M2: Unit 3 – Q9.1 Answer

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While the use of paratextual devices or the omission or addition of material provide particularly dramatic and visible examples of how to frame a particular narrative, there are other, more subtle ways of manipulating texts or utterances in translation. In fact, almost any aspect of a text can be emphasised or played down in translation; this will affect the way that it is received and therefore the narratives which it supports or subverts. The manipulation of gender, for example, has been successfully exploited as a framing device by feminist translators such as Carol Maier (1998).

The manipulation of register is also an interesting area to examine from the point of view of narrative theory. B. J. Epstein (2011), for example, explores how the register of various characters from Mark Twain’s classic children’s book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was dealt with by a range of Scandinavian translators. The novel is set in the southern states of the USA in the late 19th century. Several characters in the book, including the young Huck himself, Huck’s uneducated father and Jim, a black slave, speak with strong southern dialects. By analysing a selection of each character’s speech in various Scandinavian translations, Epstein found that the translation strategies used by the translators to deal with Twain’s dialects differed from character to character. In 73% of the sections of Huck’s dialogue analysed by Epstein, the translators standardised the young protagonist’s speech, ironing out the use of dialect. The same approach was taken in 53% of the dialogue by Huck’s drunk and illiterate father. However, only 7% of Jim’s speech was standardised; 93% of his dialogue was rendered into non-standard, primitive language. Epstein argues that this reflects the probably unconscious racism of the Scandinavian translators. From a narrative theory viewpoint, the translators’ strategy when translating Jim’s dialogue reflects their narrative location; the choice to make a distinction in register between Jim’s dialogue and the dialogue of the white characters in the novel frames Jim as intellectually inferior and subtly promotes a narrative of black people as more primitive than white people.
The overarching strategy adopted by a translator can also be used to frame a narrative in a particular way. Loc Pham, for example, explores his decision to use a domesticating strategy in his Vietnamese translation of Annie Proulx’s novella Brokeback Mountain (Pham 2012). Pham explains that in Vietnam, homosexuals are narrated as ‘other’, portrayed as either coming from outside of Vietnam or having been influenced by ‘outside’ western values. Pham therefore made the deliberate move of ‘domesticating the voices and images of Midwest America into Vietnamese culture’ (ibid.:124). By moving the story of two cowboys who begin a homosexual relationship to 1990s Vietnam and grounding it firmly in Vietnamese culture, Pham subverts the dominant narrative of ‘homosexual as outsider’ and reinforces the narrative of ‘homosexual as insider’.