Traversing the Unfamiliar: German Translations of Aboriginality in James Vance Marshall's the Children and Phillip Gwynne's Deadly Unna? and Nukkin Ya

By Gerber, Leah | Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL, January 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Traversing the Unfamiliar: German Translations of Aboriginality in James Vance Marshall's the Children and Phillip Gwynne's Deadly Unna? and Nukkin Ya


Gerber, Leah, Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL


Focusing on three Australian children's texts translated into German, this paper examines how the notion of Aboriginality-at different points in time-is presented in the source text and dealt with in translation. The paper explores the tendency for translators to either 'foreignise' or domesticate culturally specific terminology, their use of English language in the translated text and their avoidance of certain taboos, etc., focusing on the translation of Aboriginal language, Aboriginal English and racist language. The assumption adopted in this analysis is that German translations of children's literature occupy a rather elevated position in the literary polysystem, and that German translators have the added advantage of assuming (as a 'norm') that children or young people possess or have been exposed to a high enough level of English to be able to understand borrowed English words and phrases included in the target texts. The paper questions whether the strategies employed by the translators of these texts-often foreignising-elicit the same reaction in target readers, particularly when it comes to racist terms. It also examines possible reasons behind the overriding tendency of German translators to emphasise foreign elements in their translations.

The tendency for Western cultures to reveal imperial attitudes and experiences in their literature has been described by Edward Said as the primary means by which colonised people assert their identity and the existence of their own history (xii). The tradition of Australian children's literature, which first grew out of contributions made by European colonisers and largely ignored any Indigenous past, has been referred to as a 'product of colonial history' (Bradford, 'Representing Indigeneity' 90) and 'a shamelessly racist catalogue of prejudice and misinformation, of superficial clichés, offensive stereotyping and entirely subjective interpretation' (McVitty 7). Robert Hodge and Vijay Mishra use the term Aboriginalism-a variation of Said's notion of Orientalism-to describe the way in which colonial powers traditionally generate ideas about the colonised other within patterns of discourse, aptly masking their racist objective and appearing to function constructively (27).

Clare Bradford refers to the 'deep ideological divides' that have marred the articulation of values in Australia since 1788, which can be found in Australian children's texts of past and present (Bradford, Reading Race 8).1 Indigenous people have been portrayed in Australian children's literature since its beginnings in 1841; early depictions were based principally on imperialist/social Darwinist attitudes, which linked Indigeneity to a low intellectual capacity and primitive social behaviour. Authors described the Indigenous people as primitive and savage beasts, whose role was to threaten the existence of the civilised white man. This motif was used as a pedagogical feature of the text, promoting racist thinking-its translation will also be examined in this paper. Some year later, in the late nineteenth century, Katherine Langloh Parker's Australian Legendary Tales (1896) was one of few texts of its time to accurately depict Aboriginal myths and legends. Other books published by Australian authors during the same period unsystematically introduced Aboriginal characters into the narrative, such as Charlotte Barton's A Mother's Offering to her Children (1841) and William Howitt's A Boy's Adventure in the Wilds of Australia (1853). Mrs Aeneas Gunn recorded the everyday life of Aboriginal workers on her station property in The Little Black Princess: A True Tale of Life in the Never-Never-Land (1905), which by all accounts is both sensitively and faithfully rendered. However, texts such as these relied on a number of resilient binaries-white/black, civilised/savage, adult/child, male/female, us/them-traditionally used by colonised societies when challenged by the organisation of diametrically opposed races or cultures (Bradford, 'Representing Indigeneity' 91). …

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