Translation is by all means a process which aims at cross-cultural transference of sense and messages. It is a specific type of communication which aims at throwing a bridge between the source culture, which is responsible for generating the text for translation; and the target culture, whose aim is to prepare its receivers for the text that is to come in the form of a translated variant. In the middle of this bridge stands the translator, who is balancing the two ends – he is tightly holding the bridge’s ropes and his job is further complicated by the difference not only in the two languages which he has to master in order to succeed, but also in cultural framework, which has to be very delicately touched upon in order for the translation to be accepted as a reliable and good text.
Very often the cultural element of the target language plays its role on the translation, thus altering the original culture’s aim – and this is inevitable, because if the translator wants to be a reliable chronicler, so to say, he has to adopt this “new” culture and all its peculiarities and problems, in order to be able to strengthen the above-mentioned bridge. And what is more, a society can play nasty tricks upon the translator’s mind – for example, in the post-war European countries, which were within the Iron curtain, it was considered almost a high treason to speak or promote anything that had come from the Western civilization. In the following paper, I would briefly touch upon this subject, because I think it is very important when it comes to translating a text from a different culture and I will also highlight the changes it brings to the translated text and how the culture at which the text is aimed, accepts and alters it.
When we speak of culture as a basic unit in the translation theory, we just cannot go without mentioning the Cultural Turn that Translation studies underwent in 1990. We associate this ‘turn’ with the names of Susan Bassnett and André Lefevere, one of the most outstanding and renowned translation studies scholars. In their opinion, “neither the word, nor the text, but the culture becomes the operational ‘unit’ of translation” (Lefevere and Bassnett 1990:8). According to them, the translation studies of the 1990s has in many ways been influenced by the so-called cultural turn, which, as Bassnett puts it, shows a close connection between cultural and translation studies, all of this due to the effort of these studies to explain in more detail and to become more acquainted with the status of the global world and the identities of the different social groups. In other words, this Cultural Turn was nothing more than a metaphor adopted by the translation oriented towards Cultural studies to refer to the analysis of the translation in its political, cultural and ideological context.
Why I chose this field of inquiry is because I wanted to pigeon-hole some problems that may occur in translation when the Source text (ST) gets in direct confrontation with the Target Culture (TC) due to some restraints on behalf of the TC. And the text that I have chosen for this study is an early Bulgarian translation of one of the most popular children story – The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. Of course, I won’t go into too much detail about the problems that occur in this translation and the possible solutions to them, but will focus my attention on the choices that the translator has made in order to incorporate the text in the culture of the days. However, the text poses different problems, so to say, to the translator and gives us different pictures of the cultural framework in which it has to fit. Now, let’s move to the Beatrix Potter’s children story The Tale of Peter Rabbit and the anonymous translation, published in a children magazine in the 20s. (For the whole texts, please look at the end of the paper.)
Published in the 1920s, the translation, which we are going to examine in a while, is a striking example of the role the culture plays in translation. We can notice a strong tendency of domestication in the text, just by starting with the title of the translated text:
What strikes us first is the entire change of the original title of the story. In the original we have “The Tale of Peter Rabbit”. What the translator has ventured to do here is to step over the boundary of culture and tips the balance in favor of the Recipient culture. In a way, the translator has not come across cultural-specific items that would be difficult to render into the Target Culture (TC), but in a way has presented himself as a traitor – via his translation into the TC he has betrayed his cultural belongings.
But is there really a problem with that betrayal? Not at all. Having in mind the time when the text was translated into Bulgarian – the 20s of the 20th century, the translator was in his rightful position to produce a text which would be closer and more accessible to the reading public of the TC. Very often these cultural ‘encroachments’ upon the work of the translator are inevitable. In the 20s translated texts were few, and if we talk about children have translated texts – even fewer. Maybe that was one of the explanations that the translator would have provided for his work – that he was trying to incorporate as much as possible the foreign element into the target culture, to domesticate it, to invent it anew.
We have many similar examples throughout the text – you can see for yourself at the end of the paper. The original names of the main characters are changed to such that they could fit in the cultural framework of the TC, and some of the elements of the source culture as well. I can give an example with the word “pie” which has been very domesticated by the translator:
… [Y]our father had an accident there: he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.
Now, compare it with the translated equivalent:
We could very easily spot the problem if we were looking through the eyes of a linguist, dealing with problems of equivalence and correspondence in translation. But here we are not interested in the translation equivalence, although it is clear that the translator didn’t pay a lot of attention to this principle. He simply wanted to present to us the meaning of this saying, not its exact correspondent in the Target Language (TL). We have a substitution of the name of the farmer (“Григор” for “McGregor”), we also have a change in the focus – in the original text we have “Mrs McGregor” who had put the rabbit’s father in the pie, while the translator has neglected that and opted for a better option – he disposed with mentioning of another member of the McGregors by introducing Mr. McGregor at this very early stage, although we had heard of him, presented to us as the owner of the garden, which the little rabbits were forbidden from entering. But the most striking example is the substitution of the meal in which the father rabbit was put into. It is clear that at this point the translator did a great job – the more Western-sounding “pie” was replaced by a meal that is very common in the TC – “гивеч”, although in archaic spelling. In this manner, the culture of the original text is left aside and is not taken into consideration to such an extent. The more acceptable and culture-based meal is chosen for a translation equivalent, not distorting the unity of the text and its sense as well.
Another point of divergence is obviously the title and I will try to explain its choice in a few words. The name which the translator chooses for a translation equivalent of the original one is not very different though. Although it sounds very Bulgarian – in both pronunciation and spelling, it retains the features that the original name embodies. “Петърчо” is a diminutive name, which people use to address their little boys of the same name. And in the original text we have the name “Peter” which, in the Bulgarian equivalent, is perfectly understandable. The diminutive particle is reinforced by the context of the story, in which we found four small rabbits. The second thing, and the more interesting one, is the choice of the translator to put a family name to his character. While in the original text we have only “Peter Rabbit”, the second one not sounding as a family name, in the translated text we have “Зайков” which is very suggestive of the way Bulgarians form their family name, using the suffix “-ов” (or “-ев”).
So the translator has allowed himself some freedom by changing the second part of the original name to such a construction that would best exemplify an ordinary name from the TC. And to conclude my survey on this story, I would say a few words about the subtitle: “Американска приказка от Беатриса Потер”. We don’t have such a part in the original version. We only have the name of the author, which, we can see, is also domesticated by the translator by adding a suffix which betrays the writer’s gender. The family name is preserved, maybe because the translator didn’t think he should change it after he had changed her first name. The translator believed, in my opinion, that a strange-sounding name would be more difficult to be comprehended by the TC than a name which would sound more domestic to them.
In conclusion, I want to add that the translator faces many problems when he or she has to adapt a translation to a totally different culture from the source one – he or she has to decide which issues to take priority, what is the dominant ideology in the TC, the aspects that have to be taken into consideration of the source and target language and culture. In many cases, the translator would end up creating an entirely new text, which would be very different from the original source text. But this would all be based on his assumptions, beliefs, assessment and careful thinking. Thus, the translator should be an intercultural mediator. Because the main purpose for the translator is to be able to, first, create the bridge between cultures; second, to be able to maintain the stability of this bridge during windy and stormy days; and last but not least, to take the reader across this bridge unharmed and in full control of the situation.
This bridge is the pre-requisite for a good acceptance and reading of the translation – and the translator has to do his best in order to build the bridge as best as he could. And if the bridge is too rickety and dangling from right to left, then the translation would be too difficult or boring for the target culture. The masterpiece in bridge construction would be achieved only when the receiver of the translated text is able to comprehend the text, to evaluate it, and to feel it as an original one, not as a translation. Because no one would like to step on a bridge, if one can see the nails protruding from the beams. The translation process and the culture present in both texts must go hand in hand, and only when such a state of balance is achieved, a text can boast to be a good translation.
1. B. Potter, 1901. The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Frederick Warne & Co. 2. Lefevere, André and Susan Bassnett. 1990. “Introduction: Proust’s Grandmother and the Thousand and One Nights: The ‘Cultural Turn’ in Translation Studies”. In Bassnett and Lefevere 1990. 3. Петърчо Зайков. Американска приказка от Беатриса Потер, 1924-25. сп. „Детска радост”, кн. 10, с. 13-15 (преводачът не е посочен)