A Fantastic Failure: Displaced Nationalism and the Intralingual Translation of Harry Potter

By Eastwood, Alexander | Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

A Fantastic Failure: Displaced Nationalism and the Intralingual Translation of Harry Potter


Eastwood, Alexander, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada


SOMMAIRE

Les romans d'Harry Potter de l'auteur britannique J.K. Rowling, lesquels ont connu un retentissant succes, ont ete traduits en plusieurs langues, notamment l'anglo-americain. En mettant l'accent sur le premier roman largement diffuse, The Philosopher's Stone, reedite aux Etats-Unis sous le titre The Sorcerer's Stone par la firme Arthur A. Levine, cet article veut demontrer que la version americaine gomme de facon problematique certaines specificites culturelles du Philosapher's Stane en substituant les americanismes aux expressions britanniques. Ces changements linguistiques revelent la preponderance generalisee et croissante des deux conglomerats americain et anglais dans le domaine de l'edition et isolent de son contexte le contenu national du texte original en minimisant en quelque sorte la culture britannique au profit de l'americaine. The Sorcerer's Stone confirme la troublante inconsequence d'un jeune lectorat americain presumement apte a saisir dans leurs nuances relatives des neologismes propres a la litterature fantastique, mais qui, en revanche, se montre paradoxalement incapable de decoder la langue vernaculaire parlee par les Britanniques. Etant donne que l'anglais devient de plus en plus normalise, il incombe de considerer la valeur litteraire des dialectes et autres regionalismes de cette langue afin d'assurer le pluralisme linguistique et culturel. Les romans d'Harry Potter soulevent des questions fascinantes sur les pratiques contemporaines se rapportant a la litterature de jeunesse de part et d'autre de l'Atlantique et le role de la traduction qui se fait a l'interieur d'une meme langue a la merci de l'influence americaine.

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British author J.K. Rowling's hugely successful Harry Potter novels have been translated into a variety of different languages including, most peculiarly, American English. Rather than urging cultural accommodation, American editor Arthur A. Levine altered diction and syntax within the American editions with the intention of ensuring "that an American child reading the books would have the same literary experience that a British kid would have." (1) Levine's comment reveals the fundamental problematic of his project: how could an American child possibly have "the same literary experience" as a British one when the Harry Potter texts are culturally--and originally, linguistically--British? To erase the specifically British linguistic elements of the texts is to overlook Rowling's nuanced constructions of cultural "difference," (2) as Philip Nel posits in "You Say 'Jelly,' I Say 'Jell-O'?: Harry Potter and the Transfiguration of Language." Taking up the relationship between form and content that Nel examines, my discussion expands upon the salient textual and cultural implications of his argument: namely, the notion that American English is replacing British English as the new standard and that Americanization interferes with and crudely appropriates the national context of the original texts through the use of the fantasy genre. In doing so, the American edition both fetishizes and devalues Britain's cultural distinctness from the United States. I have chosen to narrow my focus to the first novel in the Harry Potter series since it was heavily edited in the United States. My intention in this paper is to theorize the linguistic and cultural implications of Americanization by treating Harry Potter as a case study that works to reveal the literary repercussions of American hegemony, the relationship between orthography and nationalism, and the subsequent imposition of protectionism on youth audiences.

The relationship between translation and the genre of children's fantasy literature informs why the American editors of the series would have chosen to alter the original texts, and helps to flame the historical precedents and anxieties that affect the reception of foreign children's books in the United States. Ina two-part article in The Horn Book Magazine, Jane Whitehead reveals that children's literature is particularly vulnerable to alteration by American publishers. …

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