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Translating Expressive Language in Children’s Literature

Problems and Solutions

B.J. Epstein

Children’s literature delights in made-up words, nonsensical terms, and creative nicknames, but how do you translate these expressions into another language?
This book provides a new approach to translation studies to address the challenges of translating children’s literature. It focuses on expressive language (nonsense, names, idioms, allusions, puns, and dialects) and provides guidance for translators about how to translate such linguistic features without making assumptions about the reader’s capabilities and without drastically changing the work. The text features effective strategies for both experienced translators and those who are new to the field, including exercises and discussion questions that are particularly beneficial for students training to be translators. This learner-friendly book also offers original contributions to translation theory in light of the translation issues particular to children’s literature.


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Chapter 4 - Child’s Play: Translating Idioms 99


Chapter 4 Child’s Play: Translating Idioms This chapter discusses the translation of idioms and other set expressions in children’s literature. It of fers an analysis of what idioms are and how they might be used in literature in general and children’s literature in particular. This is followed by a review of six major translatorial strategies for translat- ing idioms, along with examples of their employment. Idioms are fixed expressions that generally vary wildly between lan- guages in part because they tend to be based in a particular time and place. As Baker points out, translating idioms well “will greatly enhance the read- ability of your translations” (2011: 78). So the issue for translators is to try to understand why idioms are used in a particular text and how they can best be translated. Idioms and set expressions Idioms are conventional, fixed phrases with non-literal meanings that might seem strange if one stopped to think about them, whether because of the grammar or the words themselves. They have particular meanings that are often not literal. A typical example is it’s raining cats and dogs. Clearly, house pets are not falling from the sky; the metaphorical meaning is that rain is coming down heavily, as though the drops were animals. The meaning of an idiom is generally more opaque than that of proverbs or certain other kinds of fixed expressions, and idioms usually need to be learned rather than guessed from the context. 100 Chapter 4 Baker writes that “collocations are fairly...

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