Reviews 2012

Nederländska bilderböcker blir svenska: En multimodal översättningsanalys [Dutch picture books become Swedish: A multimodal translation analysis].

Nederländska bilderböcker blir svenska: En multimodal översättningsanalys [Dutch picture books become Swedish: A multimodal translation analysis]. Sara Van Meerbergen. Doktorsavhandling i nederländska vid Stockholms universitet [PhD thesis at Stockholm University], 2010. 280 pages.

Sara Van Meerbergen’s published PhD dissertation explores the translation of Dutch and Flemish picturebooks into Swedish and comes to the conclusion that “picture book translation can be characterised as an international, target culture-oriented and multimodal translation practice” (n.p.). She uses Dick Bruna’s Miffy books as a case study in order to analyse the translation of picturebooks more generally. Her theoretical framework employs descriptive translation studies (e.g. Gideon Toury’s work Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond, 1995) to discuss the text and the ideas of social semiotic visual grammar (e.g. Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen’s works Multimodal Discourse [2001] and Reading Images [2006]) to discuss the pictures. By bringing these two theories together she suggests a new way of thinking about translated texts, and specifically translated picture books.

Van Meerbergen begins with an introduction to’s Bruna’s oeuvre. She explores how the books are physically put together; for example, “because of the small format and the limited space for pictures, there is limited opportunity for depictions of backgrounds and there is more of a focus on the depicted characters” (43; my translation of her Swedish text throughout). Moreover, Bruna has a recurring style for rhyme and metre, which makes his texts easy to read aloud and easy to remember (ibid.) With regard to the typography, Van Meerbergen calls this “functional”, as there are no capitals, little punctuation, and the font is sans serif (44). An important aspect of the Miffy books is their developmental, pedagogical character; “the books try to stimulate the child’s development by teaching things” (46). For instance, Van Meerbergen shows how the text might mention pens or scissors, while the pictures depict these items, presumably to teach child readers to recognise them and to learn what they do (ibid.)

It is important for translators (and, of course, researchers) to analyse how an author writes and illustrates in order to understand what s/he is apparently attempting to do with a given text, and thus what ought to be done with the translated text. So when Van Meerbergen explains that Miffy is depicted as a “securely attached and competent model child” (45), and as a character that seeks contact via direct gaze (47), she suggests that these same features should be retained in the Swedish translations. So after exploring the original texts, Van Meerbergen then moves on to discuss what happens in translation.

Van Meerbergen argues that the translation of picture books is strongly influenced by norms, and that these often relate to the target culture. This is where Toury’s work in descriptive translation studies comes in. For example, there are norms in regard to the production process, such as the choice of texts to translate and the choice of translator, and then there are operational norms, which relate to the choices that the translator makes (53-7). These norms are mostly concerned with the words on the page. She finds that the choice of which texts to translate from Flemish and Dutch to Swedish is primarily “safe”, because the books are mostly non-challenging texts, often classics (89-104). This thus suggests that publishers are wary of choosing texts that are different or unusual. Similarly, the translations are mostly published by smaller publishers, and these publishers find these books at book fairs such as those held annually in Frankfurt and Bologna (103). Van Meerbergen argues that the issue of choice is steered by financial factors and also “acceptance-related strategies”; for example, the translated books may not be labelled as translations, but rather will be said to have “Swedish text” (103-4). In some cases, this is because the translation is done via relay translation (i.e. through another language), but it may also be because publishers and readers prefer a text that seems Swedish, and this therefore changes the approach to the book.

Van Meerbergen then builds on her discussion of the norms surrounding choice of text by discussing the interactions between words and images in picture books, employing Kress and van Leeuwen’s concepts. For example, she analyses the way Miffy is portrayed, the “interactive potential” of the books, and the “pedagogical interaction between words and images” (61), and whether these factors are similar in Swedish. This relates back to her discussion of Bruna’s books being rather pedagogical. She finds that in general, Bruna’s functional style remains the same. However, sometimes words are changed, in part to create a new rhyme in translation. For example, whereas the Dutch original of Miffy in the Snow (Nijntje in de Sneeuw in Dutch) has Miffy exclaiming about wanting to go out to be in the snow, in Swedish, the character instead says “I think the whole city is having a birthday party” (135). This is, quite clearly, a significant change, because it changes the reader’s view of the character and of the plot. In the same book, Miffy talks about being careful with the snow and admires how beautiful the snowy roofs are, but in Swedish Miffy says instead that the church looks like a cake with cream (137). As Van Meerbergen puts it, “The polite, exemplary and responsible model child from the source text has been replaced here in the target text by a freer and more decisive child.” (ibid.) In other words, Miffy is depicted differently by the text, even though the pictures are the same in the Dutch and the Swedish versions.

Van Meerbergen also compares earlier translations of Miffy to more recent ones (120-4). Besides the name of the protagonist, the gender is also changed from male in the older edition to female in the more recent one. These changes, she argues, have to do with the international marketing of Bruna’s work and a desire for a consistent tone.

In short, Van Meerbergen explores ways of analysing picturebooks and also what it means to translate picture books, employing Bruna’s work as an example. She finds that depicting Bruna’s work as “Swedish” versus as a translation into Swedish may affect how it appears to the audience as well as how the translator treats it. Similarly, keeping the rhythm in translation means that the Swedish texts show a new and different character. She points out that “[w]hile images remain physically the same in the target texts, they can take on different meaning potentials when combined with different words in source and target texts” (230). As for the impact of her work, her dissertation is an interesting case study. It would be worthwhile whether translations of the Miffy texts into other languages make similar changes to those Van Meerbergen outlines. In addition, scholars can build on work by Van Meerbergen to further explore the norms for how picturebooks are chosen for translation and then are translated and marketed. Van Meerbergen has provided a useful starting point for more work.

B.J. Epstein
University of East Anglia, UK