Domestication Vs Foreignization: Translating a Nursery Rhyme, “The Wedding of Mrs Fox” In Grimms’ Fairy Tales | July 2017 | Translation Journal

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Domestication Vs Foreignization: Translating a Nursery Rhyme, “The Wedding of Mrs Fox” In Grimms’ Fairy Tales


Translating a text sounds easy for translators to do, especially when the translator understands both the original and intended language well. However, there are things to consider before translating it, such as the type of the text and the target reader. Translating poetry is different than prose and a text meant for adults is different than children. In this paper is the translation of a fable for children and there are rhymes in it. The main difficulty is the rhymes and the next difficulty is the word choice. In the end, a translator needs to be mindful toward the target reader because when a text is not understood by the reader then the text has no meaning and the translator has failed.

Keyword: fable, children, fairy tale, mrs fox, translation, rhyme, word choice


As we know, there are many types of stories or genres in literature. One of them is fairy tales. According to Dr. L. Kip Wheeler (Wheeler, L. K., Dr., 2016, January 5), an Associate Professor in English in Carson-Newman University says that it is a tale about fantastic magical beings set vaguely in the distant past thus the once upon a time theme, often in a pseudo-medieval world. Some famous fairy tale stories are the ones taken by Disney, like Cinderella, Snow White, and Red Riding Hood. Mostly, they are taken from Europe, as famous compilers of fairy tales are there. The examples are Hans Christian Andersen from Denmark and The Brothers Grimm.

At first, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collected the fairy tales of German for their linguistic research. However, then, because of the increase of France’s influence on the culture, the Brothers Grimm tried to collect the tales to emphasize the importance and value of German culture. Their collected fairy tales then became famous and got translated into other languages and one of them, eventually, is English. Here, I will talk about how I translate of the story in Grimms’ Fairy Tales, a fable title The Wedding of Mrs Fox.

Fable itself is usually known as children’s story and can be easily identified because the characters are animals. According to Wheeler, the animals act just like humans and their act is based on human nature. Thus, the animals do not necessarily become a symbol of the animal itself. For example, a peacock is not necessarily the symbol of arrogance, it just might happen that the character is a peacock.

A brief story illustrating human tendencies through animal characters. Unlike the parables, fables often include talking animals or animated objects as the principal characters. The interaction of these animals or objects reveals general truths about human nature … However, unlike a parable, the lesson learned is not necessarily allegorical. Each animal is not necessarily a symbol for something else. (Wheeler, L. K., Dr. (2016, January 5). Literary Terms and Definitions F. Retrieved April 13, 2016, from

So, just like any other story, the readers learn of the moral value based on what to do and what not to do.

The problem with this fable, however, is not the fable itself, but the rhyme within the story. In both versions of The Wedding of Mrs Fox, there are rhymes that could be hard to translate into Indonesian language when the translator wants to keep the rhyme.


In order to be able to translate the text well, the translator needs to remember that the translation should contain the exact message from its’ original language. No matter what the type of the text is, literary or non-literary, the translator needs to be able to translate the important message of the text. Although, that does not mean that the text could be translated freely.

If a text is well written, whether it is literary or scientific, historical or technological, its formal components are of prime importance, and the translator must respect them and fully account for them in his version, not by any kind of imitation but by transposing them through deep structure to congruent formal components. (Newmark, P. (1981). Approaches to Translation. Oxford: Pergamon Press.)

The second thing to remember is that translation is for the reader. The translator needs to remember to set the target reader so that the translation’s language is appropriate to the reader. Although that means that the translator needs to explain or change some metaphor or allusion and give reasons.

The translator has to assist his reader … it is his duty to make his version a little more accessible to the reader … (Newmark, P. (1981). Approaches to Translation. Oxford: Pergamon Press.)

Not only that, the translation needs to remain natural, not too stiff because there is a certain rule or explanation behind it. According to Peter Newmark (1981) in his book Approaches to Translation, the translator should be able to translate the text naturally. Even if that means the translator changes the structure of the sentence, adds, or erases one or more words into the translation. If necessary, the translator needs to look for synonymies or paraphrase the sentence for the text, in order to make the whole text natural.

Next, Newmark (1981) said that a translation needs to be both semantic and communicative. For him, a semantic translation is a translation which tries to change the semantic and syntactic structures of the original text into the translated text as close as possible, without changing the context. A communicative translation itself is talking about how the effect of the translated text should be produced as close as possible to the original one.

Poetry and Rhymes, on the other hand, have translation difficulties. So far, there is no definite theory on how to translate them, but there are arguments and advice to assist. Mostly, translators agree to two ways of translating poetry or rhymes. First is to translate it according to the form or rhyme changing the form or rhyme as little as possible. The second one is to translate the poem or rhyme freely, without thinking of the form or rhyme that exists in the original text.

This is because in poetry, there are many metaphors, and whatever the meaning behind the poem is not explicitly stated. So, the translator needs to be really careful in order to be able to translate without changing the meaning of the text. Rhymes themselves, although not as complicated as poetry, have difficulties with keeping the rhyme. Mostly, the obstacle is to find the appropriate word in the second language to keep the rhyming words going on.

André Lefévere (1975), a translation theorist, proposed methods of translating poetry, although he, himself, was not sure whether the methods will work appropriately or not. One of them is to change them into prose, which means that the translation will lack  communicative and syntactic value. Another is to translate the poetry freely without the rhyme. It will result in the translated text having a higher accuracy in terms of meaning but when the rhyme is the keyword to understand the poetry, this method will fail.

More theory to consider is the domestication and the foreignization. In simple words, in translation, domestication is an attempt to translate the text as close as possible to the target language’s culture. It might change the text by losing some culture from the original text. In the journal titled The Application of Domestication and Foreignization Translation Strategies in English-Persian Translations of News Phrasal Verbs (Sharifabad, E. D., Yaqubi, M., & Mahadi, T. S., 2013), the writers quoted:

“Domestication is the type of translation which involves minimizing the source-text foreign elements to the target language cultural values (Munday, 2001).” (Sharifabad, E. D., Yaqubi, M., & Mahadi, T. S., 2013)

While foreignization, quoted in the same journal article is:

“Foreignization, on the other extreme, involves retaining the foreigness of the original-language text (Shuttleworth & Cowie, 1997).” (Sharifabad, E. D., Yaqubi, M., & Mahadi, T. S., 2013)

Or in simple words, foreignization is the opposite of domestication. It is an attempt to keep the culture of the original language, with the risk that the target audiences are unable to understand the context of the text.



The first thing that I do here for translating the fable and the rhymes is to decide the target audience of the text. Next, I will start translating the whole text first, then I will check them again to change the translation if any of the word choices are not appropriate for the target audience. The last method is to check the rhymes, whether it is possible to find any rhyming words according to the original text or not. If it is not possible then the method of translating the rhyme freely, by André Lefévere (1975), will be applied.

Findings and Discussion

Since fable is mostly identified as a children story, I decide to make my target audience as the children of three until five years old. However, with the rhymes inside the story, I decide to widen the age range of the target audience to three to eight years old. In translating this particular text, I change some of the structure into a sentence that is easy for children to understand. I also erase and add some words where I think it is necessary so that the children will be able to understand.

Original Tale


So he stretched himself out under the bench, kept perfectly still, and pretended to be dead as a doornail.

Jadi, dia tidur di bawah bangku kayu dan berpura-pura mati.

I translate the word stretch himself out directly into tidur or sleeping in English because the idea of stretching here means that Mr. Fox lays himself under the bench. However, if I translate lay into Indonesian, it will become meletakkan, which also means that to put something somewhere. Since the sentence will be confusing for children, I change the translated sentence according to the meaning of the original sentence that is to pretend to be dead. The word bench here is also translated not only as bangku but bangku kayu to explain what kind of chair the original story talks about.

Original Tale


… while her maid, Miss Cat, went to the hearth and started cooking.

… sementara pelayannya, Nona Kucing, pergi ke dapur dan mulai memasak.

Here, my first decision is to translate maid into pelayan. Although the word pelayan could also mean waiter or waitress, I think it is more appropriate for children to know about this word. Moreover, the alternative translation, pembantu, for the word maid sounds a bit too harsh to be put into children’s story. Although in their daily life, they understand that word well. The next thing that I change is the hearth. Literally, hearth means perapian, tungku api. However, for children, the place where people usually cook is the kitchen. So I translate the hearth into dapur instead.

Original Tale


When it became known that the old fox had died, suitors began to present themselves.

Ketika para binatang lain tahu bahwa Tuan Rubah Tua sudah mati, banyak dari mereka yang datang untuk melamar Nyonya Rubah.

This is the next sentence to translate. I change the passive voice in the original text into an active one in the translated text because in Indonesian language, the active voice is the one mostly used. So the first part of when it became known is translated as ketika para binatang lain tahu. Also, I make the subject as the animals because this is a fable where the characters are animals that live in a forest. Then, I translate the old fox into Tuan Rubah Tua with capital letters, which means that I translate it into a name. This is because there is no translation for the word the. Rather than saying si rubah tua, which sounds rather rude, I change it into a name. Next, I put Tua there as a name too because in the end of the story, there will be a young fox who becomes Mr Fox.

Since translating suitors literally will make it into pelamar, I change the subject suitors into many of the animals or in Indonesian is banyak dari mereka. The next thing that I change is present themselves. Rather than translating it into mempresentasikan diri mereka, I combine it with many of the animals to create a new sentence which is different in word but similar in meaning for this part. Thus, the children will understand it better.

Original Tale


Now, the maid heard …

Lalu, Nona Kucing mendengar …

For this part, I translate now into lalu not sekarang because the word now here does not exactly talk about time signal. It is more into a transition word. Also, I translate the maid into its name because translating it into si pelayan is still rather rude.

Original Tale


‘What are you doing now, Miss Cat?

‘Apa yang kamu lakukan sekarang, Nona Kucing?

‘Are you wide awake or asleep on the mat?’

Apakah kamu masih bangun atau tertidur di karpet?’

This is the first rhyme in the story. It can be seen clearly that the original language of the text, English, has the rhyme in the end of the sentences well. However, then, when it is translated into Indonesian language, the translation loses the rhyme. Miss Cat is translated into Nona Kucing and on the mat becomes di karpet. The sound of the ending does not rhyme at all. However, when I try to look for alternative words to make them rhyme again, I could not find any modification of the structure or words that is appropriate enough.

Here, literally, on means above or in Indonesian di atas. However, I erase the word atas, so instead of di atas karpet, it becomes di karpet. That is because the word ‘on’ already means above or upon. When someone sleeps on the carpet, the person is sleeping above the carpet. So, in order to not have double words with similar meaning, I erase one of them, making it only di karpet.

Original Tale


‘I’m not asleep. I’m wide awake.

‘Aku tidak tidur. Aku masih terbangun.

What do you think, for goodness sake!

Apa yang kamu pikirkan, ya ampun!

I’m using butter to brew warm beer.

Aku menggunakan mentega untuk membuat bir hangat.

You can be my guest if you stay right here.’

Kamu bisa menikmati kalau kamu mau menunggunya.’

The four lines above is the second rhyme. Again, the problem is the rhyme, the first one is awake and sake, the second one is beer and here. However, since it is quite hard to find similar word for rhyming, I choose to translate the last word in the sentence freely. However, I try to look for its synonymy with the same vowel in the last syllable, like in hangat and menunggunya, they have the same ‘a’ vowel in the last syllable.

For the first line, I translate wide awake into masih terbangun because I want to rhyme it with the ending of the next line. For goodness sake is translated into ya ampun. So when I translate the first line into masih terbangun, they rhyme not only in the ‘u’ vowel but also the pronunciation of the ending. I choose ya ampun because when I try to translate it into astaga, the sentence becomes weird to read. Since people usually say astaga in front of the sentence and not in the end.

Next, the third and fourth line is only similar in the ‘a’ vowel in the end because I cannot find any similar word with similar pronunciation for the end syllable. For the third line, I was tempted to change the warm beer into warm drink instead. As we know, this is children’s story and my target readers are children at the age of three to eight years old. So it is not appropriate to have warm beer there. Moreover, we do not have the culture where we serve beer to guests. Indonesian people usually serve tea, coffee, or mineral water to guests. However, in the end, I keep the warm beer because I see this as a fairy tale from a country; a culture or a kind of legend in a certain country. For me, it is inappropriate for people to change something inside it without the permission from the owner.

The fourth line, the idiom of be my guest means that I give someone (you) a permission to do something. It is similar to the word silahkan in Indonesian language. However, I choose to translate you can be my guest into kamu bisa menikmati. It means that I give permission for you to taste the warm beer thus you can enjoy it once it is done but it also means that you need to wait here. So I translate the last part, if you stay right here, into kalau kamu menunggunya.

Original Tale


‘She’s sitting in her room

‘Dia diam di kamarnya

and weeping in her gloom.

dan menangis dalam kesedihannya.

Her eyes are now quite red,

Matanya sampai memerah,

for old Mr Fox is dead.’

karena Tuan Rubah Tua meninggal sudah.’

This is the third rhyme. This time, the last syllable of each line can be matched quite easily to its pair because the first and second line uses the same suffix, that is –nya. For the third and fourth line, they have the same –ah syllable in the end of the line. Although, I need to change the structure for the fourth line so that I can put the word sudah in the end to match the rhyme of the third line.

For the third line, her eyes are now quite red is translated into matanya sampai memerah. Although the literal meaning should be matanya sekarang cukup merah, I do not translate it literally. It is because the literal translation sounds too stiff and not quite communicative. The last line, I translate old Mr Fox into a name, Tuan Rubah Tua because when I translate it literally, Tuan Rubah yang tua, the line sounds stiff too and it becomes too long. So, in order to match the other three lines which have shorter sentences, the old Mr Fox becomes a name instead, Mr Old Fox.

Original Tale


Be so kind as to tell her …

Maukah kamu memberitahunya …

Although the original text is actually a request, I translate it into a question in the translated text. For the line will be more communicative and appropriate in Indonesian language. The literal translation will be tolong beritahu dia which does not sound as polite as the original text though there is tolong or please.

Original Tale


The cat went up the stairs, trip-trap,

Nona Kucing menapaki anak tangga, tuk-tuk,

and knocked upon the door, tap-tap.

dan mengetuk pintu, tok-tok.

‘Mrs Fox, are you in there?’

‘Nyonya Rubah, apakah Nyonya di dalam?’

‘Oh, yes, Kitty Cat, yes, my dear.’

‘Oh, ya, Nona Kucing, ya, sayang.’

‘Well, a suitor’s here to see you.’

‘Hmm… Ada rubah muda yang ingin melamarmu.’

‘What’s he like? I want a clue.’

‘Seperti apa dia? Aku ingin tahu.’

This time, the fourth rhyme is longer than the other three. For the first and second line, I do not translate it into similar vowel but similar word with different vowel. Meanwhile, the other lines are translated into similar vowel.

Since there is no definite sound of someone walking in Indonesian, the word trip-trap is translated into tuk-tuk to try to match the rhyme of the second line. In the second line, the sound of knocking on the door in Indonesia language is tok-tok. Then, in the third line, the original text it is you. I was again tempted to translate it into Anda in Indonesian language because it is a word someone uses to greet the person who has a position above someone. The word Anda is more polite and appropriate, especially since it is from a maid to her employer. However, I find the word to be too stiff and formal. So I translate it into Nyonya again, since in Indonesia, people commonly use a title to be polite.

In the last line, the word I want a clue is translated into aku ingin tahu, although literally, it should be aku ingin petunjuk. However, the word aku ingin petunjuk makes it sound like I need a clue on what to do next or where to go after this. Since the meaning of wanting a clue in this line is because Mrs Fox is curious about her suitor, I just change it into aku ingin tahu.

Original Tale


‘Then he’s not for me.’

‘Kalau begitu, dia tidak tepat untukku.’

Rather than translating he’s not for me into dia bukan untukku, I change it into dia tidak tepat untukku. This is because dia bukan untukku sounds more appropriate in a sappy romance drama where in the end there will still be a happy ending. Since this is only a children story, I change it into something simpler.

Original Tale


… and sent the suitor away.

… dan menyuruh rubah muda itu pulang.

The word send someone away should actually mean mengusir seseorang pergi. However, the word mengusir sounds too rude, so I change it into something more polite that is menyuruh. If this is common literature for young adults to adults, I will have no qualms in saying mengusir. Still, I do not want to teach the children rude or harsh words, so I change it.

Original Tale


… and there was another fox outside who wanted to court Mrs Fox.

… dan ada seekor rubah lain yang ingin melamar Nyonya Rubah.

For this one, I only erase the word outside in the translated text. So, I just translate another fox into seekor rubah lain because the word outside sounds excessive. My reason is because of course the other fox will be outside since it is not polite to be inside the house without the owner of the house giving the guest permission to go inside.

Original Tale


… he fared no better than the first one.

… dia bernasib sama dengan rubah sebelumnya.

He fared no better is translated into dia bernasib sama rather than its’ literal meaning, dia tidak bernasib lebih baik. The literal meaning sounds too long and too literal in Indonesian. Since this is for children, it is better to have simple and understandable word rather than poetic but hard to understand word. So I change it into another sentence with similar meaning.

Original Tale


‘It’s time to open the gate and the door,

‘Sekarang saatnya membuka gerbang dan pintu,

and sweep Mr Fox out over the floor.’

dan menggantikan Tuan Rubah Tua dengan yang baru.’

This is the last rhyme in the story and just like the first one, it has only two lines. However, this time, the difficulty is not in finding the right rhyme. The difficulty is in the second line because the literal meaning is to ‘dump’ the body of old Mr Fox outside. It is quite a harsh sentence, when someone just translates it literally. Still, the meaning that I catch from it is that Mrs Fox wanted to bury old Mr Fox and since she found another fox with the same feature as old Mr Fox, she would like to marry the young fox so she would not be sad and alone anymore. It is hard to explain the situation in just a short sentence in a rhyme, though. Therefore, the translation becomes dan menggantikan Tuan Rubah Tua dengan yang baru, although it is still considered an inappropriate sentence for children to read.

Original Tale


… old Mr Fox stirred from under the bench, rose up, and gave the whole crowd a good beating.

… Tuan Rubah Tua bangun dari bawah bangku, datang ke pesta, dan mengamuk pada semua yang ada di acara pernikahan itu.

Just like its first counterpart above, it is hard to explain the word stir and rise in Indonesian. It is because literally, stir means bangun and rise is bangkit or bangun, which means the two words have similar meaning. If I were to translate it literally, the phrase is going to be a repetition. Instead, I keep the translation for stir but change the translation for rise. The next thing to consider is the idiom in the sentence gave the whole crowd a good beating. Literally, it means that the old Mr Fox lashed out, striking or beating everyone in the wedding party. Rather than translating it into menghajar which I personally think is not an appropriate word to tell to the children, I use mengamuk instead.


In the end, the rhyme is translated both according to the rhyme and not. Those which are according to the rhyme are translated with similar vowel ending rather than the same last syllable pronunciation. The others, which are freely translated, are just like any other sentence, no matter what the end of the sentences is. As I stated above, since the target audience of my translation is children at the age of three to eight years old, I need to find the appropriate and understandable words for them. That is why there are some parts where the sentence seems not right but it serves the reader well.

Then, of course, the issue of domestication and foreignization then comes to mind. With the text being a nursery rhyme, translating it could be a problem of keeping the culture from the original language intact or making sure the target audiences of the translated language understand the text. Making sure the translated text still has the culture translated into an understandable part of the translation is like keeping a fine line between domestication and foreignization. By using domestication, the nursery rhymes will be changed according to the Indonesian children’s understanding, which also means that it will be based on Indonesian culture.  That means that there might be some loss of culture in the story. However, by using foreignization, the nursery rhymes will retain the original culture at the risk of making the children unable to understand the story because of the difference in language.

In this case of nursery rhymes translation, I am trying to translate the culture and language closely to the original language. Remembering that the translator is an adult who could understand complex words, one of the challenges in translating the nursery rhymes is to translate the text using simple words for children. It is important to make the children understand the story because when the target reader could not understand the story, then the text will be in vain and the translator has failed her job. This also means that translating the nursery rhymes is a big challenge for domestication and foreignization. In the end, though, because I push my concern more into the understanding of the target audiences, the children, the attempt in keeping domestication and foreignization in balance has been overcome with domestication.


Ashliman, D. L. (n.d.). Grimm Brothers' Home Page. Retrieved April 13, 2016, from

Grimm, The Brothers. (2013). Grimms' Fairy Tales. London: Vintage.

Lefevere, A. (1975).Translating Poetry: Seven Strategies and a Blueprint. Assen: Van Gorcum.

Material of Chapter 2. (n.d.). Reading. Retrieved April 13, 2016, from

Munday, J. (2001). Introducing Translation Studies: Theories and Applications (1st ed.). London: Routledge.

Newmark, P. (1981). Approaches to Translation. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Sharifabad, E. D., Yaqubi, M., & Mahadi, T. S. (2013). The Application of Domestication and Foreignization Translation Strategies in English- Persian Translations of News Phrasal Verbs.Theory and Practice in Language Studies,3(1). doi:10.4304/tpls.3.1.94-99

Wheeler, L. K., Dr. (2016, January 5). Literary Terms and Definitions F. Retrieved April 13, 2016, from

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