Reviews 2013

Ironian kääntäminen lasten- ja nuortenromaaneissa. Esimerkkinä Christine Nöstlingerin teokset Ein Mann für Mama ja Luki-live. [Translating irony in children’s and youth books. Christine Nöstlinger’s books Ein Mann für Mama and Luki-live as an example.]

Ironian kääntäminen lasten- ja nuortenromaaneissa. Esimerkkinä Christine Nöstlingerin teokset Ein Mann für Mama ja Luki-live. [Translating irony in children’s and youth books. Christine Nöstlinger’s books Ein Mann für Mama and Luki-live as an example.] Seija Haapakoski. Tampere: Tampere University Press, 2011. 252 pages. (An electronic version is freely available at TamPub Institutional Repository, University of Tampere:

How does irony function in texts for children? Who is it meant for and whose interests does it serve? What happens to irony in translated children’s books? These are the key questions posed in the introduction of Seija Haapakoski’s doctoral dissertation that focuses on the challenges and solutions of translating irony in texts for children; a topic which is currently under-researched both in the Finnish and international context. While one of her starting points is the gap in earlier research, Haapakoski is not interested in irony only as an under-researched subcategory of humour in children’s literature but also as a trope that allows one to address questions that are specifically related to translating children’s literature: who are the implied readers and what can be assumed of their knowledge and interpretative skills? Moreover, what does translating (or omitting) irony suggest about how children’s literature and child readers are understood in different cultures? Borrowing Linda Hutcheon’s (1994) appropriation of Hayden White’s notion of irony as ‘transideological’, Haapakoski maintains that irony can be employed to express many kinds of beliefs and aims, including didactic or pedagogical (15).

Haapakoski proposes that the Austrian author Christine Nöstlinger’s texts make compelling cases for examining irony in translation because Nöstlinger employs irony not only to amuse readers but also to put forward a socio-political critique of educational systems and gender roles, among other things. Potentially, then, if irony is used for such specific purposes but does not translate from the source language to the target language, what is lost or changed is not only humour but also ideological aspects of the source text.

As is typical of Finnish doctoral dissertations, the book includes a substantial theoretical and methodological section that covers almost half of the book. This section provides a compelling discussion of the concept of irony (Chapter Two), the challenges faced by a translator of an ironic text for child readers (Chapter Three) and recent studies of translation strategies related to irony (Chapter Four). Haapakoski brings together research from several language areas and disciplines, ranging from literary studies, translation studies and applied linguistics to developmental psychology addressing the cognitive capabilities of child readers. Haapakoski focuses on examining irony as indirect critique that is implicitly expressed through verbal remarks, dramatic situations, or larger narrative or textual structures. To recognise irony, readers need the ability to go beyond the literal meaning of text. Haapakoski suggests that they are invited to do so through the use of various irony signals or markers in texts – it is these concrete linguistic or textual clues that serve as evidence for a comparative translation analyst who examines the ‘amount’ of irony in source and target texts. Haapakoski is thus more interested in the ironic potential of the texts, rather than whether or not actual young (or old) readers recognise the signals and interpret the irony in the texts in similar ways as the educated researcher has done. The irony signals that Haapakoski investigates range from sentence-level clues, such as the use of alliteration or parentheses, to larger discursive structures, including ironic co-text and an intrusive narrator.

The corpus in Haapakoski’s study consists of two novels by Nöstlinger, Ein Mann für Mama (1972) and Luki-live (1978) and their translations into English (Marrying off Mother, 1978 and Luke and Angela, 1979, translated by Anthea Bell), Swedish (En man för mamma, 1978, translated by Christina Tranmark-Kossman and Lyckliga Lucke, 1979, translated by Karin Nyman), and Finnish (Vanhemmista on paljon vaivaa, 1994 and Luki-live, 1982, translated by Leena Viljakainen). Haapakoski’s methodogical approach relies on close textual and comparative analysis. The analysis consists of a quantitative section where a number of different irony signals in both source and target texts are identified and a qualitative section where representative examples of the key categories of irony signals are discussed in relation to translation strategies. The level of detail in the analysis is a strength but also a challenge to readers who do not master all the four languages that are dealt with. Haapakoski explicitly states that she has tried to explain the contents of the original German extracts in a detailed way to open them up also to those Finnish readers who do not understand German. Haapakoski defines her own audience as readers who are interested in children’s literature rather than translation studies. Yet, readers who have a good command of all four languages will get most out of the study since extracts from the translated texts in the corpus are not thoroughly explained to aid readers who are lacking competence in these languages.

Haapakoski’s findings suggest that, in general, irony translates rather well from the source texts to all the target texts in her study, whether this happens by keeping the irony signals as intact as possible or adapting or adding irony signals in the target texts. This is particularly the case with structural and situational irony. In fact, as Haapakoski points out, since these rhetorical devices are based on larger textual structures, such as levels of narration, characterisation, or whole scenes, the target text would have to be significantly transformed to omit them. In contrast, verbal irony poses more challenges to translators and has been less frequently translated from the source language to any of the target languages. The linguistic relatedness between source and target languages seems here to have little effect on how successfully irony is translated; the Finnish translator has not been less successful than those translating from one Germanic language to another. Instead, the target cultural context seems to have had a more significant effect on the translations. While the Swedish and Finnish translators have been fairly faithful to the original texts, the English translations take more liberties in interpreting the text for a new audience, in the case of Luki-live rather drastically so because substantial sections of texts have been completely omitted. Haapakoski puts forward one plausible, partial explanation, drawing on Zohar Shavit’s (1981) notion of the peripheral position of children’s literature in the literary polysystem which allows for translators of children’s texts take greater liberties than translators of mainstream literature. Haapakoski suggests that Shavit’s notion seems to apply to the English translations, also because in the closed English-language children’s literature system translated books occupy a peripheral position. This does not apply to the Finnish and Swedish translations because these are published in open literary systems where a substantial number of titles are translated literature; the central position of translated literature might make translators more cautious about taking liberties with texts.

However, as Haapakoski writes, speculating about translators’ choices is challenging since editors can also have a crucial impact on shaping the final outcome – this seems to have been the case with the English translation of Luki-live, for instance, evidenced by an e-mail exchange with the translator Anthea Bell that is cited in the study. In regard to interpreting the findings in a larger context, it would have been interesting to read more about the reception of the translated books in their target cultures: have the English reviewers, for instance, been aware of the fact that a German, feminist young adult novel has, according to Haapakoski, been transformed into a ‘witty description of human relationships’ (223) with few signs of the socio-political critique in the original? Haapakoski has explored some reviews of the translations in target cultures, but I would have wanted to see even more of paratextual data examined when discussing the translation strategies in a larger cultural context. As much as I appreciate the close textual and comparative analysis, it can only provide partial answers about translating (for children) as a socio-cultural process.

Haapakoski’s dissertation is a solid piece of work that can be recommended for Finnish audiences interested in children’s literature in translation, although those who are well-versed in theories of irony, translation and children’s literature might want to jump directly to the results sections. International audiences eager to find out more about the topic are not completely left in the dark: the book includes a concise English abstract and parts of the findings have been published in Haapakoski’s (2010) earlier English-language article that focuses on additions as a specific translation strategy that may aid child readers of target texts in recognising irony.

Sanna Lehtonen
Tilburg University, The Netherlands

Works Cited

Haapakoski, Seija. "Translating children’s literature: additions as an aid to understanding irony." Linguistica Antverpiensia New Series – Themes in Translation Studies. Eds. Katrien Lievois and Pierre Schoentjes. 2010. 139–154.

Hutcheon, Linda. Irony’s Edge: The Theory and Politics of Irony. London: Routledge, 1994.

Shavit, Zohar. "Translation of Children’s Literature as a Function of Its Position in the Literary Polysystem." Poetics Today 2.4 (1981):171–179.