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Language, culture and context

You will want to reflect on how effectively and fluently a book's text, subtext and indeed overall context will transfer to UK audiences, whilst avoiding making assumptions about your readers.  This can be a delicate balance. 

You will want to look at the subject of authenticity and whether (or to what extent) the book's backdrop can be retained or whether to 'relocate' it to a familiar setting.  Or perhaps an unspecified (universal) backdrop may be the answer.  

One publisher told us how they worked with a translator on some books about the Inuit people by the famous Danish explorer Jørn Riel, and how the experience made them better understand the importance of presenting countries involved not as countries in a modern, political sense. It helped them consider ways of conveying a sense of place in a way which evoked wilderness rather than owned territory. 

You may need to look at some characters' names and the extent to which they can be transferred. 

Sometimes the original book may take a more 'direct' or undiluted approach to a theme than a UK book might typically take.  For example, at our 2012 London Book Fair seminar, one publisher (Julia Marshall of Gecko Press) shared her experience of translating All the Dear Little Animals from Swedish.  The book is about a group of children who run a funeral service for animals. The title in German is Die besten Beerdigungen der Welt – 'The Very Best Funerals in the World' and in French Nos petits enterrments – 'Our Little Funerals'.  Julia was faced with an interesting dilemma in terms of how to select an appropriate title for the UK edition, and whether or not to include words like "dead" and "funerals".
Much will depend on your own instinct and your publishing house's ethos. 

Language and terminology are constantly evolving, and in some cases, it may feel very obvious that a word needs to change in the UK version (for example, where a term like 'handicapped' would be widely accepted in many countries, this would have far less positive connotations in the UK). 

Some characters' names or place names might carry certain (positive or negative) associations in their original language and it can prove an interesting challenge in finding suitable alternatives in the translated version. 

Translator Sarah Ardizzone has also had interesting experiences with the translation of colloquial language:


"In my translation of Just Like Tomorrow by Faïza Guène (a young woman born in the Paris suburbs to Algerian parents), I was trying to find a parallel for French/Arabic backslang in British urban street slang, with its roots in, say, Jamaican patois and "Benglish." Without substituting one immigrant culture for another, my job was to tap into expressions of humour, anger and frustration. It's an exhilarating journey that's taken me from the slangstas of Live Magazine in Brixton to the heart of the Algerian community in Marseille." 

(The Guardian, 2006)


If in doubt, the Outside In World experience is that children are often very happy to 'adjust' to new and unfamiliar settings, concepts, words and names, and you will surely want to protect as many aspects of the original as possible.  As the editor of a translation, you may need to be prepared to defend your edited translation, particularly in relation to proofreaders and other copyeditors who want to 'standardise', sanitise or anglicize the language or context to an excessive degree.  Above all, you will certainly want to take every effort to avoid sapping the life, energy and authenticity out of the precious original piece.


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