Volume 17, No. 2 
April 2013

  Nataliya Rudnytska


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Index 1997-2013

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
Have Language, Will Travel
by Robert Ewing Finnegan

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant and Worker Bee
Networking 101
byDanilo Nogueira and Kelli Semolini
Translation—an ageless profession
by Katia Spanakaki

  Translators and the Computer
The Ukrainian Cornucopia of Tools
by Jost Zetzsche

  Medical Translation
La historieta como instrumento para la divulgación médico-sanitaria: Aspectos pragmalingüísticos
Blanca Mayor Serrano

Translation and Politics
Trauma and Translation: Bearing Witness
by Fatima Sakarya and Sidney Shaievitz
Soviet Censorship and Translation in Contemporary Ukraine and Russia
by Nataliya M. Rudnytska, PhD

Arts and Entertainment
When Correct Grammar is Wrong-ish—Grammaticality, Ungrammaticality, and Usage-based Theory in Film Subtitles
by D. Bannon

Science and Technology
A Glossary of Olive Oil Taste Testing (Spanish-English and English-Spanish)
by Soledad Sta. María

Translator Education
How Approaches of Teaching English Can Be Used for Teaching Translation?
by Omid Jafari

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Best Websites
by Gabe Bokor

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  Translation Journal
Translation & Politics

Soviet Censorship and Translation in Contemporary Ukraine and Russia

by Nataliya M. Rudnytska, PhD


Analyzing the impact of censorship on translation has become an integral part of researching ideological aspects of translation. In recent years there have appeared studies of censorship and translation in different societies and historical periods, including the Soviet Union, but little, if any, attention has been paid to the consequences of Soviet censorship for the post-Soviet countries in the XXI century. This article deals with the impact censorship has had on translation in modern Ukraine and Russia. The analysis is made on the novel “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger and its translations into Russian and Ukrainian in historical perspective. Ukrainian readers have at their disposal only one translation by O. Lohvynenko (1984); in spite of the co-existence of different variants of the novel’s translation into Russian, the censored variant by R. Rait-Kovaliova (1965) remains the most popular one due to post-soviet readers’ specific attitude towards plurality of translations.


nalyzing the impact of censorship on translation has become an integral part of researching ideological aspects of translation in any society. In recent years there have appeared numerous studies of censorship and translation in different societies and historical periods (see, for example, E. Gibbels, C. O’Sullivan, J. Santaemilia). It is surprising that research questions about the link between translation and censorship (as a universal phenomenon in all cultures based on the dissemination of knowledge in written or printed form) has been formulated only recently (Kuhiwczak, 2011).

Speaking of contemporary Ukraine and Russia, to understand the specific character of translation and reception of literary works which were created outside the USSR and translated by soviet translators, one should take into consideration the conditions of severe censorship that existed in the Soviet Union.

Soviet censorship in Ukraine

The decree on publishing became the starting point for the Soviet ideological terror.
Soviet censorship appeared soon after the October revolution of 1917, and the decree on publishing became the starting point for the Soviet ideological terror. Political censorship was imposed through special state organs—The Central Authority on Literature and Publishing (Holovlit) and The Central Repertoire Committee (Holovrepertkom), as well as through the Soviet party structures. This system did not change until the 1990s. Irrespective of different historical stages, (World War II, the “thawing” of the political situation in the 1960s, or the Cold War period) the system remained the same, with its ideological filling slightly modified. This policy negatively influenced the intellectual and cultural development of the people, and its consequences are still noticeable (Fedotova, 2012).

Soviet censorship in Ukraine had a dual purpose. First of all, like censorship in other totalitarian states, its major task was to eliminate all texts that contradicted the ruling political ideology. That also meant that sex-related and religious texts, as well as coarse vocabulary were censored. The second purpose grew out of the tsarist Russia colonial tradition to suppress the development of national cultures (including languages and literatures) other than Russian within the country. Soviet censorship had another specific feature which is worth mentioning. In other European totalitarian countries of the first half of the XX century, the introduction of severe censorship provoked self-censorship and editorial censorship due to economic factors—to avoid financial losses for a banned edition (Keratsa, 2005). In the USSR financial factors had obviously no power, so the only effective way to control translation and publishing was repression (extending to imprisonment and execution of the recalcitrant). The entire history of Ukrainian translation in the USSR is a history of repressions (see, for example, Korunets, 2003).

Translations of “The
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and Soviet censorship

Although the impact of Soviet censorship on translation has been extensively studied, its consequences for modern Ukraine and Russia have not yet been given proper attention. It seems appropriate to analyze the consequences of this censorship through the translations and reception of a well-known literary work. Although any text potentially contains ideologically-biased elements, the most interesting material for such analysis can be given by comparing an original and its translations, when the even the reception of the original is controversial from the ideological point of view. An appropriate example of this would be the analysis of the novel The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, which in 1973 theAmerican School Board Journal called “the most widely censored book in the United States” (Whitfield, 2002).

The Catcher in the Rye (1951) has been translated into many languages; worldwide about a million copies are sold every year, but reception of the novel was controversial. In some countries and in some US schools in 1950s the novel was banned due to its frankness about sex, blasphemy, and excessive use of coarse language. In the USSR the novel was first published only in 1965 in Russian (any literary work in the Soviet Union was translated first into Russian and published for all republics; translations into other national languages appeared decades later or never). The Catcher in the Rye was published in the USSR in spite of its scandalous reputation. The Soviet censorship let the novel be published as its major conflict was between the main character, an American teenager, and adult society (in Soviet terms the conflict being “bourgeois” society and its values). Blasphemy was not considered a sin in the anti-religious USSR, frank conversations about sex were paraphrased, and coarse words omitted or replaced by more neutral terms. As a result, readers got access to the censored Russian translation by Rita Rait-Kovaliova. The translation has been published some dozens of times since then in different places and also in Ukraine. In Russia this translation is still popular and was published at least three times during the last decade.

Rita Rait-Kovaliova (1898-1990) was a Russian author and well-known translator; according to S. Dovlatov, her style was considered exemplary (Dovlatov, 2006). Translating Salinger’s novel she begged her editor to be allowed to use proper vocabulary, but, of course, her request was denied. Signs of censorship can be seen in any fragment of her translation. For example, let us analyze Holden Caulfield’s talk with Robert Ackley (Chapter 3). The teenagers’ dialogue contains elliptical sentences (e.g. “Not him, though; Think they’ll make ya pay for em”), the spelling reflecting carelessness of speech (ya, em, ‘bout, hellya), and multifold repetition of lexemes Chrissake and Goddam, which in the 1950s were perceived as blasphemy. In translation the dialogue loses its sharpness and its deviations from the standard language. As for the vocabulary, the translator omits all Chrissakes, Goddams and What the hells, and only once translates Goddam (book) by the neutral “Не видишь (книгу читаю)” (Don’t you see (— I’m reading a book).

Like each fragment of the text, the translation of the title also reflects censoring (or at least self-censoring). R. Rait-Kovaliova translated the title as “Над пропастью во ржи” (Over the abyss in the rye), though in the original there is no image of an abyss, just a cliff. Here we can trace the Soviet stock phrase “the abyss of capitalism.”

The first translation into Ukrainian was published only in 1984. The translator—Oleksandr Lohvynenko—managed to deliver the informal character of the narration, but this translation has obviously been censored as well. Thus, some sex-related fragments were omitted or replaced. For example, the phrase “she wasn’t exactly the type that drove you mad with desire” is translated as “тільки ж вона не з тих, у кого можна вклепатися по самі вуха” (i.e. “she is not one of those with whom you can be in love over head and ears”). As to the blasphemy, O. Lohvynenko preserves its character in the translation and depending on the context translates it as: Goddam—триклятущі (damned), ідіотська (idiot-like), чорт бери (damn it), бісового батька (devil’s fatrher); Chrissake—отуди к бісу (heck); What the hell…—що в біса. In general, the translation of the novel in the form of a teenager’s tale of his life looks very natural, and really reconstructs the impression of a spontaneous narrative by a 16-year-old boy—sensitive, unbalanced, and indignant at adults’ hypocrisy.

The title of the Ukrainian version is a word-for-word translation of the Russian title, not the English: “Над прірвою в житі”. There have been some editions of this translation after Ukraine gained its independence, and O. Lohvynenko remains the only “The Catcher’s” translator into Ukrainian.

The echo of Soviet censorship in modern Russia

As soon as the Soviet censorship ceased to exist, there appeared some new translations into Russian in the post-Soviet states. Their reception both by critics and readers was varied and rather negative. It results from objective reasons, since not all of the published translations were of high quality; but there were also subjective reasons, i.e. the peculiarities of the translators’ understanding of their task under the new political conditions and the perception of new translations by post-Soviet Russian readers. These factors will be analyzed further.

According to O. Borisenko, after the abolition of Soviet censorship everybody was so busy reinserting coarse words, religious issues and political sedition, that neither time nor skill remained for the beauty of style (Borisenko, 2009). This comment is a certain exaggeration, but the translator Sergei Mahov, who was the first to publish a new translation of “The Catcher in the Rye” (1998) paid great attention to reconstruct those original traits that caused the novel’s scandalous reputation and were lost in the censored Soviet translation. As S. Mahov mentions in the foreword to his translation, Russian readers often say the novel is moth-eaten just because they have read it in the censored translation that has nothing in common with the original, prohibited in its time for its blasphemy and anti-patriotic character (Mahov, 1998). In spite of the translator’s rebellious spirit, his work failed to attract readers’ attention.

The next Russian translation was made public in 2008 under the title “Ловец на хлебном поле” (“The Catcher on the Bread Field”). Translator Max Nemtsov tried to render the original’s all traits, but he must have also aimed at replacing the antiquated and inadequate translation by R. Kovaliova by the new one in readers’ minds. Such intention may account for the translator’s deliberate deviations from the norms of the Russian language and some other disputable solutions. Even the translation of the title sounds rather strange in Russian because of the word combination “bread field” (normally people say “rye / wheat field”). But this unusual combination may have helped to draw readers’ attention and to make them understand that R. Kovaliova’s “classic” translation is not an absolute substitute to the original. M. Nemtsov’s translation caused a hot discussion and negative reactions from critics: the translator had not just rendered all features of the original, but had exaggerated some of them. The main character uses Russian slang and quite different social dialects (кипиш, лохи, трындеть, шнобель, халдей, гроши, брательник, не в жилу). The translator replaces some neutral lexemes by substandard ones, e.g.: “one nice thing”—“путевая фигня” (reasonable crud), “rear end”—“пердак” (farting thing), “parents”—“предки” (fossils). The translator obviously tried to render the emotional shading of the original and the effect the latter produced in 1951. Anyway, Nemtsov’s translation failed to replace Kovaliova’s old one. Two years later, Eksmo Publishers, which had published Nemtsov’s “Catcher on the Bread Field”, turned back to the Soviet translation by Kovaliova.

Another Russian translation by Yakov Lotovskiy did not cause so much ado. It was published in 2010 inSem’ Iskusstv Journal (Seven Arts) and seems to be adequate and the most faithful to the original. The translator does not soften Holden Caulfield’s coarse speech, translating his filler words “Goddam” and “Chrissake” depending on the context as фигня (chiken feed), чертов (damned), идиотский (idiot’s), гнусный (foul). At the same time, he does not emphasize vulgarisms and renders the humor of the original. The translation sounds natural.

Despite evident advantages, Lotovskyi’s translation has not gained popularity. The only explanation for this is the very special reservations Russian readers have towards new translations; this attitude has been formed during seven decades of communist rule. According to O. Borisenko, in the Russian culture new translations of once translated fiction are condemned to being considered bad: modern translators are rejected for lifting their arms against the sacred (Borisenko, 2009). In the USSR, all kinds of literature were banned except socialist realism, but translated literature, even censored, did not only acquaint readers with foreign authors but also brought some literary innovation against banal style. Thus, translated literature became a part of Russian literature and was perceived as native—translated and censored according to the ideological norms of the Soviet Union. As a rule, only one translation variant was allowed. This way it was easier to control the situation: before publishing, a translation had to pass the censors’ control, but a once-published translation tended to become the only, generally acknowledged, “canonical” version; no one was allowed to criticize it. Such policy resulted in the particular stance of common readers with respect to translations. This attitude remains in contemporary Russia, as old translations tend to be considered high-quality, classic. People do not feel any need to have new translations, and it was also prompted by the fact that the abolition of censorship resulted in the publication not only of uncensored adequate translations, but also of inadequate dilettantish ones.


Despite having a common past, literary translation in Ukraine and Russia experience different consequences of Soviet censorship today. In the USSR the Russian language had the status of the language of international communication and the use of other national languages was suppressed. Foreign literature was translated first into Russian and translation into other national languages of Soviet republics was performed decades later or never. It resulted in the lack of opportunities for Ukrainian readers to become acquainted with foreign fiction in their native language for a long time (though Ukrainian translations later became more adequate due to the weakening of the censorship pressure). Soviet Russian translations are often republished in contemporary Russia despite their deviations from the original, caused by censoring and rather obsolete language. That is caused by the specific attitude of Russian readers with respect to old (Soviet) and new (post-Soviet) translations. The old translation, approved by Soviet censors, has entered readers’ consciousness as an absolute substitute to the original, and even today it is perceived as “canonical”; many readers condemn re-translating a novel as an attempt to remake a distinguished, almost original, text.


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