Web Translation Projects/Translation of Young Adult Literature
This project might be of use primarily to people interested in young adult literature and some issues regarding its translation. The first part of the project provides an insight into young adult literature by defining and characterizing it, as well as shows its origins. The second part focuses on various aspects of translating young adult literature, explaining briefly the Skopos theory and the difficulties one may face while translating young adult literature, as well as how such difficulties were tackled on the example of fragments of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye translated into Polish by Maria Skibniewska (1961) and Magdalena Słysz (2007).
An overview of young adult literatureEdit
The term ‘young adult,’ besides its quite literal meaning of ‘an adolescent,’ in regard to literature means “of, relating to, or being a category of fiction that is primarily intended for adolescent readers." When the term ‘young adult literature’ first emerged around the 1960s, it used to refer to works set in the real, contemporary world, dealing with problems of adolescent life and aiming at a target audience aged between 12-18. Although essentially true, this statement is slowly becoming slightly inaccurate, since young adult literature (often abbreviated as YA) has been attracting the interest of wider audiences, often comprising readers aged between 10-25.
The following list presents typical characteristics of young adult literature:
- the main characters are teenagers,
- the books on average are 200 pages long, although they might be shorter or much longer.
- the story is most often written in the first person point of view,
- the main character is usually also the narrator,
- the story is told in the voice of a teenager rather than that of an adult reminiscing about their adolescence,
- the language is not very difficult and typical of the contemporary adolescents,
- initially the stories were set in the real, contemporary world; nowadays the settings range from historical through imaginative to futuristic,
- the issues covered and the characters are relatable to teenagers,
- usually parents are enemies or play a minor role,
- the plot and literary style are uncomplicated but never simplistic,
- the characters’ decisions and actions decide about the outcome of the story,
- usually the tone and outcome of young adult novels is upbeat; there has been, however, an increase in the number of darker young adult books in the 21st century,
- young adult fiction, although uses them at less advanced levels, contains almost all the traditional elements characteristic of classical literature, such as well-developed characters, flashbacks, foreshadowing, irony, etc.
- young adult literature can be enjoyed by both adolescents and adult readers.
Until the 1900s it was difficult to talk of any young adult books. Before, there were mostly publications either for children or for adults, with no other category in between. The origins of young adult literature can be traced as far back as to the end of the 19th century and publications such as Little Women by Louisa May Alcott or Ragged Dick by Horatio Alger, Jr.
“[They] both appeared in 1868, and gave impetus to an era—already under way—of series fiction: dime adventure novels for boys and wholesome domestic stories like the Elsie Dinsmore books for girls.”
The founding of a publishing company called Stratemayer Syndicate in 1900 marked the beginning of the popularity of series of books dedicated separately to girls (Nancy Drew) and to boys (The Hardy Boys). One of the first novels tentatively aimed at the adolescent audience, to which they responded in a positive way, was Let the Hurricane Roar by Rose Wilder Lane.
“While it was not a piece of literature, it was an entertaining story which did not fit into any category. It was too mature for children and too uncomplicated for adults. (…) the dawn of the modern teen-age story came up like thunder.”
Lane’s novel, labelled as the career story, initiated the popularity of subgenres in young adult literature, and soon after followed the sports story, the American delinquent or gang member story, romance fiction, and many others. For a few decades literature for young adults started gaining popularity, especially due to the fact that it gave adolescents characters and stories that were easy to relate to. A small breakthrough came when the post-World War II society realized that, as Grace Palladino puts it, “teenagers have become a separate and distinct group in our society,” and thus requires representation in literature.
In the first half of the 20th century it is noticeable that the first works of fiction we can now categorize as young adult avoided certain topics. Among them were smoking, narcotics, drinking alcohol, sexual themes, as well as violence and widely perceived diversity.
The second half of the 20th century saw both an enrichment in the topic range of young adult fiction and the beginning of breaking of literary taboos. One of the most distinguishable works at the time was J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and, although published intendedly for adults, it gained popularity about younger audiences. That is because it was not only about an adolescent, but it was written from the point of view of an adolescent and in his tone. It was also one of the first young adult novels to hint that a character was suffering from a mental illness.
Since the 1960s onwards young adult literature has begun rapidly growing, being written now both by adults and adolescents, expanding its range of genres, and enabling its target audience not to feel left out in literature.
Classification according to genre and sub-genreEdit
The following table is based on the detailed classification of young adult genres by Emma Johnson. It is worth noting that a precise classification of YA books is almost never possible, since various genres are often combined and intermixed, and how many genres and tropes a book will eventually incorporate is eventually the author’s decision.
|Fantasy||set in an imaginative world, predominantly inspired by the Middle Ages, inspired by existing myths and folk tales||Urban fantasy||contains elements of an imaginative world (e.g. the existence of magic), but is set partly or completely in a real urban environment|
|Fairytale retellings||old and well-known fairytale classics retold or re-imagined|
|Paranormal||typically romance stories about a relationship between a human and a paranormal being|
|Dystopian||events following a catastrophe, focused on bringing about justice and peace in a corrupt world, often evaluating the contemporary social and political issues||Science fiction-based||new technological developments leading to oppressive rules|
|Fantasy-based||magical powers, strange mutations or extraterrestrial intrusions cause conflicts and divide societies|
|Apocalyptical||taking place during a catastrophe instead of in a world of its aftermath, focusing on the struggle of survival|
|Contemporary||set in the real world, focused on the daily struggles of adolescents||Romance||include one of romantic tropes, such as first love, break-up, love triangle, enemies/friends to lovers; romance is the primary but not exclusive topic of such works|
|Coming-of-age||character growth due to significant or traumatic event, or due to reaching a milestone in life|
|Magical realism||magical elements woven into the story set in the realistic, modern world|
|Historical fiction||set in the past, often during an important historical event||Romance||focused on a romantic relationship in a historical setting|
|Fantasy-based||the historical setting does not play a major role in the story but is often a base for creating a fictional world hidden within our own; might also deal with time travel|
|Mystery/Thriller||adolescents being involved in or solving mysteries, often crimes|
|Science fiction||set in our own world after significant scientific or technological development, on other planets, or in space|
|Speculative fiction||deal with alternative history scenarios, generally as a result of asking oneself “what would happen if…?”|
|Graphic novels, comic books, manga, webtoons||in this case often it is the specific genre that influences the art style of such works||Light novels||written works with several illustrations of major events throughout, especially popular in Japan|
|Epistolary novels||told through letters, notes, journal entries, texts, chat logs, or social media posts|
Organizations, awards and dedicated eventsEdit
The existence of organizations, awards and events dedicated specifically to young adult literature and its enthusiasts implies that young adult fiction has been getting increasingly popular and recognized. Among them are:
YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association), founded in 1957, is a charitable association, whose aim is to promote young adult fiction by helping libraries reach out to adolescents and fulfil their literary needs.
Margaret A. Edwards Award, founded in 1988, is the oldest literary award which annually recognizes authors for lifetime contributions to young adult literature.
Goodreads Choice Awards is an annual award program launched in 2009 whose winners’ are decided by readers through an online poll on the official website. There are two awards in the category of young adult literature: for young adult fiction and young adult fantasy, which categories seem to dominate the contemporary literary scene among readers.
YALLFest is a two-day festival open to public. Founded in 2011, every year it gathers young adult literature enthusiasts in Charleston, South Carolina who can buy books, meet other YA enthusiasts and attend panels led by authors of their favorite works. Due to its popularity, a sister festival YALLWest was founded in 2015 and takes place every spring in Santa Monica, California.
Translating young adult literatureEdit
Contrary to children’s literature translation, which not only has existed and has been addressed for hundreds of years, but also has its own field of research, young adult literature is a fairly new genre. Hence it needs to be mentioned that research devoted to it, as well as the problem of its translation, are still rather scarce and due to this fact translators either rely on solutions proposed in regard to children’s literature, or approach young adult literature as works for adults.
The Skopos theoryEdit
The Skopos theory, whose name is derived from the Greek word skopos meaning ‘aim’ or ‘purpose,’ was created by Hans J. Vermeer in the 1970s. The primary motivation behind the theory was finding an alternative to translation relying on linguistics only. According to Vermeer, translation is seen as an action, and as such being purpose-driven, therefore results in a translatum or, in other words, the translated text. Its skopos should be determined as a result of negotiations between the translator and the commissioner. The theory also states that the translator carries the responsibility for the final target text and it is their duty as an ‘expert’ in their field to produce “a serviceable translatum” which could function in the target language and culture.
Therefore, to put the Skopos theory in the context of young adult literature, the translator should keep in mind that they are translating a work for adolescents, therefore they may be asked, for instance, to tone down a text and restrict the use of profanities (especially if the text may be of interest to both the younger and the older adolescents).
Difficulties in translating young adult literatureEdit
Although young adult literature emerged as a genre separate both from children’s and adult literature, due to scarce research in this field often approaches to translating children’s literature are adapted to young adult literature and applied in the process. Some strategies, such as adaptation, might be used in translating young adult literature, although not in such an excessive way as it is the case with children’s literature. Adding brief in-text definitions or explanations of terms or elements specific to the source text culture could be considered adapting. Other translation strategies, such as Klingberg's purification, although used in regard to children’s literature, lose their relevance when it comes to works dedicated to young adults who are mostly able to handle, for instance, slightly more graphic descriptions of violence or examples of immoral behavior.
One of the more time-consuming issues translators may encounter while working on young adult literature is language.
“(…) [Y]outh language often contains words and expressions that do not (yet) occur in dictionaries, which is particularly why it can be characterised as a non-standard variety: they are deviations from the standard language.”
Therefore, as a non-standard variety, language of the young poses a challenge in the way that it quickly becomes outdated and often loses the intensity of its initial tone, so the translator has to find such a wording that would cause a similar effect on the target language reader as it did in the source language. Saskia Tempert highlights several other possible issues encountered in the process of translating, such as dealing with code-switching; the use of slang and rapidly changing language of the young; profanities; and approaching the use of idiolect.
The Catcher in the Rye in translationsEdit
Due to the limited scope of this project, this part will focus on briefly explaining and exemplifying the problems mentioned above, as well as look at the solutions of the two Polish translators of The Catcher in the Rye regarding its title.
It is a phenomenon explained as a “process of shifting from one linguistic code (a language or dialect) to another, depending on the social context or conversational setting.” Holden Caulfield, the main character in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, is often seen switching between two language variations that he uses depending on who he is speaking to – youth language to communicate with his peers is one, and the other is a variation close to the standard version of American English spoken at the time of the book’s creation. These variations sometimes overlap, as Holden seems to be using youth language while narrating the story as well. The following table presents one example of code-switching and how it was approached in both translations. The bolded emphasis was added to show correspondent characteristic words or phrases in the original and in the translations.
|Original text||Translation by M. Skibniewska (1961)||Translation by M. Słysz (2007)|
|He put my goddam paper down then and looked at me like he’d just beaten hell out of me in ping-pong or something. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive him for reading me that crap out loud. I wouldn’t’ve read it out loud to him if he’d written it – I really wouldn’t. In the first place, I’d only written that damn note so that he wouldn’t feel too bad about flunking me.
‘Do you blame me for flunking you, boy?’ he said.
‘No, sir! I certainly don’t,’ I said. I wished to hell he’d stop calling me ‘boy’ all the time.
|Odłożył to moje idiotyczne wypracowanie i spojrzał na mnie z takim triumfem, jakby mi wlepił suchego seta w ping-ponga czy coś w tym rodzaju. Nigdy mu chyba nie daruję, że przeczytał mi głośno te wygłupy. Gdyby to on do mnie napisał, ja z pewnością nie czytałbym mu tego na głos, słowo daję. Przecież ten głupi przypis dodałem tylko po to, żeby się nie potrzebował martwić oblewając mnie na egzaminie.
– Masz mi za złe, chłopcze, że cię oblałem? – spytał.
– Nie, proszę pana, na pewno nie – odparłem. Dużo bym dał, żeby przestał wciąż mówić do mnie per "chłopcze".
|Odłożył tę moją zasraną pracę i spojrzał na mnie, jakby właśnie spuścił mi łupnia w ping-ponga czy coś w tym stylu. Chyba nigdy mu nie daruję, że zmusił mnie do wysłuchania tych bredni. Gdyby to on coś podobnego wysmarował, nie odczytałbym mu tego na głos – słowo daję. Przede wszystkim napisałem ten cholerny list, żeby nie miał wyrzutów, gdy będzie mi stawiał dwóję.
– Masz do mnie pretensje, że nie dałem ci zaliczenia,
chłopcze? – zapytał.
– Ależ nie, panie profesorze! Skąd – odparłem na to.
O rany, żeby tylko przestał mówić do mnie bez przerwy
As presented above, Holden typically uses youth language. However, when speaking to his teacher, Mr. Spencer, he switches to a slightly informal variant of standard American English, and in the next sentence with his narration he immediately switches back to youth language.
The comments on the translators’ choices regarding the categories of the terms in bold can be found in the sections below.
Youth language and slang
Youth language, to put it simply, is the non-standard variation of language that the youth uses, typically in speech rather than writing. In the case of adolescent characters in The Catcher in the Rye, it is colloquial, full of profanities (“goddam,” “hell,” “sonuvabitch,” to name but a few), slang terms (“crap”), non-standard contracted forms (“wouldn’t’ve”), irony and sarcasm, as well as idiomatic phrases (“beaten [the] hell out of me”). The following table, with emphasis in bold added, presents several instances of the translators’ ways of dealing with the language of the young from the 1950s–1960s.
|No.||Original text||Translation by M. Skibniewska (1961)||Translation by M. Słysz (2007)|
|1.||"C'mon, let's get outa here," I said. "You give me a royal pain in the ass, if you want to know the truth."||– Chodźmy stąd wreszcie – powiedziałem. – Jeżeli chcesz wiedzieć prawdę, d... mnie rozbolała od tego twojego gadania.||– Chodźmy stąd – rzuciłem. – Jeśli chcesz znać prawdę, flaki mi się wywracają od tego twojego gadania.|
|2.||Then the old lady that was around a hundred years old and I shot the breeze for a while.||Potem pierwsza pani – ta stuletnia – ucięła ze mną małą pogawędkę.||Potem ta starsza, ta stuletnia, chwilę ze mną pogawędziła.|
- Contracted forms, such as “c’mon” instead of “come on,” or “outa” instead of “out of” do not seem to have similar equivalents in Polish. “C’mon” is simply rendered as “chodźmy” and “outa here” as “stąd.”
- Idiomatic phrases are usually translated into idiomatic, colloquial expressions in Polish, for instance “you give me a royal pain in the ass” as “d… mnie rozbolała” or “flaki mi się wywracają.” In Skibniewska’s translation it is seen that she censors the word that can easily be assumed to be “dupa” (Eng. “ass”); however, quite curiously, she does not hesitate to use a much stronger expression “sukinsyn” (Eng. “son of a bitch”), as seen in Example 2 of the section below. It might have been a decision made by request of the publisher, yet it does make the text slightly inconsistent. Słysz decided to tone down the entire expression, even though it was not extremely vulgar in the first place, substituting it with another colloquial yet not crude phrase.
- “Shoot the breeze” is a slang expression meaning “have a short, casual conversation.” Skibniewska used an actual, colloquial verb phrase “uciąć z kimś pogawędkę,” while Słysz – an informal yet quite regular verb “pogawędzić.” Both translators achieved quite natural, informal expressions in Polish.
|No.||Original text||Translation by M. Skibniewska (1961)||Translation by M. Słysz (2007)|
|1.||He put my goddam paper down then and looked at me like he’d just beaten hell out of me in ping-pong or something.||Odłożył to moje idiotyczne wypracowanie i spojrzał na mnie z takim triumfem, jakby mi wlepił suchego seta w ping-ponga czy coś w tym rodzaju.||Odłożył tę moją zasraną pracę i spojrzał na mnie, jakby właśnie spuścił mi łupnia w ping-ponga czy coś w tym stylu.|
|2.||“No reason. Boy, I can’t stand that sonuvabitch. He’s one sonuvabitch I really can’t stand.”||- Tak sobie. Nie znoszę tego sukinsyna. Taki sukinsyn, że ścierpieć go nie mogę.||- Ot tak sobie. Kurde, jak ja nie znoszę tego sukinsyna. To jedyny koleś, którego nie znoszę.|
- “Goddam” (a variation of "goddamn") is a slang profanity used to intensify or emphasize ones words. It is worth noting that back in the 1950s and 1960s it was treated as a much stronger expression than nowadays, when it is rather made light of. Then the term was not only offensive, but also seen as blasphemy. Skibniewska decides to substitute this term with the adjective “idiotyczny,” something that would still ridicule Holden’s note to his teacher, and yet not come off so strongly. Słysz decided to use the expression “zasrany,” which, although not blasphemous and with no religious connotations, is a rather rude, offensive word. It can be concluded, then, that both choices lose a certain value of the word used by Salinger.
- In the case of “he’d just beaten hell out of me,” once again both translators do not use any terms with religious connotations and instead substitute them with colloquial, idiomatic expressions. It is worth to note that the phrase used by Skibniewska (“wlepić [komuś] suchego seta”) does not seem to have a clear definition available in dictionaries. It might suggest that this expression was the translator’s invention and an attempt at creating an idiomatic rendition of the original phrase.
- Here, the aforementioned term “sonuvabitch” is repeated twice. Skibniewska decided to repeat it as well, since Holden is typically seen reiterating certain phrases throughout the novel as a habit of sorts. Słysz, however, decided to substitute the second profanity with a non-vulgar noun “koleś” (Eng. “guy, dude, man”), which seems to somewhat temper Holden’s language and character.
- “Boy” is one of the most often repeated words in the novel, however, depending on the context and the person who Holden is talking to, its renditions may vary. Here, Skibniewska decided to omit it, probably deciding there was no sufficient equivalent at that time and that without the word her translation would remain consistent. Słysz substitutes “boy” with a mild curse word “kurde,” which carries similar meaning as the English word “shoot” or “shit.” This decision was probably justified with the fact that “kurde” sometimes plays the role of a sentence filler (that is what “boy” also seems to be); furthermore, Holden does not shun away from using various profanities and using such a word would suit his character.
Idiolect is “the language or speech pattern of one individual at a particular period of life.” In The Catcher in the Rye the character of most importance is Holden Caulfield, since he is both the hero and the narrator of this story. Elements that could be counted both as youth language and a distinctive part of Holden’s idiolect are, for instance, “and all,” “boy,” “big deal,” “I really did,” and “It really was.” The translators approach each usage of such expressions differently, for instance, by substituting them with similes or idioms commonly used in Polish everyday language; by omitting them; or by substituting them with curse words, to name but a few.
The title of Salinger’s novel is a reference to a line from Robert Burns' poem which Holden misheard, while a child was singing it in the street, as “If a body catch a body comin' through the rye,” and was immediately corrected by his younger sister who said the line in reality says “If a body meet a body coming through the rye.” Holden mistakenly interprets the misheard line as the definition of innocence and builds an entire fantasy around it, set in a literal field of rye, imagining himself to be the “catcher,” or – in other words – the protector of innocent children before they jump off a cliff into adulthood. Therefore, the original title, The Catcher in the Rye, refers to Holden who would be responsible for catching children, saving them from the dreaded phoniness of adults, and the setting in which he imagines it to happen.
The first Polish title used in the edition translated by Maria Skibniewska is Buszujący w zbożu. The translator decided not to render the title word for word, but rather tried to capture the entire sense of Holden’s fantasy. “The catcher,” instead of becoming more literal equivalents such as “chwytacz" or "łapacz” (which carry an additional yet irrelevant in this context meaning of a position of a baseball player), is rendered as “buszujący,” meaning “one who moves around while searching for something; one who picks through something.” Due to the fact that the word “buszujący” is an active adjectival participle, its form further broadens the meaning, since it may refer both to Holden ("ten buszujący" – adjectival participle, singular) as the one constantly rummaging through the rye in search for lost children, and to the children themselves ("ci buszujący" – adjectival participle, plural) as the ones exploring the vastness of the rye. In Skibniewska’s translation “rye” becomes not “żyto,” but “zboże” – it is a less specific word which sounds more natural to the Polish reader and does not change the meaning too much, since “zboże” means “grain” whose type rye is. So instead of an excessively faithful but clumsy translation of The Catcher in the Rye into, for instance, “Łapacz w życie,” in Skibniewska’s work words which evoke curiosity, specific imagery and emotions were used. The book since its first publication in 1961 was reprinted 17 times and not once was the title changed.
What is more, when the book was translated for the second time by Magdalena Słysz, the title was not changed. This might have been due to two reasons: 1) readers were used to the already existing translated title and rendering it in any other way after the book was on the market for over 40 years could cause confusion, hinting, for instance, that it could be a never-before-released publication from Salinger or a parody of the original; 2) “Buszujący w zbożu” was simply considered the best possible translation of the title and the publisher had no intention of changing it whatsoever.
Whatever the reason, after being translated for the second time, the book was reprinted 18 more times as of 2019. It is evident that titles play a significant role in the reception and popularity of publications. In the case of young adult literature, whose target audience might be more prone to paying attention to catchy, intriguing or peculiar titles, producing a serviceable and successful translation of titles is of even more importance than in the case of literature for adults.
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- Salinger, Jerome D. The Catcher in the Rye. Penguin Books, 2010.
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- Katalog Biblioteki Narodowej, https://katalogi.bn.org.pl/discovery/search?vid=48OMNIS_NLOP:48OMNIS_NLOP. Accessed 12 Jun 2021.