Children Literature and Translation: Purpose Paradigm as a Case in Point | April 2016 | Translation Journal

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Children Literature and Translation: Purpose Paradigm as a Case in Point


Translation of children’s literature has always been an important concern for professional and trainee translators. This is due to the vulnerability of its reader in terms of understanding of both developmental factors and the world of childhood. And the central problem in translation for the intended ilk of people is the adult-child duality (Klingberg, 1986, p.10) that sparks the question of what counts as children’s literature. However, in this article we are mainly concerned with children’s literature. Translator as a powerful mediator should consider all aspects of translation when dealing with children’s literature as well. The present study concentrates on challenging the one prominent paradigm in children’s literature, skopos paradigm. Purpose paradigm considers the purpose and situation of the client (e.g. children). More specifically, this study indicates that purpose paradigm is more acceptable and achievable throughout the translation of children’s literature. 

Keywords:  Translation, Cchildren's Literature, Skopos Paradigm, Adaptation

1. Introduction

Oittinen (2000, p.61) defines children’s literature as “literature produced and intended for children or as literature read by children”.  Hunt (1990, p. 1), however, says that the boundaries of children’s literature are not clear-cut and that children’s literature cannot be defined by textual characteristics either of style or content, while its primary audience is equally elusive.  He adds that children’s literature, as an outsider to the academic world, does not fit exactly into any of the established subject categories and has been positively snubbed by some of those categories. For him, children’s literature is a species of literature which has mainly been defined in terms of reader rather than the author’s intentions or the texts themselves.

For Klingberg, children’s literature is literature produced specifically for children. This author excludes all other writing and pictures that children may read and specifies that a distinction should be made between literature read by children and literature produced for children. This is to mean that all that children read cannot be said to be part of children’s literature (Oittinen, 2000, p.61-2).


2. Values of Children’s literature

Norton’s (1987, p.35) point of view, which I personally subscribe to, is that children’s literature should be designed in a way that it opens doors to discovery and adventure for children. It can  do  this  by  providing  enjoyment,  transmitting  literary  heritage,  encouraging understanding  and  valuing  cultural  heritage,  and  providing  vicarious  experiences.  It should, moreover, transfer knowledge, nurture and broaden the imagination, and stimulate development.

It is a widespread view that the primary value of literature is pure pleasure, escape literature. As adults sometimes read for the purpose of enjoyment, children should also be given the same opportunity. There is nothing wrong in letting children read for the sake of enjoying what they read. Time spent while looking at beautiful pictures and imagining themselves in new places is enriched and not wasted because, in discovering enjoyment, children develop desirable attitudes towards those pictures and places and these attitudes usually extend into a lifetime of appreciation (Norton, 1987, p. 5).

The second value of literature is that it can serve the purpose of transmitting a society’s literary heritage from one generation to another. New generations can surely enjoy the words of preceding generations through reading what those generations have written.  In such a way, the literary heritage of a society can be maintained (Norton, 1987, p. 5).

The third value examined by Norton (1987, p. 5) is that children’s literature plays a role in helping the understanding and valuing of cultural heritage. By reading the literature situated in their  culture,  children  get  to  know  more  about  their  culture  and  this  contributes  to  their social and personal development.

The fourth value of literature lies in the fact that children get to learn, through literature, about the experiences of people who lived before them. Since they learn how people who lived before them handled their problems, sharing experiences with characters in books can help them deal with the problems they encounter in their own lives.

Finally, children’s literature inspires language, cognitive, personality and social development. Children acquire their knowledge of language as they read. They can learn new elements of vocabulary, usage and grammatical structures. Based on Mussen, Conger and Kagan (1979, pp.233-234).

3. Purpose Paradigm

In this category, equivalence will be treated as data-driven, message-oriented, outcome oriented, and target-sidedness. Most of the translators or theorists in this category pay special attention to the surface level of the equivalent transference. In this direction, one of the precursors in purpose paradigm is Hans Vermeer who proposes Skopos theory. Skopo in Greek language means “purpose” and “aim” in which it inspects the function of the target language. It is better to say that purpose paradigm works in one dimension that it expatiate the relations via the function of target language contexts.

According to Vermeer (1989b/2004), “what the Skopos states is that one must translate, consciously and consistently, in accordance with some principles respecting the target text. The theory does not state what the principle is; this must be determined separately in each specific case (p.234).” it can be inferred that target side priority is the sole reason of Skopos’ institutionalizing. It is better to say that source language context is the critical turning point in this paradigm in that it connects the translator to the target language context. The translator as the mediator in this paradigm seeks to conglomerate the two poles of translation, source and target language. Therefore, source language text cannot be neglected from the exact checkpoint of the translator in this regard. Moreover, the paradigm is actually bulky in translation studies. Should the text seek to utilize one principle and the other text seek to use the other principle, the translator has to understand lots of principles and seek to ruminate about their situationality. So, Skopos theory is not generative enough in every field of study per se.

Some factors such as target language, the translator, and the role of the client as instruction giver in purpose paradigm are of great importance to mention. In the circle of interaction, one question always occupies the translator’s mind in that she/he needs to decide for the end-product of the translation. In Purpose paradigm, special attention is given to the role of the client as the decision maker. Client in this sense is pertained to the target client. Willy nilly, the translator should obey the client’s instructions. That is due to the fact that the fee of translation should be given by the client in this process. In this process, the translator should inspect the role of decoding ability in his/her translation prior to the act of translating. Nida (1964) defines decoding ability as “(1) the capacity of children whose vocabulary and cultural experience are limited. (2) The double standard of capacity of new literates, who can decode oral message with facility but whose ability to decode written message is limited. (3) the capacity of average literate adult, who can handle both oral and written messages with relative ease; and (4) the unusually high capacity of specialists (doctors, theologians, philosophers, scientists, etc.), when they are decoding messages within their own areas of specialization (p. 156-71).” Whether acceptable or not, the translator should render as much as he should. Fortunately, some theorists recognize the translator as an expert in this chain of interaction. According to Christiane Nord, the translator should be loyal to the source text. Nord (1997) then defines the term of loyalty as “responsibility translators have toward their patterns in translational interaction. Loyalty commits the translator bilaterally to the source and the target sides. It must not be mixed up with fidelity or faithfulness, concepts that usually refer to the relationship holding between the source and the target texts. Loyalty is an interpersonal category referring to social relationship between people. (p. 125)” In this connection, whether the translator sees the unworkability or impracticality of the equivalence into the target language, he or she can refuse to produce the translation. For example, one of the most pivotal issues in purpose paradigm is to render taboo and derogatory words in the target language. In this situation, the translator must pay attention to the commission of the target reader so as to amalgamate different ilks of people such as children and juveniles. As another example, the translation of childlike suicide (Pym, 2010) is an expressive text type and it must be rendered in such a way that the audience can be directly persuaded by the hidden and concealed intention of the source text in the target one. It is the task of the translator to prepare the situation for the role of decoding ability to convince and persuade the reader by his/her feasible and practical translation. Therefore, purpose paradigm concentrates fully on the role of client and the translator [expert] and it gives the right of rejection of translation to the translator.

To cut the long story short, purpose paradigm scrutinizes the equivalents in a professional situation in accordance with complex obligation to people and the target texts. Professional situations refer to the various principles in which the translator has to utilize in the target text so that the target contexts convey its essence to the target reader as well. Whenever the translators are allowed to utilize every principle, she/he should liberate him/herself from the function of the source language contexts and empower him/her to the target language context in this direction. However, different principles in rendering of the source texts cause the translation to be interpreted variously by the target reader. Sense of ambiguity is thoroughly different from the sense of falsification. Therefore, the translator should ruminate on the context and genre of the source language context prior to the act of translating. Source language is the first spot of translation.     

4. Translating for children       

When a translator embarks on translating, he/she should consider two essential factors. The first factor is the purpose of translation and the second factor is the circumstance under which translation has occurred. Translators do not translate words in isolation, that is the context or the whole situation would be taken into account. Regarding the purpose of translation, Snell-Hornby (1988)  contends that” the problem does not depend on the source text itself, but on the significance of the translated text for its reader as members of a certain culture, or of sub-group within that culture, with the constellation of knowledge, judgment and perception they have developed from it”. Translators infuses the translation with their reading experience, their cultural heritage and specifically in translating for children, their child image. In fact, they become involved in a complex dialogic relationship in which authors, translators and even the publisher play an important role. As we have discussed, this article has given an overview of two dominant paradigms, equivalence and purpose, with a special regard to translating for children. More specifically, traditional and modern approaches will be discussed.

Traditional approaches to translation focus on the very notion of equivalence, abstract structures, or matches between texts. This view of seeing translation pertaining to texts and to author’s intention lead the renderer’s action to obscurity or in another sense as Oittinen (2000) says “mechanistic act’ of translation.

Nowadays, we look at equivalence as Marry-Snell Hornby (1988:13-22) argues; equivalence between original and its translation is an “unsuitable basis for an integrated theory of translation”. In a general sense, equivalence is a very challenging term, since it is” imprecise and ill-defined”, i.e., it “presents an illusion of symmetry between languages which hardly exists beyond the level of vague approximations and which distorts the basic problem of translation”. An example of which would be the term “equivalence”. Considering the term in both German and English, everyone takes them similar in usage, however the otherwise is true. They seem similar but the usage of two words reveals that they are not “equivalent”.

Yet even todays, scholars who have expertise in children’s translation tend to ignore equivalence, in terms of the sameness (e.g., Oittinen 2000; Koskinen1992/1994), in rendering this literature. They claim that an adequate translation is an equivalent, faithful translation and a good translator is an invisible and faithful translator, and that the function of translation and its original should be the same (Koskinen, 1994: 446–52). The mentioned approach is one of the dominant one discussed in the study of equivalence.

There are a large number of different ways for investigating this issue, equivalence. For instance, Eugene A. Nida, an expert in Bible translation, speaks of dynamic or functional equivalence: the reaction of readers in both source and target should be the same (1964: 159-167). Yet, this effect, or reaction, is not always accessible. Since the translation is written in different times, different places, different languages and cultures. Therefore, translation happens under different circumstances. Christane Nord (1991: 230) asserts that “functional equivalence between source and target text is not the ‘normal’ skopos of translation, but an exceptional case in which the factor ‘change of functions’ is assigned zero”.

Equivalence as relation between two texts is not the only way of looking at equivalence. There are scholars like Gideon Toury (1980) who regards the relationship between a source text and its counterpart. And also on the other side, Barbara Godard sees equivalence between two systems not between the contents, or the message of the two texts (1990: 92). Equivalence is more manageable, digestible and fruitful tool in the words of Douglas Robinson (1991),”equivalence is an interpretive fiction that helps the translator work toward the true goal of translation, a working TL, and is only one of many such fictions” (p, 259). He also points out that the very notion of equivalence is something ideal and indeed moving toward this ideal can bring about a good translation but this ideal is “not an accessible goal to measure relative failure by”(p, 284). Likewise, in the same line, Pym (1992:115) presents that translators hope that they will “be seen as producers of equivalence. And the kind of equivalence… [they] produce can then only exist as a belief held by the receivers of … [their] work”.

However, there are some approaches which do not support the equivalence between source and target texts. If the translator’s invisibility is considered positive and this belief comes to surface through “real” translation, the author of the original becomes accessible. These kinds of views have been proposed by “manipulative school” of translation. The scholars of the intended school understand translation as manipulation. They reject the conception of” translation as reproducing the original, the whole original and nothing but original” (Hermans 1985: 9).

In the same line, feminist theorists express identical views: translation is manipulation, and the translator becomes visible. Sherry Simon also writes that, in many cases, translation is defined as an activity “deeply, and consciously, engaged in the social and political dimensions of literary interchange” (Bassnett and Lefevere 1990: 110-16).

Therefore, translators not only act in situations individually, but they also play parts in different interpretive communities. In this respect, all times, cultures, conventions, norms guide translational action (Zlateva, 1993; Chesterman, 1997). It is actually up to the translator, based on his/her commission, and to what extent she/he selects to take the mentioned factors into consideration.

Background information as well as literary conventions are both the basic components of the interpreter’s situation. Hence, our analysis and interpretation of the texts are affected by our prejudgments. This is a significant matter with respect to translating for children who are unaware of the conventions of literature (Vermeer, 1989; Reiss and Vermeer 1984; Paepcke 1978/1986).

Analyzing a text, as an essential part in any translation, is always fulfilled within a situation and for a certain purpose, which Nord (1991) points out in her significant book “Text Analysis in Translation”. In her book, she presents her model as “a model of translation-oriented text analysis “comprising of three sets of factors: extratextual (who? why? to whom?), intratextual (what? Which verbal or nonverbal element? By means of which word?), and the effect on the reader (p, 35-8). The abovementioned factors refer to the communicative function that influences the ways the translated texts are analyzed, as Snell Hornby (1988) points out.

What has been presented, concerning translating for children, to this point explicitly or implicitly refers to functional approach in translation which has been introduced by Katharina Reiss in 1978, and later on by Vermeer as skopos theory (Nord, 1991:4). These German scholars (1986:67-68) claim that the function of a translation and its original may not be in the same line. They further remark that a translation should be coherent in itself not to draw a comparison between the translation and its original text.

Notwithstanding emphasizing on the importance of the function of the translation, Reiss and Vermeer (1986) view a translation as an act, a process, carried out in a particular situation. Moreover, Vermeer maintains that a translator is a human being and a translation is an interpretation, i.e., recreating a new text in a new setting.

When we discuss translation as an act, it is proper to say that translator is the actor in translation situations. Texts do not work by themselves. A text is influenced by the author, translator and the reader’s expectations. Furthermore, loyalty is appreciated in Nord’s (1991) words. She defines the loyalty to the future readers of the translation and what the statement implies is loyalty toward the author of the original. In her words “The translator is committed bilaterally to the source text as well as to the target text situation, and is responsible to both the ST [source text] sender... and the TT [target text] recipient” (p. 29). It is what she calls loyalty. She further makes a distinction between loyalty and fidelity which refer to the relationships between “human beings” and relationship between texts, respectively.

Considering translation of Iranian folk or fairytales, translators can select between traditional paradigms which focus on the equivalence and the modern paradigms which focus on the purpose. This part of literature, folktales and translation of which, can be considered as basic part of children’s literature. For instance, the initial situation in these tales starts with the clause “Yeki bood yeki nabood, joz khoda hich kas nabood “. Some Iranian translators like Forough Hekmat (1970), a specialist in folklore and folktale translation, claims that such a clause is imbued with philosophical thought that when the world was nothing and void, there still existed creative force to which may be attributed, may be, the miracles which come to pass in the tales that follow. She asserts that this clause should be translated as “there was one, there was no one, except God, there was no one else”. And also she adds that “once upon a time” which is mostly used for the translation of these stories cannot convey the meaning as it should. In such cases, once again, we face the problem of equivalence. If we understand the translation in terms of target language addressees and ask the critical question, for whom? We cannot attach to the equivalence in the sense of the sameness as our guiding principle. Translations are always influenced by what is translated for whom and by whom, and where, when and why. Thus in response to these questions, one can pay to what Vermeer defines as “skopos and commission in translational action”:

Any form of translational action, including therefore translation itself, may be conceived as an action, as the name implies. Any action has an aim, a purpose.... The word skopos then, is a technical term for the aim or purpose of a translation.... Further: an action leads to a result, a new situation or event, and possibly to a “new” object.... The aim of any translational action, and the mode in which it is to be realized, are negotiated with the client who commissions the action (Chesterman 1989: 173–4).



Nowadays, translation as an interdisciplinary field covers the broad range of subjects to convey the nature and essence of its identity or reality. In this respect, interdisciplinarity makes translation more interventionist so as to address the addresser and the addressee. The ultimate goal of this field is to convey the real or near essence of the source text into the target one. Hence, this requires considering some pieces of realities in Translation Studies. For instance, meeting the needs of the reader especially children along with their particular literature is of high importance. Translator as a mediator should reconcile the source language to the target one in order to simulate the approximate situation for all types of people.

This paper has clearly shown that equivalence and purpose paradigms are the robust poles in translation studies so as to convince the source and target reader. Equivalence paradigm pays more attention to the original translatorial items and it seeks to create either natural or directional equivalents in the target language. Natural equivalence labeled as one-to-one correspondence. Directional equivalence is a multivariate equivalence and it is labeled as one-to-two or one-to-several correspondence in translation. On the other hand, purpose paradigm keeps an eye on the role of the client and commission of translation or client’s brief (Nord 1997). Pym (2010) argues that translation brief “conjure up a defense attorney who receives information from the client but is ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the case. (p.55)” In this direction, the translator should consider the needs of the target reader thoroughly. Purpose paradigm regards translator’s liberation and client instruction. Indelible translations or interpretations are such ones putting their attentions to the client’s side or target-sidedness. And it also seeks to satisfy the needs of the target reader thoroughly. 

This study suggests that the role of purpose paradigm in translations especially in children’s literature should be taken into account. This is due to the fact that this particular group-children- plays the crucial part in target translations. The reason behind this notion is that children are the most sensitive group and it is of great importance paying more attention to the intended group.


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