss a translation I have done myself for the MA. The book I translated into French was the children’s book The very hungry caterpillar by Eric Carle. I came across several issues with this translation. What theory should I work with? Children’s literature is different from the rest of literature; it is addressed to a very specific audience, with particular needs. Children do not care in what language and what culture the book is from, so I decided to go for a translation following the principal of dynamic equivalence. As Eugene Nida explained in his essay ‘Principles of correspondence’, ‘the relationship between receptor and message should be substantially the same as that which existed between the original receptor and the message.’ The story must seem as natural for the readers of the target text as it is for the readers of the source text.

So my first issue was the fact that the caterpillar in the original version is a male caterpillar that becomes a butterfly. The problem was that in French noun have an already predetermine gender and in that case, caterpillar in French is feminine ‘une chenille’ and a butterfly is masculine ‘ un papillon’. I remembered as a kid making the association between the gender of the signifier and the representation I was making of the signified, so ‘une chenille’ in my head was a girl, and ‘un papillon’ was a boy. Because the butterfly is used only once in the whole book and the story is actually about the caterpillar, I decided to change the original male caterpillar into a female caterpillar. I thought it would be more relevant or familiar for children.

The second concern I had was with the listing of food there is at a point in the story, the caterpillar in the source text goes through a lot of different types of food that are quite common for French people but I thought that some changes would be needed in order to make it sound natural for a French child without changing the illustrations. So the aliments I changed even though the words are known and used in French are ‘salami’ and ‘cupcake’. I know these words as an adult but I was not sure that every child would know them. So I replaced them by words close to the original ones but words that I was sure children would know better. I used ‘saucisson’ (which is a type of dry sausage very famous in France) for ‘salami’ and ‘muffin’ (even though it is an English word it is commonly used in France) for ‘cupcake’.  The other touch I thought would make the children go ‘I know that’ was to add ‘de Strasbourg’ (from Strasbourg) behind ‘sausage’ as ‘les saucisses de Strasbourg’, which are a famous specialty from that city that kids often have in canteens.

Even though I took liberties for these examples, I tried to stay as close as possible to the original with the idea always in the back of my mind that children do not really care if it is a translation or not, they just want to hear a nice story with which they feel familiar and comfortable. This is the reason why I thought dynamic equivalence would be the best solution for this translation.

Charlotte Laruelle translates from English into French, currently studying for the MA in literary translation at UEA. Can be contacted at

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Sorry, What Was Your Name? Translation Theory and the Translation of Chinese Names to English.

Chinese names are problematic in English literature. They often have meanings that are easily identifyable to the Chinese reader, whereas this does not occur so much with English names. They can also be difficult to pronounce for those who are not familiar with pinyin. They then present an even larger issue for literary translation as they get repeated so much, and can be connected to other elements of narratives such as naming ceremonies or word plays. Looking at Cognitive stylistics on the MA in Literary Translation course at the UEA, has helped me see how the translation of names may work, in theory.

When aproaching the theory and practice of translating literature, one idea strikes me as particularily crucial to understanding what happens. This was put forward by Roman Jakobson, and it is the idea that 'languages differs essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey.' This is a haunting idea in terms of translating languages. I work on translating Chinese literature into English, and this idea haunts the decisions which I must make about how to express exciting literary features of a Chinese text in English. Chinese does not have articles, gerunds, plural noun forms or tenses displayed through verb forms, but English does. Whilst a Chinese text may convey the meanings of such grammatical structures, it often doesn't need to, whereas in English the text must explicate these aspects. Most of the time the situation of the text, especially in prose texts,  gives an indication of what tense or article should be used. However, the translation of names presents another issue of what is explicated in the Chinese, but what is not obvious to the readers of English from the sound of the Chinese names.

《射雕英雄传》(She Diao Ying Xiong Zhuan -The Eagle Shooting Heroes/ The Legend of the Condor Heroes) Is a Kung Fu classic in Chinese literature. It is currently being translated online, and I recommend anyone take a look at it. It is an exciting novel about the interweaving and action-packed lives of kung fu masters in ancient China, and to me the online translation project of it is just as exciting. The issues of the translation of character names, though, is an interesting one in terms of Chinese-English translation. Even translating the Author is interesting; should I use the English 'Louis Cha' or pinyin 'Jin Yong'? The meaning of Chinese names is often a lot more obvious than it is in English names. Therefore linguistically, one must consider for the purpose of translation what 'must' the names say, and what 'may' the names say. Below is an example in which a key character is introduced in the novel;

Zhe wei shi Yang Tie Xin Yang xiong di.
This is Yang Tiexin, brother Yang.

The Chinese character's name is Yang Tie Xin, in Chinese, but will this do in English? The literal meaning of the name is (poplar) (Iron) (heart). This meaning of these characters in this character's name is available clearly to the reader of the Chinese, so it can be argued that the names should be translated by meaning. One way of looking at this issue, and perhaps trying to solve the problem, is to consider the notions of foreignisation and domestication, as explored by Lawrence Venuti, and make a decision according to the principles of the translator. This is problematic as both translations of 'Yang Tiexin' and 'Poplar Ironheart' are perhaps so unusual as English language names, that they would be foreignising (calling attention to the foreign elements of the text within the target language). I believe, however, that the way to look at this problem, and the way which is perhaps more useful to allow communication between the two drastically different languages of Chinese and English, is to consider the cognitive effects of the style of the text, and in this instance the names.

The arguments about the cognitive effects of language on the reader, as explored by Ernst Gutt, suggests that when translating areas such as this, it is important to consider the processing cost of the target language, in this case the way that the names are written in English. Keeping the names with the pinyin would make the words clear as names, therefore the reader would not need to connect the words deeply to their understanding of their names in reference to English lexis, so this would involve a relatively low processing cost. However, if the character's name were to be translated as 'Poplar Ironheart', then the name would involve the reader in the process of associating the character with the elements and images related to the English language.So this would involve a relatively high processing cost.

Looking at such translation issues in this way allows the translator to think of what the processing cost will be to the reader of the target text; so that they can translate according to what they believe will be the processing cost of the target text in comparison to the processing cost of the source text. As the name in translation of 'Yang Tiexin' involves a relatively low processing cost, which it would to the Chinese reader as it would be taken as a name first before a series of connected meanings, and as the novel is wide spread in popular culture, so demanding a high processing cost over the reading of a name would be antagonist to the source text's popularity, it is perhaps the better choice of translation. Throughout this process the reader is then haunted with this idea; What is the name saying in Chinese, that I 'may' say in English, and what is it saying that I 'must' say? This idea is perhaps so haunting, at least to me, because maintaining the style, in cognitive terms, often means obscuring some of the interesting lexis from the target text. Translating often involves such an engagement with the source text that, as a translator, my instinct is  to celebrate its complex lexis, and even interesting functional language, and favouring one thing over another is often frustrating. However, by understanding more about these theories of translation, I can see that the translation of names, especially from Chinese to English, is no simple matter. And the pronounciation of Chinese names for non-reader or speakers of Chinese pinyin, is also not easy, but I shall leave it there. What was the man's name again...? Yang...?

Thomas Newell translates from Chinese into English, and is currently a studying for an MA in Literary Translation at the UEA as well as an interning for Arc Publications. Contact