Robinson Crusoe incorrect translating
Thread poster: markjazzbass
markjazzbass
Ukraine
Nov 9, 2013

Few month ago I noticed that in the original version of Defoe's book the first thing that the main character did was making a cross. But in the book translated in USSR it was a column. Do you know other examples similar to this?

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Kirsten Bodart  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:54
Dutch to English
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Haha, is that really the case? Nov 10, 2013

It doesn't surprise me, because religion was evil to the communists, but that they went so far, that's interesting.

I know the Watchtower's bible (the Jehova's Witnesses head office or however you have to call it) also deliberately represent Jesus as having been crucified on a stake (God knows why he was CRUCified then), but surely there must be more of these nasty deliberate mistranslations?


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Maria Wiltshire  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:54
Member (2016)
English to Russian
Yes, such cases are known in Soviet translation Nov 10, 2013

For example, in H.-C. Andersen's 'Snow Queen' Gerda is reading 'Our Father' when she finds herself in a particularly tough circumstances while looking for her brother; the whole story is full of allusions making it a 'way to faith' of little Kay who is helped by his sister, whose faith is strong. All of those are missed in the Russian translation and the text is made a much simpler, fairy-tale story.

[Edited at 2013-11-10 23:27 GMT]


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Amel Abdullah  Identity Verified
Jordan
Arabic to English
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Common in Children's Literature Translated to Arabic Nov 11, 2013

There are lots of examples in Arabic, especially with books that have been translated for children. Many are missing references to alcohol or love relationships, for example. In one version of Treasure Island, the bad guys do drink alcohol, but the good guys drink tea. Also, the prince does not kiss the princess at the end of fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. Even the frog does not get kissed in The Frog Prince. I can't remember what happens instead, but I will ask one of my kids later today.

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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 02:54
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
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At the risk of making this a religious discussion Nov 11, 2013

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints usually depicts glorified Jesus with deceiving wing-shaped clouds at his back, thus implying that Christ is not God, but an angel. Many religious (if not all) translations are influenced by ideology and dogma, and the key part in such translations is not what they say, but what they intentionally omit.

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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 02:54
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
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@Mark Nov 11, 2013

markjazzbass wrote:
Few month ago I noticed that in the original version of Defoe's book the first thing that the main character did was making a cross. But in the book translated in USSR it was a column.


I have never read that book, so I had to google for the passage:

After I had been there about ten or twelve days, it came into my thoughts that I should lose my reckoning of time for want of books, and pen and ink, and should even forget the Sabbath days; but to prevent this, I cut with my knife upon a large post, in capital letters - and making it into a great cross, I set it up on the shore where I first landed - "I came on shore here on the 30th September 1659."

Upon the sides of this square post I cut every day a notch with my knife, and every seventh notch was as long again as the rest, and every first day of the month as long again as that long one; and thus I kept my calendar, or weekly, monthly, and yearly reckoning of time.


From the description it would appear to me that the character took a square pole and carved the dates into its sides, and then somehow affixed some crossbar to it, which turned it into a cross shaped monument. I find it interesting that on some of the depictions of this scene (e.g. the one by NC Wyeth) the crossbar of the pole is the thing that the character writes upon, but that does not comply with the description of this event in the book, as far as I can see.

I know that [Dutch and Portuguese] seafarers used to put cross-shaped beacons on prominent points, but I'm not sure if this has religious significance. One could ask whether the cross that Crusoe made was a religious symbol or a symbol of his presence on the shore in the same way that seafarers of the time had marked their presence generally. What kind of beacon would USSR seafarers have built that would have a similar purpose?

It can therefore be argued that the translator had simply transferred the cultural meaning, without having to search for ideological reasons.


[Edited at 2013-11-11 17:13 GMT]


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markjazzbass
Ukraine
TOPIC STARTER
really interesting... Nov 11, 2013

Amel Abdullah wrote:

There are lots of examples in Arabic, especially with books that have been translated for children. Many are missing references to alcohol or love relationships, for example. In one version of Treasure Island, the bad guys do drink alcohol, but the good guys drink tea. Also, the prince does not kiss the princess at the end of fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. Even the frog does not get kissed in The Frog Prince. I can't remember what happens instead, but I will ask one of my kids later today.


don't you think that those children could have problems with understanding of the European cultures when they grow up?

[Редактировалось 2013-11-11 21:13 GMT]


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FarkasAndras
Local time: 02:54
English to Hungarian
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Yes Nov 12, 2013

markjazzbass wrote:

Amel Abdullah wrote:

There are lots of examples in Arabic, especially with books that have been translated for children. Many are missing references to alcohol or love relationships, for example. In one version of Treasure Island, the bad guys do drink alcohol, but the good guys drink tea. Also, the prince does not kiss the princess at the end of fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. Even the frog does not get kissed in The Frog Prince. I can't remember what happens instead, but I will ask one of my kids later today.


don't you think that those children could have problems with understanding of the European cultures when they grow up?

Of course they will. That is the goal.


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Amel Abdullah  Identity Verified
Jordan
Arabic to English
+ ...
Not really Nov 13, 2013

Your question is an interesting one. First of all, you should consider that the phenomenon of whitewashing stories for children is certainly not exclusive to the Arab world and is also prominent in Western cultures.

If you examine the history of most popular fairy tales, you will find that their original forms are often quite violent or repulsive by modern standards. In some versions of Sleeping Beauty, for example, the princess was actually raped in her sleep by the prince, who impregnates her. When she gives birth (to twins), one of them sucks on her finger, drawing out the spell that put her to sleep, and she wakes up. It is not the magic kiss of a prince that does the job. In other versions, she is surrounded by fire and not roses like the Disney version. Some versions include cannibalism, when the jealous stepmother tries to eat the beautiful girl.

Looking at Cinderella, you will see that it an ancient story that actually has Greco-Egyptian origins in the story of Rhodopis:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhodopis

The addition of a mean stepmother, ugly stepsisters, a ball, a fairy godmother, a beautiful gown, a glass slipper, etc. are all later inserted by various authors until we get the highly romanticized Disney version.

My mother, who is Italian, used to tell me that one of the Italian versions of Cinderella is quite bloody, with the stepsisters getting their feet torn to shreds when they attempt to wear the glass slipper. She also told me that many other Italian fairy tales are bloody and gruesome and not particularly romantic at all.

As it happens, I am not sure that fairy tales in particular are where children generally take their views of European culture. I'm also not sure which parts of European culture they would be missing out on if some stories do not include kisses or alcohol, just like most Americans probably do not feel they are missing anything by not including rape and other vulgarities in tales like Sleeping Beauty. These are basically tales that have been retold many times and molded to fit in with different ways of thinking and the prevailing cultural attitudes wherever they are told. And it goes both ways, by the way, as most stories including Arab culture that have made their way into the West tend to focus on exotic "harem" culture that is not exactly accurate.

My personal feeling is that translating stories for children in particular is a form of localization that must take into account how children will perceive the characters of the story. If, for example, Muslim children are taught all their lives that alcohol is a sin with negative effects on the mind and health, it would be hard to have a protagonist who openly indulges. You want kids to like and respect the hero, not to get confused because he is doing something bad for his health. You don't want that flaw in the hero to become the focus of the story. Although I sense some criticism of this idea, you might be interested to know that stories like Treasure Island and many other classics of American and European literature are among the most widely read works of literature in the Arab world. I would actually say that Arab children who read have generally read more of the classics than have the average American. A really popular story amongst Arab children, for example, is Uncle Tom's Cabin, which very few Americans read these days despite the great importance of this work. If anything, I have seen that these classics have transmitted a very positive message about the culture to my own children as they have provided a means for them to learn about different periods in history through the stories, which they find captivating. The characters are very human to them, which shows them that people in general are really the same all over the world.

Also, I do not wish to give the impression that all translated works are censored in the Arab world. It is very possible you will find the original versions translated without any modifications. In my previous post, I was merely answering the OP's question, which is whether we know of any instances of translations deliberately being altered. I have certainly seen lots of translated works that include romantic scenes and other things that might be considered risqué. This is even true of Arabic literature itself, which also frequently contains such elements. I was mostly speaking of children's literature, which, as I said, is also subject to whitewashing in the West. Although it takes different forms, it is not something unique to the Arab world.

[Edited at 2013-11-13 05:24 GMT]


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Julia Stepanchuk  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 05:54
English to Russian
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That's interesting! Nov 9, 2014

markjazzbass wrote:

Few month ago I noticed that in the original version of Defoe's book the first thing that the main character did was making a cross. But in the book translated in USSR it was a column. Do you know other examples similar to this?


I never noticed, so I went and dug up my childhood copy of Robinson Crusoe in Russian. I did not remember this sentence, but it seemed to me that there was a picture of the cross in there. Sure enough, the sentence reads I made a post..., but the picture shows Robinson cutting marks on what clearly is a rudimentary cross.

What's interesting is that this Russian translation (1979) preserves quite a few references to Lord, God (always with a lower-case first letter), providence and prayer (I don't know whether it preserves all of them or only some of them - that would require a detailed comparison). It also preserves passages where Robinson is teaching Friday about Christ and Christianity.


[Edited at 2014-11-09 12:22 GMT]

[Edited at 2014-11-09 13:22 GMT]


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Julia Stepanchuk  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 05:54
English to Russian
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As for the Andersen's fairy-tales, Nov 9, 2014

It is a well-known fact that many religious references were omitted in Russian translations. However - and I know that what I'm going to say is a translator's blasphemy), and I'm probably influenced by my fond childhood memories about these tales - I'm not sure that they were totally wrong.

I remember how, still as a kid, I got my hands on an academic (scholarly) edition of H.-C.Andersen's tales. It contained more complete and accurate translations and preserved more religious references.

Well, some of these references totally went over my head, and others made for a very depressing reading (The Story of a Mother, anyone?). And I was utterly and completely horrified by The Red Shoes - I got the idea that it was bad to be distracted in church (although I could not fully comprehend why) and think too much about clothes, but the vicious and relentless punishment that follows read to me not as a morality tale, but as a horror story about absurdity and cruelty of life. I totally thought that the angel was evil and generally felt that this tale was similar to Edgar Poe's stories (yes, I know, I read him too early as well).


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Werner Maurer  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 17:54
Spanish to English
+ ...
Other examples Nov 9, 2014

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints usually depicts glorified Jesus with deceiving wing-shaped clouds at his back, thus implying that Christ is not God, but an angel. Many religious (if not all) translations are influenced by ideology and dogma, and the key part in such translations is not what they say, but what they intentionally omit.



I've seen Bible translations where "loins" is rendered as "waist", and this in a translation that I would otherwise have rated very highly. I guess the translators felt compelled on moral grounds to purposely mistranslate that, and I guess that's understandable in a kindova sortova way, but what it's not is professional. Makes one wonder, as well, what other bits of the Bible that team may have purposely mistranslated. One has to wonder how they might have rendered the Song of Solomon's "thy two breasts" et al.

And I think most of us are familiar with the now near-universal bowdlerization of Christmas Greensleeves: "What child is this, who laid to rest on Mary's lap is sleeping?". C'mon people, if the Bible and the classics can say breast and loins then so can we.


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Werner Maurer  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 17:54
Spanish to English
+ ...
Andersen Nov 9, 2014

Julia - perhaps in Andersen's day church wasn't as lifeless and boring as it is in our day. Perhaps back then the stuff they preached was worth paying attention to. Not saying it was, just saying maybe.

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