Translated South African Young Adult Fiction

YA fiction in South Africa written by South African writers since the mid-1980s has been preoccupied with society going through a period of transition, followed by a period of reconstruction and reorientation (Inggs 2016). The global interest in post-apartheid South Africa led to foreign publishers selecting more titles for translation, although the number of translated books is still relatively small. A survey of books available online through and identified a number of realistic works with political or social themes, and fewer works of fantasy or science fiction. As a result of the socio-political context of the works, a certain degree of mediation is required for them to be accessible to a target audience with a limited knowledge of South Africa and its peoples.

I only found one work available that had been translated into both French and German, namely Beverley Naidoo’s Chain of Fire (1989) set during the apartheid era, a story about forced removals. It was translated into French and German in 1992, and published by different publishers. I deliberately chose works with paratextual material worthy of analysis, one translated into French and one into German, both set in the 1990s. Each deals with the effect of change on the young adult protagonists. The translations were published in different contexts and reveal different approaches linked to the two publishing houses. The earlier novel, Crocodile burning by Michael Williams (1998) was translated into French as Le ventre du crocodile (The crocodile’s stomach) by Valérie Morlot in 2004. The mending season by Kagiso Lesego Molope (2005a) was translated into German as Im Schatten des Zitronenbaums (In the shade of the lemon tree) by Salah Naoura (Molope 2012).

Theoretical Framework

As I focus on the packaging and presentation of the texts, Gérard Genette’s concept of the paratext, consisting of a peritext (within the volume) and an epitext (material spatially removed from the text) is particularly useful. His work, entitled Seuils (Thresholds) (1987), was translated into English in 1997. Genette (1997:1) defines the paratext as that which “enables a text to become a book and to be offered as such to its readers”. The threshold is the crossing point between what is inside and what is outside the text, or any element that “provides some commentary on the text and influences how it is received” (Genette 1997:7). Genette does not apply the concept to translations, regarding the latter rather as subsequent editions of original texts, closely bound to the original author (Genette 1997:405). However, in the field of translation studies, translated texts are regarded as independent texts, potentially manipulated by the translator and publisher (see Bassnett and Lefevere 1990). Translation scholars have therefore adapted the concept of the paratext and regard translations as original texts with their own para-textual material (Brienza 2009; Alvstad 2012; Batchelor 2018). Kathryn Batchelor (2018:142) defines the paratext in a translation context as “[a] consciously crafted threshold for a text which has the potential to influence the way in which a text is received”; the key here is “consciously crafted”, which allows translations to exist in their own right, with their own paratexts, and excludes broader, incidental influences on the reader.

The analysis is based on the following questions:

Who are the publishers and translators of the texts?

What is the purpose and function of the paratexts?

What do the paratexts reveal about the intentions of the publishers and translators?

How do the paratexts of the original and the translation compare? What is the underlying ideology reflected in the paratexts?

How might the paratexts affect the reception and interpretation of the texts?

Analytic tools are drawn from critical discourse analysis (CDA) and multimodal critical discourse analysis. The application of multimodal CDA is discussed in detail in Wodak and Meyer (2009) and Machin and Mayr (2012), and is based on Fairclough (1989, 1995) and Kress and Van Leeuwen (1996). CDA itself is largely derived from Halliday’s systemic functional linguistics (1994), which views language as a social semiotic system. A central tenet of CDA is the “view of language as a means of social construction: language both shapes and is shaped by society” (Machin and Mayr 2012:4). Extended to encompass images as well as words, CDA is objective in that it requires a semiotic analysis of both language and images, and facilitates the examination of how texts construct meaning. It also unveils the assumptions and presuppositions embedded in society. The specific elements analysed include lexical items or the vocabulary choices in the text, images as a semiotic resource, transitivity and verb processes and modality. Lexical choices are analysed using Fairclough’s categorisation of the experiential, relational and expressive values of words. The experiential value refers to how a text producer’s knowledge of the world is represented; the relational refers to the social relationships enacted in the discourse or text; and the expressive refers to the text producer’s evaluation of the content of the text (Fairclough 1989:112). Modality (including hedging), generally linked to the use of modal verbs such as will, may, might, and should, helps to identify a text producer’s commitment to what is being said (Machin and Mayr 2012:186-187).

Transitivity and verb processes play a significant role in making meaning, extending beyond grammatical categories. Transitivity highlights the function and role of participants in an act by identifying the agents,

Crossing Continents 79 objects and goals involved. More importantly, an analysis of transitivity reveals the absence of participants, or the implied participants. An identification of verb processes facilitates an analysis of exactly what is being done. Halliday (1994) identifies six main processes: material, mental and relational, and behavioural, verbal and existential processes combining elements of the first three. Material processes involve doing with actors, goals and objects explicit or implied; mental processes are those of seeing, sensing, thinking; relational processes are processes of being, identifying, possessing or the relationship between things, using verbs such as become, represent, have (Machin and Mayr 2012:110). Behavioural processes focus on physiological and psychological behaviour; verbal processes involve relationships between the sender, recipient and text content; and lastly, existential processes represent what exists or happens (Halliday 1994:141).

The analysis involves the following steps:

  • 1. Establish the background of publishers and translators by collecting ethnographic information from websites and other sources, including interviews with the agents involved, if possible, to identify possible motives and objectives.
  • 2. In a wider project, investigate the reception of the translated text in the target culture.
  • 3. Analyse the covers of the texts and translations, including the words and images, to reveal the semiotic choices made during text production.
  • 4. Analyse the content of any other paratext, including the peritext and the epitext, within certain parameters. This may include teaching or study materials and other information or glossaries. The focus is on the following features:
    • (a) Images selected for inclusion, colour configurations, the symbolic references contained in the images, the connotations of the images, the poses of characters, and the fonts and the layout of the text;
    • (b) Lexical choices and lexical patterns and how they reveal the aims, presuppositions and assumptions of the producers of the texts, drawing on Fairclough’s categories (1989:110-111);
    • (c) Transitivity and verb processes drawing on Halliday (1994) and Fairclough (1989);
    • (d) Modality and the attitudes or opinions of the producers of the text (Machin and Mayr 2012:186-187).

If explored in sufficient detail, these aspects provide comprehensive information justifiable through close reference to the texts. Each aspect may be investigated in any given text, but they can vary in significance.

For example, in a dense text with few, or no, illustrations, less attention will be paid to the images, while in a read-aloud picturebook an analysis of the visual images is important, given that words and images work together to create meaning (Nikolajeva and Scott 2001; Oittinen et al. 2017).

In the analysis which follows, the extracts from the French and German texts are followed by translations into English. The priority when translating the extracts was to ensure accuracy rather than rewriting in more natural English.

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