Adult vs. Children's Literature Translation

Do they pose the same problems?

Essay, 2012
6 Pages, Grade: A (70%)


Adult vs. Children’s Literature Translation

– do they pose the same Problems?

In her dissertation Thomson-Wohlgemuth argues that ‘there seems to be agreement that the translation problems in texts for adults and for children are, essentially, the same; they can be described using the same concepts and can be arranged in the same categories’ (1998, p. 36).

However, there are a lot of specific translation problems in children’s literature translation which could of course be grouped in broad categories, which also contain similar problems concerning adult texts translation but which have to be handled quiet differently due to target group specific considerations. The following essay will argue this point choosing from a huge range three exemplary categories comprising specific children’s literature translation problems.

Generally it can be argued, that children’s literature translation takes an even greater peripheral position in the polysystem according to Even-Zohar (1990) than adult literature translation. Thus it can be derived, that the translator’s aim in children’s literature translation is to create a translation which can be perceived as an original of the target culture implying a greater liberty to domesticate the language as well as the content juxtaposed to adult literature translations (Shavit, 2006, p. 26). Nevertheless, these kinds of generalized statements will always have exceptions, because the term ‘children’s literature’ also comprises texts for teenagers, as well as young adults on the threshold to adulthood. This indicates that there is a fluent interim between the two genres meaning that children’s literature translations aimed at an older audience will already be quite similar to adult literature translation concerning translation problems.

Outside this grey zone of the two genres there are translation problems which have to be handled with specific care in children’s literature translation due to its status and function.

A translation problem category which poses a far greater problem in children’s literature than in adult literature arecultural embedded elements. While in adult literaturenormsthat contradict the target culture can usually simply be part of a foreignised translation (there are of course exceptions especially concerning translations for devoutly target cultures) this is not the case in children’s literature.

This is due to the fact, that children’s literature belongs both to the literary system, as well as to the educational system in the polysystem (O’Connell, 2006, p. 17), because its function is not only to entertain, i.e. have an emotional, creative, divertive and/or aesthetic function (van Coillie and Verschueren, 2006, p. 124), but also to instruct and educate, i.e. have an informative and formative function (van Coillie and Verschueren, 2006). As literature for a younger audience in majority has a social-educational element, translators have to check and maybe adapt the conveyed source culture norms so that they do not contradict the norms of the target culture (Toury, 1995). This for instance has been done concerning elements of perceived blasphemy, sexuality, gender roles and all body-functions in the translations of theKinder und Hausmärchen(Houshold Tales) into English in the nineteenth century (Seago, 2008).

A further translation problem that falls into the category of cultural embedded elements arenames. In children’s literature translation, the translation of names can be quite demanding due to two main reasons.

Firstly, proper fictional source text names are likely to foreignise translations, because they are culturally marked (Nord, 2003, p. 184). As the knowledge of a child and its ability to comprehend increase with its age, so does its ability to tolerate the foreign in a text. Therefore teenagers and adolescents might enjoy a certain degree of foreign elements in literature, while young children prefer texts that have been tailored to their level of (language) knowledge, i.e. texts that provide effortless readability for them, and that have been domesticated which means that not only for instance material culture elements like food (Newmark, 1988) have been replaced by familiar target culture terms but also ‘exotic’ proper names (Nord, 2003, p.185). This is why in some of the German translations of Alice in Wonderland the character names have been changed from e.g. ‘Dinah’ (English) to the – in that time – more typical German name ‘Suse’ (Nord, 2003).

However, there are also academics who argue that texts should not be domesticated so drastically and that even young children are capable to comprehend and enjoy foreign elements in stories (Epstein, 2010). Hence, it might be argued that it depends on the attitude of the intermediating groups, i.e. the translators, the editors and the parents (Reiß, 1982, pp. 7ff, quoted in Thomson-Wohlgemuth, 1998, p. 38), whether proper names in children’s literature are more problematic than in adult literature translation.

Nevertheless, secondly, children’s literature contrasting adult literature contains a huge range of fictional meaningful names (Dollerup, 2003) like ‘Mrs May’ inThe Borrowerswhich pose a greater problem to the translator than proper names. Even though the same techniques can be applied as in adult literature translation of names, for instance adaptation, substitution, etc. (Nord, 2003, p. 194), the translator has to render such names with more awareness and care in order to maintain the characterizing meaning as well as additional elements such as sound, allusions or similar connected features. The difficulty this poses becomes obvious when considering the translation of ‘Cheshier Cat’. The German translation ‘Edamer Katze’ (‘Edam Cat’) does no longer allude to the picture of the grinning cat of the cheshier brand (Nord, 2003).


Excerpt out of 6 pages


Adult vs. Children's Literature Translation
Do they pose the same problems?
City University London  (School of Arts)
A (70%)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
455 KB
children's literature translation, translation, children's literature, cultural embedded elements, literature, domestication, foreignization, read-aloud-ability, visual elements
Quote paper
Dörte Schabsky (Author), 2012, Adult vs. Children's Literature Translation, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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