In this week’s class, the reading of Pinocchio brought up a discussion of translations of literature, and of the problems that arise therein. I think that this issue is an incredibly important and complex one, and that so some degree, it is under-considered – especially in the Children’s Lit canon. While there are some obvious issues that present themselves (for example, the shark or whale debate in Pinocchio), other, less tangible meanings are “lost in translation.”
One of the things that I think is the most important to talk about in this discussion and one of the most difficult to quantify is the subtle connotations and cultural affixations of words that, necessarily, are lost when a work is translated. Even for bilingual individuals, who have an intricate understanding of both languages, conveying the meaning of a word from one language to the next is often difficult or even impossible. By extension, even a translator fluent in both the language of the original text and the language of the translation will have to make some linguistic sacrifices.
Another translational issue that often arises in literature is the loss of word play and other poetic devices. If, for example, an author has used alliteration, it is likely very difficult for that alliteration to be replicated post-translation. Puns are similarly difficult to translate, because homonyms and spelling differ, of course, from language to language. While these discrepancies do not generally alter the story or plot, they do change the tone of the text – and often the perceived intention of the author as well.
In Pinocchio, many of these translation problems are revealed and implemented. Although I am not fluent in Italian, I am certain that a person who was would read the original text and the English translation as somewhat discrepant from one another. While it is likely that these issues are not tremendously problematic for the overall story, as literature scholars we must consider them with the gravity that they deserve.