6. Transgressing cultural borders. Controversial Swedish nonfiction picturebooks in Polish translations
- Side: 80-94
- DOI: https://doi.org/10.18261/9788215042459-2021-07
- Publisert på Idunn: 2021-02-23
- Publisert: 2021-02-23
- Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
The chapter discusses three Swedish nonfiction picturebooks published in Poland: Bajsboken (1997) and Dödenboken (1999) by Pernilla Stalfelt, and Lilla snippaboken (2004) by Dan Höjer and Gunilla Kvarnström. The predominant aims of the study are to investigate the translations and to determine whether the norms of the target culture led to purifications of the iconotexts, and to answer the question of whether the translation of nonfiction picturebooks differs from the translation of fiction picturebooks.Keywords: Swedish nonfiction picturebooks, Polish translation, cultural norms, taboo, purification
Nonfiction picturebooks1I use the term alternately with information/al picturebooks. seem to have been an overlooked area of research for some years, which is explicitly expressed by Nikola von Merveldt (2018) when discussing this kind of literature in The Routledge companion to picturebooks: “Given the importance of informational books in general and informational picturebooks in particular in publishing, libraries, and schools, it is rather striking that scholarship on the topic is scarce and scattered” (p. 241). A similar observation might be made about translating nonfiction picturebooks, although recently several important contributions on translation of picturebooks have been published. In the latest monograph, Translating picturebooks. Revoicing the verbal, the visual, and the aural for a child audience (Oittinen, Ketola & Garavini, 2018), there is only one mention of nonfiction with reference to the strict rules of punctuation in the Finnish language in this kind of literature (p. 65). Interestingly, even though subchapter 4.5 discusses travel books, predominantly nonfictional, this term is not used, and the books’ informational aspect is not emphasized. Also, one cannot find any remarks about specific aspects of translating this category of picturebooks.
Hence one of the goals of this study is to contribute to this slightly neglected area of research with an analysis of Polish translations of three Swedish nonfiction picturebooks. The first one, Bajsboken (The poo book) by Pernilla Stalfelt from 1997, was translated by Iwona Jędrzejewska in 2008 and called Mała książka o kupie (The little book about poo). The second one, Dödenboken (The death book) from 1999 by the same author-illustrator also had the same translator in Poland, where it was issued in 2008 with the title Mała książka o śmierci (The little book about death). The third, Lilla snippaboken (The little pussy book) from 2004, written by Dan Höjer and illustrated by Gunilla Kvarnström, appeared in the Polish translation by Elza Jaszczuk in 2010 as Wielka księga cipek (The big pussy book). All these titles were published in Poland in the first decade of the 21st century, by the publishing house Czarna Owca (Black Sheep), as part of the Polish series “Without taboo”. When starting the series in 2007, the publisher wrote on the website explicitly that he wanted to take up issues considered as embarrassing and controversial (Dymel-Trzebiatowska, 2012, p. 307), and generally the project was supposed to be provocative for traditional Polish society. The titles by Stalfelt were bestsellers in Sweden, targeted at 3–9-year-olds, whereas in Poland their marketing description either did not include the age specification or suggested school age. The original Lilla snippaboken addresses older children, between 9 and 12 years old, and its translations omit the precise age of implied readers, suggesting that it is a book for teenagers.
As the books deal with controversial issues, they provide suitable data to reflect whether norms of the target culture led to purifications of the iconotexts.2The observation that controversial picturebooks are exposed to a higher risk of manipulation has been confirmed by many scholars. See for example remarks (Evans, 2015, pp. 67–69) included in Challenging and Controversial Picturebooks. Creative and Critical Responses to Visual Texts (2015). I understand purification, after Göte Klingberg (1986), as a change of an ideological nature, whose aim is to “get the target text in correspondence with the set of values of its readers – or rather in correspondence with the supposed set of values of those who feel themselves responsible for the upbringing of the intended readers: parents, teachers, librarians, critics” (p. 58). In turn, the concept of norms I employ in line with Gideon Toury (2012), who considered them to be a kind of “tool-kit”, not exactly strategies for actions themselves but rather convictions shared by a community that give rise to such strategies: “A long as a distinction is retained between what is culturally appropriate and what is inappropriate, there will be a need for ‘instructions’ to guide the persons-in-culture on their performance” (p. 63). He stated that the norms may exist without being ever verbalized.
Furthermore, I want to investigate whether the translation of nonfiction picturebooks differs from the translation of fiction picturebooks. Methodologically, I will conduct a comparative analysis of selected passages of the source and target iconotexts, referring to relevant concepts within picturebook studies, translation studies (TS), children’s literature translation studies (CLTS), and a theory of translating picturebooks. Furthermore, I employ the term aporia in the Derridean theorization. Without delving into philosophical intricacies, I understand that the principal goal of aporia is to “indicate a point of undecidability, which locates the site at which the text most obviously undermines its own rhetorical structure, dismantles, or deconstructs itself” (Harmon, 2009, p. 39). Readers are delivered two conflicting messages, and the condition of possibility (the existence of a translated text) becomes a condition of impossibility (a comprehension of its sense, since an a priori assumption of a reader is to understand a text in rational terms).
General Remarks on the Employed Translation Strategies
Already at first glance it can be observed that the Polish titles have changed the scale of the discussed problems – whereas poo and death are presented in the source text (ST) culture simply in ‘books’, in Poland they were transformed into ‘little books’, suggesting either their format or little implied readers. By contrast, the original ‘little book about pussies’, regarded presumably as a minor issue in the source text milieu, was changed into a big one in the target text (TT) culture, stressing the importance of the topic.
The verbal narratives in Dödenboken and Bajsboken were on the whole domesticated – for example all the characters were renamed – and the translator apparently aimed at retaining the comical tone of the originals. Humour is undoubtedly a vital quality of Stalfelt’s series and, as von Merveldt (2018) points out, one of the distinctive qualities of recent informational picturebooks employing a wide range of artistic styles and media (p. 235). Both of them have the same format and lay-out, with a predominance of brightly coloured images, again fulfilling the principle that modern information picturebooks are “visually conceptualized rather than textually” (von Merveldt, 2018, p. 235). The books were not – as it is nowadays mostly practiced in Western culture – re-illustrated, which caused some translation problems, since the image-word interplay was difficult, or in some cases even impossible, to re-express in its full extent. The books are interesting examples as on the one hand they discuss general human topics but on the other, they refer – in particular, in the visual representation – to some culture- and source language-specific items. Therefore, they seem both to have a typically factual, internationally accessible character, and to embed the narrative in more idiosyncratic examples. Consequently, they evade normative suggestions within CLTS, as for example those of Torben Weinreich (1978), who distinguished between two kinds of books, namely: “1. books which describe a local milieu with specific characteristics and 2. books which above all aim to describe universal human conditions” (p. 155), which should be accordingly treated when translated, foreignized or adapted/naturalized. Stalfelt’s way of narrating combines these two modes and its translators have to work out their own methods to deal with her books.
Culture-Specific References in Translation of Iconotexts
Having compared the source and target iconotexts, it can be concluded that the most significant shifts occurred in the places which contain specific culture-bound references, both in word and picture. When, for example in Dödenboken there are featured alternatives of afterlife, the verbal narrator ponders a reincarnation-like possibility of becoming a bird (doublespread 5). The illustration, in an expanding relation to the text, depicts a flying blue bird with a speech bubble over its head, filled with the text “Här kommer Pippi Tjolahopp Tjolahej” (Here comes Pippi…) – a slightly altered passage of a famous song by Pippi Longstocking from the film version, easily recognizable within ST culture, independently of the readers’ age. This intertext is neutralized in translation by “Oto ja hopsasa hopsasa” (That is me hopsasa hopsasa), supposedly due to the foreign – in the translator’s opinion – content to the child reader.
The neutralization of a subtle comical effect can also be observed in Bajsboken (doublespread 7), when the verbal narrative informs in TT about transporting poo from a privy in dassbilen (the privy car), driven by a special person, dassgubbe (the privy guy), with symmetrical pictures on each side. Neither term is a sanctioned word in the Swedish lexicon and there is a fairly clear association with the similar sounding glassbilen (the ice cream truck) and possibly glassgubben (the ice cream seller).3Furthermore, glassgubben is a well-known symbol of the popular Swedish ice-cream brand GB. This is a clown figure and this subtle allusion can be detected in the image of the dassgubben, who is wearing a pointed dwarf-like cap. The TT renditions changed the first word into specjalny samochód (a special car), whereas the other was deleted and substituted with a question “Co się dzieje?” (What is going on?) related to another image. The subtle web of puns and connotations in the TT was totally left out without any traces of the creative transformation.
Another cultural-specific relation, this time involving the pictorial representation, occurs in Dödenboken in the description of funeral customs. The text conveys the message that if somebody cannot visit a grave, they can light a candle and think about the dead, but if they do not have a candle it can be a sparkler. This additional option has a distinctly humoristic function, typical of the book – presumably to lessen the grief which a child can feel at this stage of reading. The Swedish word for sparkler, tometebloss, is a compound noun, containing two lexemes tomte (Father Christmas) and bloss (torch). Semantic wordplay, consisting in literal interpretation of the separate words, was employed in the image which renders Father Christmas holding a sparkler in his hand and thinking about a baked pig – depicted visually in a thought bubble (see Fig. 6.1). The Polish text omitted the word sparkler: “Jeśli nie mamy zwykłej świeczki, możemy zapalić świeczkę świąteczną” (If we do not have an ordinary candle, we can light a Christmas candle). An observant TT reader cannot understand why Father Christmas’ sparkler is called a Christmas candle, and worse yet, why he is thinking about a pig with an apple in its snout and a cross above. This illustration is highly mysterious and unclear for TT readers, even experienced ones, as it refers not only to the wordplay but also to the Swedish custom of eating a baked pig at Christmas. It is additionally bewildering since in Poland Father Christmas comes on Christmas Eve – a day of fasting, which in practice means eating a lot but not meat. It is also noteworthy that the cross over the animal, hinting it is dead, is inappropriate in Catholic cultures, where this holy symbol is reserved exclusively for humans. However, as mentioned above, all the images in the translated books were retained in the original form even if they led to evident misunderstandings.
This is unfortunately not the only example where messages in the visual and the verbal create a feeling of confusion, but as far as the above-mentioned problems were caused by the language differences (servitude), the following examples are evidently the translator’s choices (options).4When employing the terms servitude and option I refer to Vinay and Darbelnet’s model (referred in Munday, 2016, pp. 93–94). Except for the famous seven-shift taxonomy, the French scholars introduce a vital parameter of translation: a difference between servitude and option, where the first one stands for obligatory shifts imposed by differences in two language systems, and the other refers to non-obligatory changes, due to the translator’s own style and preference. In Dödenboken, while discussing possible family conflict brought about by a will, the author presents visually – again in a funny manner – two figures tearing a little spotted horse apart. One of them says in a dialogue bubble: “Hon lovade mig Brunte”, where Brunte is a popular Swedish name designating a brown horse. The TT version, “Przecież ja miałem dostać Burka” (I was supposed to get Burek), employed the Polish name Burek, unequivocally suggesting that the object at issue is a dog. Its choice was automatically determined by the phonetic resemblance between Brunte and Burek, without considering the pictorial message.
The next example from Bajsboken is particularly interesting as it involves interference with both the verbal and the visual, which is quite rare and equally baffling. When readers are informed what happens to the poo when it is flushed down a toilet, the ST narrator states: “åker bajset iväg genom ett rör i väggen och ut till reningsverkets bassäng” (the poo goes down along a pipe and out to the purification plant’s pool). The TT information is amazingly altered to: “Kupa znika w rurze i wędruje do morza” (The poo disappears in a pipe and goes to the sea). The message sounds unequivocal: the poo goes to the sea as if a purification system did not exist in Poland. Furthermore, the interpretation that this substitution was forced by some – though difficult to guess – language reasons is excluded, as the picture beneath is also manipulated. In the ST the verbal message is reinforced here, as before in a comical convention, showing an anthropomorphic poo-sausage-character swimming with a colourful cap on the head in the brown water. In the TT picture the figure is not changed but the water is clearly blue, in line with the verbal message about swimming in the sea (Fig. 6.2). In this particular case it is really difficult to guess a reasonable justification for this double verbal and visual shift.
Ideological Purification and Aporia
While the first two discussed books are abundantly illustrated and targeted at younger children, Lilla snippaboken differs from them in at least three ways: an older implied readership, its volume, and a predominance of text. However, the book is composed of iconotext and the images play in it a significant role. The books exemplify a rare practice – it was issued in two versions: one ordinary, and one – which is indicated by a small strap on the front cover – censored. It is noteworthy as such overt manifestation of censorship does not take place frequently nowadays.
After a close reading, a pivotal change in the TT’s censored version concerns one image which in the ST portrays a crucified woman, illustrating a verbal narrative about God’s gender. It was substituted with an image of anthropomorphic vaginas, which occurs at another place of the book (Figs. 6.3 and 6.4). This purification may be interpreted as an effect of target-culture norms rooted in Catholicism, the dominant religion in Poland.
As regards the verbal, it is generally domesticated in the translation of the book, but its fluency in reading is disrupted when the narrator discusses language issues. As a representative example we can take a presentation of a Swedish initiative to introduce a neutral, non-vulgar word designating a vagina. The ST is fully coherent and logical when it states that: the new chosen name was snäppa (stint); fitta (cunt) means a wetland; because snäppa designates a little shore bird, RFSU5RFSU – Riksförbundet for sexuell upplysning (the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education). The name of the organization and its goals are explained in a footnote of the TT before. decided it would be an appropriate word instead; after a while some ornithologists got upset and demanded a change of the name; RFSU had wanted to “purify” the word fitta for long; this is why, now when RFSU employees talk about sex in schools, they use words like kuk (cock), fitta (cunt), snopp (dick) and snippa (pussy).
The TT Polish young teenagers can read here a rather complex text:
Tym słowem okazała się nazwa ptaszka zamieszkującego bagna: snäppa. Cipa jest starym słowem, po szwedzku oznacza tereny podmokłe i błonia. Snäppa jest małym ptakiem i dlatego w RFSU uznano, że idealnie wpisze się w kontekst. Radość ze znalezienia godnego zastępstwa dla cipy nie trwała jednak długo, gdyż wkrótce oburzeni ornitolodzy zażądali zmiany terminu. Dlatego pracownicy RFSU postanowili pozbawić słowo cipa wulgarnej konotacji i obraźliwego wydźwięku. Obecnie, gdy opowiadają o seksie w szkołach, używają takich słów jak: cipka, penis czy cipa właśnie. (Höjer & Kvarnström, 2010, p. 38)
(It turned out to be a name of a bird living in the marshland: snäppa. Cipa is an old word, which in Swedish means a wetland or a mire. Snäppa is a small bird, and this is why RFSU decided it would function perfectly in the context. The joy over a proper replacement for cipa did not last long as outraged ornithologists demanded a change of the term. Therefore, RFSU employees decided to purify the word of vulgar connotations and an offensive tone. Now, when they talk about sex in schools, they use words like cipka, penis or just cipa.)66My literal translation [H.D.T].
The original differs significantly, since all the facts about the etymology of the words and their meanings are true and correctly embedded in the Swedish context. The TT readers get in turn a mix of incomprehensive information: cipa is an old word which in Sweden means a wetland; snäppa is a small bird and this is why it would be suitable in the context; the Swedish organization RFSU uses Polish words while teaching about sex at schools. The confusion results from an attempt of maintaining a previous make-believe of a native context. Suddenly, the idiosyncratic nature of Swedish language ruins it and contributes to the Derridean aporia. The translation, which had so far successfully kept weaving a net of illusion of being original, suddenly disclosed itself. It led to a state of puzzlement experienced by a perplexed reader who is given two contradictory instructions – one delivered by the TT, and the other by lexicons and language practice. The text in the books argues, for example, that cipa means a wetland and is an old Swedish word whereas official dictionaries list it as a Polish vulgarism designating a female sex organ, and having an onomatopoeic origin – cip, cip, the call of hens.
The above-mentioned examples from Dödenboken and Bajsboken can also be interpreted as translational aporias. In some cases, this “no-crossing situation” was embodied, as in Lilla snippaboken in language, and in the others – what is of particular interest for picturebook research – in word-image interplay. The conflict of meaning derives from contradictory messages in the verbal and the visual, and this aporia is a result of negligence of a fundamental principle of translation of picturebooks. It has become almost customary to maintain that to understand the picturebook translation means to understand an intricate interplay of words and images (e.g. Oittinen, 2000, p. 100; Oittinen & Gonzales, 2008; Oittinen et al., 2018; O’Sullivan, 2005, p. 102; Rhedin, 2004, p. 138). Translators are particularly important readers since it is just their interpretation that is re-expressed and experienced by a plenitude of TT recipients:
The translators of picturebooks start their task as readers. The multimodal composition of the source text invites them to oscillate between the verbal text and the illustrations. They reinterpret the verbal based on their interpretation of the illustrations, and they reinterpret the illustrations based on their perception of the verbal text. The translators’ thorough reading process involves studying the story various times, which, indeed, is a prerequisite for an adequate interpretation of how the modes combine to create the story. (Oittinen et al., 2018, p. 31)
Unfortunately, as the above-discussed examples prove, the focused reading process seems to have been overlooked in some cases. The shifts which occurred in the analysed corpus can be roughly categorized as:
servitude, caused by differences in the Swedish and Polish language systems and cultures, pertaining predominantly to the verbal: Pippi song (covert), a privy car (covert), snäppa / pussy origin (overt)
servitude, caused by differences in the Swedish and Polish language systems, and conflicting with the visual: tomtebloss/Father Christmas sparkler (overt)
option, discrepancies in verbal and visual information: Bunte (overt)
option, visual manipulations: the image of anthropomorphic vaginas instead of the crucified woman (covert); the blue sea water instead of the brown in a purification plant’s pool (covert)
As seen above, the TT changes, classified as servitude, i.e. imposed by the language and culture differences, are not the only ones, as there are many optional manipulations, too. The ones generating aporia do not concern exclusively language, but what is of particular interest for picturebook studies, affect the word-image relation (for example, Father Christmas sparkler or Bunte). Some of the shifts were labelled above as covert and are disclosed only by comparing the ST with the TT, whereas the others which are described as overt can lead to potential aporias. The aporetic situations, specific for picturebooks, come into being when the message in the illustration conflicts with the verbal, and, which should be emphasized, this is not the case of counterpoint. This dynamic interplay between the verbal and the visual was defined long ago as creative, opposed to the more passive symmetrical and complementary ones. As Nikolajeva and Scott (2001) pointed out, “as soon as words and images provide alternative information or contradict each other in some way, we have a variety of readings and interpretations” (p. 17). The child readers/observers are then made to ponder, wonder, ask questions and, for example, learn irony and ambiguity. The translational aporia lacks this imaginative, positive feature, which is mostly replaced by confusion.7Further, Nikolajeva and Scott add that a similar effect can also occur while reading a source iconotext. The contradiction between text and picture can create confusion and ambiguity as a result of “the kind of contradiction that arises from a mismatch of text and image, which might be due to an author and illustrator who do not work as a team, to a series of illustrators for a single text, or a series of authors for a series of illustrations” (Nikolajeva & Scott, 2001, p. 30).
Regarding the translation of nonfiction, there is proportionally little research around this issue within TS – exactly as in the case of informational picturebooks – and translation studies focus either on literary or non-literary translation, exploring nonfiction sporadically. One of the monographs which includes more pragmatic, yet very synthetic, observations on this topic is Literary translation: A practical guide by Clifford Landers (2001), who argues that translators of nonfiction enjoy several advantages:
[…] use of footnotes is not a deterrent, allowing the translator to point out any problem words or phrases and explain cultural contexts; the tone of the work usually remains constant, maintaining a single voice throughout; factual content is normally more important than style (although the latter cannot be ignored); often, a translator’s foreword is permissible, providing a wider latitude for explanation of the translational choices made; and especially long, multivolume works are frequently divided among two or more translators, which reduces the length of time one must devote to a single project […] (p. 103)
The insights disregard the specific character of nonfiction picturebooks, which are not long and divided among translators; do not include footnotes of any kind; and, as mentioned above, they employ a wide range of artistic styles and media, making their tone diverse and ranking their style as high as the content. Concerning translators’ forewords, they are not forbidden, yet as all paratexts atypical, as they can disturb the book’s thoughtful artistic composition. Once again, these books elude previous, such as Torben Weinreich’s, conclusions, proving to be an exceptionally hybrid and dynamic form.
As regards the first aim of the study, the TT norms in the first decade of the 21st century turned out to be surprisingly lenient. It could have been expected that the norms of the liberal, broad-minded Scandinavia with its gender equality and egalitarianism might easily clash with those of the more restrictive, conservative Catholic culture in Poland. Nevertheless, the substitution of the image of a crucified woman when discussing Jesus’ gender can only be classified as strictly ideological purification – forced by political or religious reasons. But even here the readers are explicitly informed about the censorship and given an opportunity of using the uncensored version. Basically, the comparative close reading of Bajsboken and Dödenboken has not revealed any essential ideological, i.e. of religious or political origin, manipulations, which can be explained by the fact that they, overall, feature contentious topics and if they followed the restrictive target-culture norms8In contemporary Poland there is a clear-cut polarization of values and convictions: the presumably predominant (based on the election results) ones are conservative and nationalistic, whereas the liberal and cosmopolitan are represented by the political opposition. It started more or less at the time the books were translated, though then the political situation was overall reverse: the government and the overall “political climate” were more liberal whereas the opposition was conservative. their translation would probably involve total reductions and would not make sense.
However, another interesting set of the TT norms can be observed – of pedagogical or educational character. As the analyses proved, the TT readers were assessed as less competent and consequently were protected from some information. Moreover, translating for children was not regarded as requiring an appropriate background – numerous aporetic situations in the target texts indicate that a fundamental prerequisite of picturebook translation, a focused iconotextual reading, was neglected by both the translator and the editor.
All in all, it is impossible to comprehensively list the specific qualities of translating nonfiction picturebooks, and the universal theory on translation of picturebooks pertains to them. But as the analysed examples illustrate, wordplays, idioms or explanations of words’ etymology, which a priori cause translational problems, are frequently found in these picturebooks. Furthermore, it can also be assumed that the probability of occurrence of culture-bound (not only source culture) references will be greater in such books due to their informational character. It must be concluded that these two facts, complicated by the intricate interplay of unchangeable images, make the translation process of nonfiction picturebooks particularly challenging and its final result particularly exposed to aporias.
|1||I use the term alternately with information/al picturebooks.|
|2||The observation that controversial picturebooks are exposed to a higher risk of manipulation has been confirmed by many scholars. See for example remarks (Evans, 2015, pp. 67–69) included in Challenging and Controversial Picturebooks. Creative and Critical Responses to Visual Texts (2015).|
|3||Furthermore, glassgubben is a well-known symbol of the popular Swedish ice-cream brand GB. This is a clown figure and this subtle allusion can be detected in the image of the dassgubben, who is wearing a pointed dwarf-like cap.|
|4||When employing the terms servitude and option I refer to Vinay and Darbelnet’s model (referred in Munday, 2016, pp. 93–94). Except for the famous seven-shift taxonomy, the French scholars introduce a vital parameter of translation: a difference between servitude and option, where the first one stands for obligatory shifts imposed by differences in two language systems, and the other refers to non-obligatory changes, due to the translator’s own style and preference.|
|5||RFSU – Riksförbundet for sexuell upplysning (the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education). The name of the organization and its goals are explained in a footnote of the TT before.|
|6||6My literal translation [H.D.T].|
|7||Further, Nikolajeva and Scott add that a similar effect can also occur while reading a source iconotext. The contradiction between text and picture can create confusion and ambiguity as a result of “the kind of contradiction that arises from a mismatch of text and image, which might be due to an author and illustrator who do not work as a team, to a series of illustrators for a single text, or a series of authors for a series of illustrations” (Nikolajeva & Scott, 2001, p. 30).|
|8||In contemporary Poland there is a clear-cut polarization of values and convictions: the presumably predominant (based on the election results) ones are conservative and nationalistic, whereas the liberal and cosmopolitan are represented by the political opposition. It started more or less at the time the books were translated, though then the political situation was overall reverse: the government and the overall “political climate” were more liberal whereas the opposition was conservative.|