Reviews 2011

Translating anthroponyms as exemplified by selected works of English children’s literature in their Polish versions

Translating anthroponyms as exemplified by selected works of English children’s literature in their Polish versions. Anna Danuta Fornalczyk. Warsaw: SWSPiZ, 2010. 269 pages. 8€ (paperback).

Research on translating for children has experienced a boom in the last few years. A considerable number of interesting and controversial studies about translation issues have been published during the past decade (Metcalf, 1995).However, only few scholars have worked within the special field of translating proper names in children’s literature, that is, anthroponyms. Indeed, the number of studies in this area is relatively low, even though this subject is considered to be important and difficult to deal with when translating a literary work, especially if addressed to children. This is one of the reasons which lead the Polish researcher, Anna Danuta Fornalczyk, to investigate anthroponyms in children’s literary works translated from English into Polish.

The main purpose of Fornalczyk’s research was to describe and analyse the meanings, functions and role of anthroponyms as narrative elements in children’s literature. She claims that the multiple functions anthroponyms fulfil (such as identifying the character and providing additional meanings), offer interesting insights into the understanding of a given story. Her research focuses on translation series, that is, subsequent translations of the same work. The author argues that the study of translation series may, on the one hand, illustrate changing attitudes towards translating children’s literature both in translation theory and practice, as many translations appeared at different times and, on the other hand, also show the cultural influence of English works for children on Polish literature.

To support this idea of the importance of the analysis of anthroponyms within translation series, the author chose fourteen books among the most popular classics of English children’s literature in Poland written around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries (Victorian and Edwardian period) and their translations into Polish, taking into account altogether about 60 works. The books in order to be chosen had to be classified as children’s literature according to the Biblioteka Naradowa, belong to the genre of children’s novels or stories collections, and be translated at least two times in Polish (according to the author, outstanding books usually have multiple translations) and be still in print with new contemporary translations. It would have been interesting to know the original criteria used by the library when classifying the books.

The analysis based on an onomastic-functional model is very detailed as it takes into account a large number of elements and useful for future investigations in this field. However, it may be sometimes difficult to follow if readers do not know Polish as the titles of the translated texts and even the abbreviations used as references are most of the time only in Polish forcing the reader to go back and force to check the original titles.

At the end of her investigation, the author calls for empirical studies on the reception of foreign names among child readers to understand young readers’ competence in terms of their familiarity with foreign items. However interesting and useful this might be, I believe that in such a subjective field where one has also to take into consideration several factors as the cultural context, and the readers’ different background, the task would rather tough. Another difficult aspect to deal with which should not be underestimated is the delimitation of the age of the subjects. In the end, after having examined their function in the original text and in the series of translations, the analysis has revealed that, as Bertills also claims (2003), the main dilemma of translating proper names in literature derives from their complicated nature, as they are culture-specific items. A good translation needs to take into account both the linguistic and textual aspects of the name as well as their role in the narrative and in the target language.

Overall, this analysis of anthroponyms in translation series, as the author claims several times throughout her dissertation, provides insight into the complex relations in which a literary work is involved, especially the time-related changes in the treatment of names, the different translation strategies, and the translators’ attitude towards the source and target language/culture and their image of the reader. The time of translation has indeed proved to be a crucial factor influencing the choice of translation techniques; for instance, in the more recent translations a more foreignizing trend and an increased familiarity of target-text readers with foreign cultural contexts are clearly noticeable maybe due to the ongoing process of internationalization.

To the extent of that this research is exploratory, results of this study provide insights into the importance of an onomastic and cultural competence on the side of translators because an inadequate competence may lead, first of all, to errors in translation causing, for instance, internal inconsistency of names, incongruity with the original text and illustrations, shifts in the meaning of specific names and omissions, and finally to the impoverishment of the message of the original, too. Even though, as Fornalczyk explains, it is not always possible to render connotations and other features in translation, one of the main requirements for a translator is indeed the internal consistency.

To sum up, even though, as the author herself states, much work is still needed in the field of translating names, especially in Poland, the current study provides the reader with a valuable starting point as it reviews many interesting of the aspects involved. Fornalczyk’s study shows how the translation process (therefore anthroponyms, too) is affected by time. Her insights into the Polish literary system during the Soviet block and after it are particularly interesting.

Works Cited

Bertills, Yvonne. Beyond Identification: Proper names in children’s literature. Turku: Åbo Akademi University Press, 2003.

Metcalf, Eva-Maria. “The rhythm of texts: translating for children.” The Lion and the Unicorn 19.2 (1995): 292-296.

Melissa Garavini
University of Turku, Finland