A Translator’s View of Translation Norms – Alice Martin

The Electronic Journal of the Department of English
at the University of Helsinki

ISSN 1457-9960

Volume1, 2001

Translation Studies

© 2001 Alice Martin



Alice Martin


Abstract. This paper takes a look at literary translation from English into Finnish from the point of view of a fairly experienced translator, using examples from her published work. Translation can be seen as a process involving (at least) three interlocking roles for the translator, and norms are seen as a way of getting at the translator’s working theory without involving overly elaborate concepts. Six important norms are introduced, one of them being the norm of equivalence: the paper thus takes up the discussion on this problematic concept from the viewpoint of the reality of the translator community and its experiences.


1. Introduction


Literary translation remains one of the few professions where formal education in the subject is not a vital qualification. Still, maybe because of improvements in translator training and the rise of translation studies, one no longer often hears it said that translation cannot be taught, for it is obvious that many aspects of it can and need to be. In the case of translating fiction, however, there is an element which is not easily teachable.


It is generally agreed upon that there are many skills translators should possess. Thorough understanding of the source language (SL), versatility in the target language (TL), knowledge of both source and target cultures, being generally well-informed and skilled in acquiring new information are well established as requirements. Since they are relative, there is always scope for improvement, and the sense of continually falling short must be common among translators. However, let us leave this level of generality in favour of a more specific topic: norms.


Translators seem to see the norms they adhere to as unwritten rules, as a personal, flexible, intuitive matter, which, if they produce good enough results, will bring in more commissions, better wages, grants and in some cases even prizes, not to mention a good reputation. Naturally there is agreement over many of these norms amongst the professional community, but it is hard to tell exactly which factors govern the individual translator’s decisions in a particular situation – at times, even one’s own. This paper is an attempt to uncover some of these factors in one translator’s mind, to bring the different elements of this personal problem-solving apparatus together. Though I shall be speaking of my own working norms, many of them are shared by my colleagues, and I believe there is some possibility of generalizing from my experience; I cannot, however, speak for others on any specific point. Unless otherwise stated I shall use the term “translator” to mean one of literature, usually therefore of books; I am also not concerned with other than competent professional work.


As Chesterman has it, a translator must have a theory or translate blindly (1997:3). It is not Chesterman’s aim to intimidate or irritate translators when he says this: he sees theory as of practical use and connected with commonly accepted norms (see 1997: 67). These norms are intersubjective, recognized only because of their social existence (1997:54). Few translators would dare claim to have such a thing as a translation theory; they would more readily admit to having a set of norms, i.e. principles learnt from communication with colleagues, employers and readers, as well as generalizations and solutions worked out by trial and error from practical problems and applicable to a wide range of situations. Bringing these ideas to the surface and seeing how they fit together into a consistent whole takes time and thought. A busy translator trying to make a living can seldom take up such exercises and may not see much reason to if his or her work seems to be acceptable to members of the target culture. It is an exciting thought, however, that translators might be encouraged to spell out the ideas inspiring their work: we might even get closer to understanding the unteachable element mentioned earlier, not to mention lessening the feeling of awe with which many translators still think of theoretical matters.


In this paper we shall be looking at translation norms in practice, taking examples from my published translations of Lewis Carroll’s children’s classic, Robert Louis Stevenson’s essays, Cynthia and Brian Paterson’s illustrated animal fairy tales and Ted Hughes’s poems. The source texts are British and the time span is over 130 years. The following table summarises these sources, giving original publishing dates and the abbreviations used in this paper.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland 1865 AIW
Alicen seikkailut ihmemaassa 1995 AIS

Walking Tours 1873-76 WT
Kävelyretkistä 1997 KR

The Foxwood Treasury 1997 FT
Vähä-Kettulan veijarit 1998 VKV

Birthday Letters 1998 BL
Syntymäpäiväkirjeitä 1999 SK

2. The three roles of the translator


The translator’s work process has variously segmented stages (see Sorvali 1996:111-121). One way of expressing this could be to see the translator as having three alternating and co-existing roles: reader, professional and artist.


It is the reader-translator’s job to establish relations with the work, first as an ordinary human being: finding the emotional footing on which the source text (ST) and consequently the translation process stands, something that needs a little time to mature and that may get overwhelmed by practical problems if not given time. It is often necessary to get information on the author and establish relations with him or her, too, keeping in mind that the vision being formed is not necessarily the whole truth but a private view with a certain purpose (cf. Oittinen 1995:59). The virtue of such a vision is that it supports the unity of the final translation, gives some idea of the voice telling the story, and helps to eliminate choices. It was, for instance, what I knew of Charles Dodgson’s view of life that made me rule out hymns and religion in general as parody sources for my translation of Alice in Wonderland. Knowledge of the book’s background, including its place in history, deepens the understanding of the work and helps to avoid mistakes. This may be a commonplace, but Eila Pennanen (Sorvali 1996:151) finds it worth mentioning, as it frequently gets neglected in practice. Publishers may be able to provide useful material, such as foreign reviews and interviews, and in the case of many living writers, translators can – and could more often than they do – get in touch and ask directly about details they have been unable to find out otherwise. I cannot say I myself have always gathered the optimal amount of background information, but I have found out that the amount necessary varies depending on the book concerned. Maximum effort is not always needed to produce a good enough result; consider Levý’s minimax principle (1967:1179).


In the reader’s role one can envisage the different responses the work may elicit. This is important when thinking of the readership of the eventual target text. It is the translator-reader that creates the imaginary reader. As Levý (1967:1180) writes, translators intuitively make guesses concerning the possibilities of the different evaluations by readers, but thirty years later Leppihalme (1997:132) has to point out that real-life readers’ reactions are still largely unstudied. The translator has, then, his or her idea of the TL community’s competence and way of responding, as well as his or her idiosyncratic understanding of the target text (TT) to work with; before other tools are developed and adopted, both remain somewhat intuitive concepts.


The word “commission” is used to refer to the assignment of a job, but becoming committed to one’s work is more than a promise to hand over a finished product on a given date. Commitment is an important element: without it the translator works half-heartedly, or whole-heartedly for the sake of money, but often without pleasure in the text, while at its best, translation can be an act of love. The French feminist critic Hélène Cixous puts it in very human terms: “I believe that in order to read – to translate – well, we have to undertake the journey ourselves. We have to go to the country of the text and bring back the earth of which the language is made. – – Everything begins with love. If we work on a text we don’t love, we are automatically at the wrong distance” (1997 [1988]:227). This is also corroborated by Riitta Jääskeläinen (1999:207, 237), who has looked into the question of the translator’s attitude towards the task, finding that personal involvement does seem to have a positive effect on the result. This involvement would seem to arise from the translator’s early work as reader.


The translator-professional is the focus of this paper. Most of the ideas that lend themselves to being called norms are in the professional’s domain. They will be discussed in section 3.


Of the translator’s three roles mentioned above, that of the translator-artist remains to be touched upon. As we are speaking of literature, a form of art, it should be borne in mind that not everything can be accounted for by norms. Otherwise valid principles are occasionally overruled by what might be named pursuit of the reader’s happiness – something that could itself be called a translation norm, since a translation overlooking it is often a failure. For me, the imagined reader looms large at this stage, and it is in his/her interest that I finish my work. I rework passages that seem lacking in life, sometimes making decisions that distance my version quite far from the original wording, but keep to its spirit. While I do my best to improve my translation, it is not out of the question to improve on the original, too. It is not that where the original is pedestrian, the translation should be less so. Adding colour and vivacity is easily overdone, and I keep away from it unless it seems to bring about a very definite improvement. Take a mild example of extra colour from the Stevenson translation, describing the tiredness of one who has worn himself out walking too far, and look particularly at the end:

He has nothing left of man but a physical need for bedtime and a double nightcap; and even his pipe, if he be a smoker, will be savourless and disenchanted. (WT 170)

Mitä hänessä on jäljellä ihmisyyttä, se vain halajaa petiä ja tukevaa yömyssyä, ja piippukin, jos hän on tupakkamiehiä, maistuu puulta ja pettymykseltä. (KR 6-7)

Leaving matters of artistic effect last may sound as if art were seen as something that could be added as a final decoration. It is hard to say which translation ideas in individual passages belong to the category of art in the first place, and looking at a completed piece of work, there is of course no way of knowing – unless one has kept a careful record, thus doubling the work – exactly which touches have been present from the start and which are last-minute changes. Yet there is a real point here: if accuracy is considered a legitimate goal, then producing an accurate translation before giving oneself a free rein seems a practical order in which to proceed. It is possible to work from a precise but artistically unsatisfactory text towards a freer version without giving up the factual content already there; it is more difficult and certainly tedious to try to add precision afterwards to something written with the chief aim of artistic effect. Thus my favoured order of operating: accuracy, then artistry, makes, I hope, for a translation that is both aesthetically satisfying and reliable. In the final stages of translation I do venture to think of the process as artistic, when the manuscript, complete and as far as possible correctly translated, is passed on, as it were, by the translator-professional to the translator-artist. This phase may involve reading aloud to ensure that the rhythm fits the content, it may require spending a long time hunting for the previously uncaptured essence of a situation described, or working out an evasive logic, it can mean endless rewriting of an unsatisfactory passage and trying it out on every passer-by. What makes me connect all this with norms is its normative power: leaving any of the above undone where it seems necessary, is for me both impossible and a self-forbidden translation crime. Of course, as the whole translation process is carried out by a single person, the attempt to write well is present all along, but I have never yet completed the professional stage without there being a need to go through the text at least once more thinking chiefly of the reader’s hoped-for pleasure. But as Oittinen points out, there is no way of controlling future readers (1995:59-60). The vision of the imaginary reader’s happiness as something the translator can consciously achieve is an idealisation. Nevertheless, as the translator could do worse, perhaps this fiction can be seen as legitimate.


3. Translatorial norms


3.1. The norm of understanding


Reading the text as an ordinary reader would is not enough for the translator. It is necessary to develop a professional way of reading in order to analyse the text in as much detail and depth as possible. While it is not part of a translator’s job to explain the work to outsiders, let alone be as vocal about it as a literary critic might, understanding or at least not misunderstanding is vital. Let us look at the poem “The Dogs Are Eating Your Mother” in BL. It begins

That is not your mother but her body.
She leapt from our window
And fell there. Those are not dogs
That seem to be dogs
pulling at her —
— Protect her
And they will tear you down
As if you were more her.
They will find you every bit
as succulent as she is. Too late
to salvage what she was.
I buried her where she fell.
You played around the grave – – (BL 195)

This poem is the last but one of eighty-eight; in eighty-six of the poems you refers to Sylvia Plath and we to her and the author as a couple, while your mother refers to Sylvia Plath’s mother, Aurelia Plath. So the expectations would be that the pronoun references work in the same way here. That this is not so is shown by the fact that this interpretation of the poem doesn’t make sense, while all the others do. If the translator fails to see that in this single poem, you is plural, referring to the couple’s two children, and your mother means not Aurelia but Sylvia Plath, the reading and the translation with it is no less than wrong, however relativistic our times. In Finnish, the distinction between the second person singular pronoun sinä and the plural te is compulsory, so this misreading would be mercilessly revealing. (See SK p. 240-241 for the whole poem in Finnish.)


Understanding also covers matters of style. Metaphors and symbols need to be recognized: metaphors taken literally usually reveal themselves in translation. A particular form of the norm of understanding is that a translator should strive to grasp what function an element has in the ST: having found it out, s/he is on surer ground in seeking the corresponding element for the TT, whether it be a twisted Shakespeare allusion or a clue to the murderer’s identity. It seems worth paying relentless attention to passages which are initially puzzling, because it is often there that the traps are, and the keys as well.


When there is an expression unknown to the translator, an inexperienced translator tends to interpret it as the author’s creativeness. This is seldom the case; it is more likely that the expression is preformed (Leppihalme 1997:35) though maybe rare – or, indeed, simply a weak spot in the translator’s own command of the SL. Taken as unique, the SL expression often gets translated literally, resulting in a TL solution that is either clumsy or too original and innovative. It may also simply not fit the logic. The following example is simple enough, but if one does not realize that to have no time for is also an idiom meaning ‘to have no patience with’ or ‘to be against’, the translation becomes illogical; consider the discarded version (*).

“Count me in. – – I’ve no time for those rascally rats, but I’m too old to take them on myself.” (FT 45)

“Minä olen mukana juonessa. – – Rotanlurjukset sietävät saada opetuksen, mutta minä alan olla yksinäni siihen liian vanha.” (VKV 45)

*minulla ei ole aikaa niille rotanlurjuksille

Translations like the discarded one above are also vulnerable in that some readers will be able to spot the ST’s idiomatic meaning through the TT, which invariably leads to the conclusion that the translation is inaccurate.

3.2. The norm of accuracy, reliability, loyalty: a question of equivalence?

Translation equivalence, theoretically a most problematic concept (see Halverson 1997), is yet very much a part of everyday translation work. It may be just here that theory and practice meet – or clash uncomfortably. While it is useful for a translator to question the concepts of faithfulness and loyalty (to what, to whom), to deny their importance altogether means going entirely free-range. A state of impulsiveness and ad hoc decisions hardly seems professional, though one can imagine it leading to the occasional brilliant TL rendering. Usually, however, there is a fact of life to take into account: it is accuracy in representing the ST that publishers demand and the public expects – and believes it is getting – when reading published translations. Indeed, the contract between publisher and translator that is signed for every commission explicitly refers to this: “The translation must be made with care and without additions or omissions contrary to good translation practice.” (Käännössopimus, translation AM.) This is the only reference the contract makes to the quality of the translation, so even with the undefined expression good translation practice it is seen that accuracy and reliability are considered of supreme importance. As a practicing translator, then, this is a principle I adhere to, as regards both the semantic content of the text and its form and style. This involves such issues as looking for expressions of the same register and frequency, and avoiding anachronisms and idiosyncracies.

I do not wish to credit the high status of this norm to employers alone. For me, and as far as I understand, to the translator community at large, it is entirely natural to aim at exactness in the way described above. That a translation never reaches entire correspondence with the original is a fact that does not invalidate this aim.

Riitta Oittinen’s in many ways delightful book Kääntäjän karnevaali (1995) questions the status of the ST and any idea of sameness between ST and TT. While she makes many interesting points (eg. how the influence of previous texts on the ST complicates the question of what exactly counts as the translator’s ST, 1995:88-90), her basic view of translation seems at a distance from the practice of the mainstream translating community. That liberties can and must be taken is obvious; that liberty is all there is is harder to accept. What makes translating so exciting to me is the challenge of being free within strict limits, of making a camel go through the needle’s eye and come out alive and kicking. Oittinen’s celebration of freedom could therefore even be seen to diminish the fascination of translation.

What can be seen as the many limitations a translator has to work with are another facet of the various loyalties involved: loyalty to the ST author, to the source culture, to the ST itself, to the receiving community and the target culture, to the quality of the TL, to the translator’s self. All of these are important, and I would not say that being more loyal to readers means there is a need to be less so to the author. There is no less: there is only more. Keeping all the strands together to produce a satisfying piece of work is the translator’s right and duty. It does mean that translation is a demanding job, perhaps more so than in earlier times, but remembering the various loyalties can be a help, not an encumbrance. While it is a commonplace that there is no such thing as the one and only correct translation, it remains true that not all possible ways of expressing the same thing are equally apt in a given context. Limitations posed by somewhat conflicting loyalties help to eliminate alternatives and save the translator much floundering in the sea of language. Levý puts it nicely (1967:1172): “The choice is more limited (‘easier’), if the number of possible alternatives is smaller, or if it is restricted by context.”

The omnipresence of the aim at correspondence between ST and TT can be illustrated by Stevenson’s opening sentence:

It must not be imagined that a walking tour, as some would have us fancy, is merely a better or worse way of seeing the country. (WT 169)

Ei pidä luulla, niin kuin joskus uskotellaan, että kävelyretki on vain parempi tai huonompi tapa katsella maaseutua. (KR 5)

This ordinary passage of 19th-century prose shows how it seems easier to list the differences between the ST and TT than to put one’s finger on the sameness.

  • ST passive -> TT generic: it must not be imagined -> ei pidä luulla
  • place of as-clause changed
  • synonyms imagine & (have us) fancy -> luulla ‘think erroneously’ & uskotella ‘have one believe erroneously’
  • ST active -> TT passive: some would have us fancy -> joskus uskotellaan
  • ST object -> TT zero: us -> *meille
  • see -> katsella ‘look at’

However, the differences in form become tools for the expression of similar meaning and satisfactory TL quality.

3.3. The norm of TL quality

Loyalty to the TL, in this case, Finnish, I see as the need for a translator simply to be as good a writer as possible, able to use the language’s resources and avoid poor Finnish, which among other things involves keeping SL interference to a minimum and steering clear of translationese. The influence on Finnish of Indo-European languages is so overwhelming that the struggle may seem futile and idealistic, but the readership of translated literature is large enough for the quality of its language to have some influence. Particularly when translating for children, there may be a sense of social responsibility for TL purity at play.

The Finnish tradition known as kielenhuolto, language care or maintenance, rests on the notion that language should be consciously looked after and developed, particularly by those using it publicly and professionally. People trained in it are taught to analyse written Finnish not only for grammatical mistakes but for ambiguities and obscurities, a skill very useful to a translator. Though stylistic matters in a literary sense do not come under the auspices of this discipline, on the whole it provides a Finnish translator with many excellent tools. To complement it, I have, like many colleagues, collected an expanding set of ideas based on a sort of commonsense contrastive analysis, which means being continually on the alert for potential problems, differences and similarities in one’s working languages.

Obviously, a translation must use natural and correct TL grammar, not SL structures disguised in TL words. I shall not go into the subject of minimal, compulsory changes, such as can be seen if we return to the Stevenson example: the phrase it must not be imagined cannot be translated at all by using a Finnish passive, so the change to a different grammatical structure is a compulsory one. Learning to deal with such problems is an important part of a translator’s apprenticeship but not the subject here. In the following examples, the ST can be translated literally without being downright ungrammatical, but the structural changes chosen do seem to render the TT more natural. Consider the alternative translations (*) as well.

English adverbs do not always coincide with Finnish ones:

Really you are very dull! (AIW 127)
Sinähän tyhmä olet! (ASI 99)
*Olet todella tyhmä!/Todella, olet hyvin tyhmä!

“No wise fish would go anywhere without a porpoise.”
“Wouldn’t it, really?” Alice said in a tone of great surprise. (AIW 137)
“Kukaan järkevä kala ei mene minnekään ilman seitä.”
“Ei vai?” Alice sanoi ällikällä lyötynä. (ASI 108)
*Eikö tosiaan(kaan)/todellakaan?/Eikö se menisi, todellakaan?

I found it best not to use an adverb equivalent for really, seeking an idiomatic solution instead.

The English conjunction so is not best translated as Finnish joten, which differs in frequency and style (everyday vs. literary).

The handrail’s loose, so be careful. (FT 86)
Kaide on hutera, pitäkää varanne. (VKV 86)
*Kaide on hutera, joten olkaa varovaisia.

English personal pronouns and other markers of person can often be left out in Finnish, particularly in dialogue:

You’re jealous, said Rue. (FT 103)
Kateellinen, Vili sanoi. (VKV 103)

We must have climbed hundreds of steps (FT 103)
On varmaan kiivetty monta sataa porrasta (VKV 103)

When they reached the wood (FT 104)
Metsään tultua (VKV 104)

Carefully transferring every ST personal pronoun into the TT can lend the translation an unnaturally pernickety tone. Consider the following example, noting the treatment of pronouns as well as other elements, and the resulting difference in tone between the two TL alternatives:

Willy was nearly crying. “I hope Mr Gruffey will come,” he said. Then he brightened. “We could look for firewood while we wait.” (FT 89)

A minimum-change translation could look like this:

*Olavi melkein itki. “Minä toivon että herra Möräkkä tulee”, hän sanoi. Sitten hän piristyi. “Me voisimme etsiä polttopuita sillä aikaa kun me odotamme.”

This is the published version:

Olavilla oli itku kurkussa. “Voi kun Möräkän setä tulisi”, hän sanoi. Sitten hän reipastui. “Etsitään odotellessa nuotiopuita.” (VKV 89)

In a book for small children, readability and natural dialogue are of supreme importance, and achieving this does not necessarily imply loss of meaning. Nor has what seems to me natural Finnish demanded more than a slight shift in meaning in the title of a Stevenson essay. The dictionary equivalent for On the Enjoyment of Unpleasant Places would be *Epämiellyttävistä paikoista nauttimisesta, where the elative case is used in two different functions, resulting in tautophony and a hitch at the third word. Finding a noun not demanding the elative, ie. viehätys, enabled the solution Ikävien paikkojen viehätyksestä (KR 39).

Choices of the type described here seldom get noticed, but when consistently made and added up, they have a huge effect on the style. They often concern quite simple and recurring phenomena, so the solutions may become automatic. Finding good answers to recurring problems is of course easily worth the trouble.

3.4. The norm of rhythm

Rhythm is a factor some translators consider the most important of all. It is pervasive, appearing at every rank of language, from within the word to the scope of the paragraph and even further. What is not so clear is whether the important thing is to preserve the ST rhythms or produce effective TT ones. Below, I will focus only on the sentence as a rhythm unit. For good or ill, I have so far as a translator almost exclusively kept to the sentence length of the original. Since varying sentence length is a major stylistic feature, this has seemed a way of preserving a significant part of the original rhythm. Consider the following example from Carroll.

She had just succeeded in curving [her neck] down into a graceful zigzag, and was going to dive in among the leaves, which she found to be nothing but the tops of the trees under which she had been wandering, when a sharp hiss made her draw back in a hurry: a large pigeon had flown into her face, and was beating her violently with its wings. (AIW 74-75)

Hän oli juuri taivutellut sen ylhäältä alaspäin siroon siksak-kuvioon ja aikoi sukeltaa lehtimereen, eli kuten hän nyt tajusi, niiden puiden latvuksiin, joiden alla hän oli vähän aikaisemmin harhaillut, kun ilkeä sihahdus sai hänet nykäisemään päänsä takaisin: hänen silmilleen oli lehahtanut iso kyyhkynen, joka pieksi häntä siivillään minkä jaksoi. (AIS 54)

Considering the content of the sentence, its form can be seen as iconic: the syntax mirrors Alice’s long zigzagging neck – one would not want to cut it. Although the result is lengthy for Finnish, it seems to work smoothly: yet, the trouble it took the translator is not visible. The aim here and elsewhere was to preserve Carroll’s rhythm without burdening the reader; that is, by achieving a rhythm natural to the TL. (The translation was not specifically meant for very small children.) Changing the length of paragraphs never crossed my mind, but see Oittinen (1997:112-113) for a discussion of this as a rhythm factor in Finnish Carroll translations.

3.5. The norm of quotability

The problem of translating allusions and quotations is one that an editor encounters more often than the individual translator does. When translating Alice in Wonderland, a much-quoted classic, I bore this seemingly marginal question in mind. There is a generally accepted norm that if a quoted text already exists in Finnish translation, this translation should be used, or at least sought out and considered. Unfortunately the norm does not always work. The problem is as follows: Translating A, you discover a quotation from B. You identify it, find B is available in Finnish, then find the relevant passage will not fit in the context of A in Finnish, for various reasons. The translation may either be too free, or it may miss the point it was chosen for in A, or it may be clumsy and not bear singling out. The Carroll translations by Swan (Carroll 1984b [1906]) and Kunnas (Carroll 1972) were both problematic in this respect, Swan with her omissions, Kunnas with her carnivalistic freedom (see Oittinen 1997:126-127, 129). I therefore felt I could do a little service to Finnish translators and editors by including quotability as an aim. By quotability I mean that any ST passage can be found to be represented by a TT passage resembling it in as many ways as possible, so that the translated passage can be used in the same function as the original.

It is Carroll’s puns and parodies that often bring about the quoting problems. Since they cannot be translated literally, they make for a freer type of translation than ordinary texts. So, I attempted to translate pun for pun, keeping the puns in their original positions and on similar topics. Look at the following examples, on the subject of

“– the different branches of Arithmetic – Ambition, Distraction, Uglification and Derision.”
“I never heard of ‘Uglification'”, Alice ventured to say. “What is it?”
– – “Never heard of uglifying! – – You know what to beautify is, I suppose?”
“Yes, – – it means – to – make – anything – prettier.” (AIW 129)

“– sitten kaikki mahalaskutavat: ei-yhtäänlasku, ähellyslasku, velkomataulu ja pakkolasku. Jotkut etevämmät pääsivät jopa hyytelön rumentamiseen asti.
“Hyytelön rumentamisesta en ole kuullutkaan”, Alice erehtyi sanomaan.”Mitä se on?”
– – “Mitä! Et ole kuullut hyytelön rumentamisesta! – – Tiedät kai sentään mitä sieventäminen on?”
“Tiedän, – – se tarkoittaa, että… tehdään jotain kauniimmaksi.” (ASI 100-101, emphasis for addition added)

One form of mathematics had to be added in order to translate the joke on uglifying, and to fit it into the dialogue required a whole new sentence. Though additions are not desirable, they are more quotable than omissions, for obvious reasons. For comparison, let us look at Kirsi Kunnas’s version of the same passage:

– – laskua päässä kun vesi oli jäässä, mutta muulloin laskimme helmillä.
– Mistä te helmiä saitte?
– Helmisimpukoista tietysti. Etkö sinä tiedä, että kaikki meren laulut muuttuvat simpukoissa helmiksi? (1972:100)

The distance between the ST and this passage with its final excursion into romance (‘Don’t you know that all the songs of the sea are turned into pearls – – ‘) is such that a translator in need of a preformed quotation might well be in trouble. Indeed, Carroll is typically translated by famous authors, who are seen as entitled to more liberty than translators. This is also evident in the canonized Hungarian version by Kosztolányi (2nd ed. 1974).

3.6. The norm of harmony between translation and illustration

Riitta Oittinen has written much on the effect of illustration on translation (1995:92-137). Illustration is the part of the original that cannot be changed in translation, so it is the text that must accommodate. In children’s books with pictures, it is of course important to keep the text and illustrations in harmony, as child readers easily note discrepancies. I have tried to pay attention to this particularly in the Foxwood tales, for instance in the following: He raised his glass, and they all joined in a toast. “To Foxwood.” (FT 96) The picture shows five animals at table, but only the two grown-up animals have anything to drink, and what they have is not in glasses but in earthenware mugs. So the translation I would no doubt have used in an unillustrated text, nostivat maljansa/kilistivät, had to be discarded. Instead, I wrote, Hän kohotti tuoppinsa, ja kaikki toistivat yhteen ääneen: “Vähä-Kettulalle!” (VKV 96).

My Carroll translation probably reflects traces of Justin Todd’s (Carroll 1984a) colour illustrations, which were originally to accompany the translation. His image of Alice herself, based on Dodgson’s photographs of Alice Liddell, certainly supported my conception of the protagonist as an intelligent child. After Todd was rejected by the Finnish publisher, there were plans to publish the work unillustrated. These did not last long enough for me to realize the freedom it might have given. For instance, in the Hungarian translation by Kosztolányi, which obviously pre-existed Tamás Szecskó’s illustrations, the Cheshire Cat is a dog, Fakutya, literally ‘wood/tree dog’ – a solution impossible to anyone working with Tenniel in mind (see Carroll 1974:47,51). (The explanation lies in the expression vigyorog mint a fakutya, ‘grin like a bootjack’.) In the end , it was the familiar Tenniel illustrations that were used with my translation and with which I had to harmonize my text. As they don’t cover every detail of the book and Dodgson himself took great pains to harmonize the illustrations with his text, this was not a great problem. It did, however, mean keeping certain features, of the poems in particular, that might otherwise have been changed. “Father William” has no less than four Tenniel illustrations, covering many details of the poem. There’s a lobster illustration for the first verse of “‘Tis the Voice of the Lobster”; the second verse continues the theme, changing the characters to an owl and a panther, but these are not illustrated. In my translation the second verse is therefore about the same characters as the first (see ASI 108-110).

Even when a book is not illustrated, there may be relevant pictorial material to consider. Hughes’s poem “A Picture of Otto”, for instance, clearly refers to a certain photograph of Otto Plath in class with a blackboard behind him, published in Sylvia Plath’s Letters Home (1978:17). Before discovering it I was uncertain of whether Otto is described as teacher or parson. Hughes says briefly, You stand there at the blackboard: Lutheran minister manqué. (BL 193.) The Finnish, thanks to the photograph, is thus: Seisot siinä taulun edessä: luterilainen pappi jota ei koskaan tullut. (SK 236.) Going further still, translators constantly attempt to be true to life as they describe well-known places and indeed all kinds of features of the world we live in, as pictures are present in readers’ minds even if not physically present in a given book.

4. Concluding remarks

I have looked at the translation process as covered by three different roles, those of translator-reader, translator-professional, and translator-artist. The subject of this paper, translation norms, is mainly the business of the translator in the role of professional. Six translation norms have been discussed from the point of view of one Finnish translator of English literature. The norms of understanding, accuracy and target language quality are ones that cover a very wide range of translation issues at many levels. The norm of quotability could be seen as merely one aspect of accuracy. The norm of rhythm refers to something that is present in every text, though not all translators pay it very much conscious attention, some because their natural gift renders it unnecessary. The norm concerning illustration is a limited one only when referring to books actually illustrated; in a wider sense, it is omnipresent and an important part of the basic visualizing that goes on in the translator’s mind almost all the time.

Keeping certain norms in mind means that a translator does not have to consider every conceivable possibility in his or her choice of strategies. The constraints one has to work under can be seen as a help. Instead of seeking an answer randomly, in every direction, the translator’s choice is directed. The limits posed by the various loyalties concerned are not inflexible, however. When they become an obstruction, it is in the translator’s power to ignore them; the decision not to ignore them may indeed make the task more complicated but also more interesting. It is thus a matter of personal judgment how far one submits to taking all loyalties concerned into account. It is to be hoped that a more detailed discussion of translation norms will arise, one that can make use both of the experience of practicing translators and the theoretical viewpoints of translation scholars.

E-mail: Alice.Martin@wsoy.fi


A. Examples Used

Carroll, Lewis (1985 [1960, 1865, 1872]) The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Ed. Martin Gardner. Ill. John Tenniel. London: Penguin.

Carroll, Lewis (1974) Second edition. Alice Csodaországban. Trans. Dezsö Kosztolányi. Ill. Tamás Szecskó. Budapest: Mora Ferenc Könyvkiadó.

Carroll, Lewis (1984a) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Ill. Justin Todd. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd.

Carroll, Lewis (1984b [1906]) Liisan seikkailut ihmemaassa. Trans. Anni Swan. Ill. Tove Jansson. Helsinki: Werner Söderström Osakeyhtiö.

Carroll, Lewis (1972) Liisan seikkailut ihmemaassa ja Liisan seikkailut peilimaailmassa. Trans. Kirsi Kunnas and Eeva-Liisa Manner. Ill. John Tenniel. Jyväskylä: Gummerus.

Carroll, Lewis (1995) Alicen seikkailut ihmemaassa. Trans. Alice Martin. Ill. John Tenniel. Helsinki: Werner Söderström Osakeyhtiö.

Hughes, Ted (1998) Birthday Letters. London: Faber and Faber.

Hughes, Ted (1999) Syntymäpäiväkirjeitä. Trans. Alice Martin. Helsinki: Werner Söderström Osakeyhtiö.

Paterson, Cynthia and Brian (1997) The Foxwood Treasury. London: André Deutsch.

Paterson, Cynthia and Brian (1998) Vähä-Kettulan veijarit. Trans. Alice Martin. Helsinki: Werner Söderström Osakeyhtiö.

Plath, Sylvia (1978 [1975]) Letters Home. Selected and Edited with Commentary by Aurelia Schober Plath. London: Faber and Faber.

Stevenson, Robert Louis (1924 [1881]) Virginibus Puerisque and Other Papers. London: Chatto and Windus.

Stevenson, Robert Louis (1997) Kävelyretkistä. (Pieni kävelykirjasto, 2.) Trans. Alice Martin. Helsinki: Jack-in-the-box.

B. Works Cited

Chesterman, Andrew (1997) Memes of Translation: The Spread of Ideas in Translation Theory. (Benjamins Translation Library, 22.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Cixous, Hélène (1997 [1988]) “Conversations.” In K. M. Newton (ed). Twentieth-Century Literary Theory: A Reader (pp. 225-233). London: Macmillan.

Halverson, Sandra (1997) “The Concept of Equivalence in Translation Studies: Much Ado About Something.” Target 9. 207-233.

Jääskeläinen, Riitta (1999) Tapping the Process: An Explorative Study of the Cognitive and Affective Factors Involved in Translating. (University of Joensuu Publications in the Humanities, 22.) Joensuu: University of Joensuu.

Leppihalme, Ritva (1997) Culture Bumps: An Empirical Approach to the Translation of Allusions. (Topics in Translation, 10.) Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Levý, J. (1967) “Translation as a Decision Process.” In To Honor Roman Jakobson, Vol. II (pp. 1171-1182). The Hague: Mouton.

Oittinen, Riitta (1995) Kääntäjän karnevaali. Tampere: Tampere University Press.

Oittinen, Riitta (1997) Liisa, Liisa ja Alice. Tampere: Tampere University Press.

Sorvali, Irma (1996) Unohdettu kääntäjä. Oulu: Pohjoinen.

C. Unpublished Source

Käännössopimus (Suomen Kustannusyhdistys ry:n ja Suomen kääntäjien ja tulkkien liitto ry:n 15.5.1992 hyväksymä sopimuskaava)


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