- I Am a Translator, a Transmitter of Culture
Some time ago, an article in an Italian newspaper dealing with translation started affirming that "in the rank of solitary professions … translators share the first place with lighthouse keepers." It is true. Someone who translates stays for hours in front of a PC, writing and thinking in apparent loneliness; however, while lighthouse keepers have only the wide blue sea in front of their eyes, translators have plenty of characters that fill their rooms and drag them into a myriad of different situations and countries.
Up until now, my characters have taken me to New York, North Carolina, Poland, Austria, and Germany; to the Dutch dunes; to Limburg; and even onto the moon! I wound up in a boxer-ring, on top of a diving board, in the middle of a football field, and on a sailing ship, and I discovered a lot of places and customs that I did not know earlier. In conclusion, every book I translated until now has made me travel and learn something new. And in my opinion, the readers, too, should get this opportunity.
But too often publishers and translators of children's books prefer to domesticate the stories written by foreign authors. "The tailoring of source texts to the perceived experience and requirements of the child reader in the target culture is a constant factor across the history of translation for children," Gillian Lathey points out (196). And, in fact, one of the main problems that translators of children's literature have to face is to decide between domestication and foreignization. In the existing theoretical studies, there are in this respect two radically different approaches: one theory propagates a maximal approximation of the target text to the source text, so that the translation has to be faithful, and the other suggests to take the target audience into consideration and adapt the text to the new context giving more liberty to the translator.
I am convinced of the fact that translators have a crucial role as cultural mediators. They are the ones who can preserve the local peculiarities that characterize the foreign books and show them to the readers, enriching their lives. But I also think that sometimes a compromise has to be achieved.
Of course, we can agree with Maria Nikolajeva when she writes that "a decision on an appropriate translation strategy must naturally be taken in each individual case" (287), but in my opinion, we should avoid to apply the so called ethnocentric model with increasing frequency. It is up to the translators to keep the cultural markers of the original texts in the translation, and it is up to the educators to encourage the young readers to familiarize with foreign cultures suggesting—for example, that they should find information about what they read in other books or on the Internet. Today you can really travel all over the world through google-maps and YouTube while staying behind your desk. And then, perhaps, one day the readers will feel the desire of packing their bags to go on a real journey to the places that have already become familiar to them through literature.
In a nutshell, the essential aspect in deciding if a text should be domesticated or not is, for me, the age of the target group. If the text is written for first-grade readers and its characters have funny names with particular meanings as well as relating puns, then even a localization of the text—which means a changing of the setting to a more familiar one—may be the most appropriate choice. It is quite evident for me that if you have to translate the names of the [End Page 62] characters, the setting of the book cannot remain in the foreign country because there would be a lack of authenticity that even a young audience would notice. Otherwise, someone could feel the same astonishment as Umberto Eco when he was a young boy in the 1950s and watched synchronized Hollywood films set in America in which, curiously, all the characters had Italian names (177).
In any case, if you localize a novel, you have to pay great...