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The Translation of Working-Class Speech and Culture in Japanese Translations of Robert Westall’s Novels Set in North–East England

Abstract

Robert Westall (1929–1993) was one of the most successful British children’s writers in the latter half of the twentieth century. However, his novels often provoked controversy in Britain because of his inclusion of working-class language and culture in children’s books. This paper examines how such “controversial” working-class dialogues are translated in Japan, where his novels are particularly popular. This paper explores Japanese translations of Westall’s novels published between 1980 and 2009, with a particular focus on three novels set in north-east England in the 1940s: The Machine-Gunners (1975; Japanese translation, 1980), Fathom Five (1979; Japanese translation, 2009), and The Kingdom by the Sea (1990; Japanese translation, 1994). Examination of these translations, which were produced during different economic periods in Japan, will contribute to understanding the cultural and political roles of translators and of children’s literature, as it reveals the hegemonic process of how working-class culture is reduced and how gender stereotypes, as well as normative middle-class culture, are reinforced through translation.

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Notes

  1. In the latter half of the twentieth century, roughly one third of children’s fiction published in Japan was translated (Kodomo no Hon Honyaku no Ayumi Kenkyukai, 2002, p. 255).

  2. In regard with the target oriented translation strategy, Cathy Hirano, a Japanese-to-English translator, states that “it is the differences in writing style that are a challenge for the translator” (Hirano, 2006, p. 226), According to Hirano, due to the different literary conventions, “direct translations of Japanese into English are often frustrating to read because they come across as emotional, even childish, and without any point or conclusive ending” for American readers (p. 226).

  3. For a detailed examination of adaptation and retelling of foreign children’s literature in Japan, see Sato (1987).

  4. In this paper, when the reference is in Japanese, Japanese names are given in the traditional format, with family name first.

  5. The vivid depictions of violence were not controversial in Japan, probably because many Japanese children’s books featuring death and violence during World War II had already been published by 1980.

  6. A pseudo-Tōhoku dialect is a speech style which “strongly resembles stigmatized Toohoku dialect” (Hiramoto, 2009, p. 249) and yet differs from real Tōhoku dialect in certain features. A pseudo-Tōhoku dialect, which is associated with an image of uneducated country folk, is typically used for dialogues of Black slaves and the working-class in translations; as Hiramoto (2009) states, pseudo-Tōhoku dialect “reinforces linguistic inferiorization of” such minorities (p. 249). According to Nakamura (2013), regional dialects used in Japanese translations are more often pseudo-regional dialects, which are a hybrid of several dialects in totally different regions (pp. 57–60).

  7. A notable exception is the Japanese translation of Blitzcat, in which elderly farmers in Coventry speak a broad pseudo-regional dialect, which blends characteristics of several regional dialects (Westall, 1998/1989, pp. 105–163).

  8. In the last two decades, Japanese women’s language has frequently been discussed by scholars from feminist perspectives. For the ideological and political construction of Japanese women’s language and its history, see Inoue (2006) and Nakamura (2007).

  9. The persistence of the tendency to adopt feminine women’s language in Japanese translations of children’s literature is pointed out by Hiroko Furukawa (2015), who analyses three versions of Japanese translations of Anne of Green Gables, published in 1952, 1993, and 1999, and concludes that frequency of use of feminine forms in Anne’s conversations was not significantly reduced in the 45 years between 1952 and 1999 (p. 306).

  10. According to Furukawa (2010), even though male translators tend to “overuse women’s language” (p. 194), female translators, who know the gap between real everyday female speech and the typical women’s language, also use women’s language, even for translations of contemporary novels, because this is the convention (Furukawa, 2010, pp. 191–194).

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Acknowledgements

Portions of this manuscript were presented at the 25th biennial congress of the International Research Society for Children’s Literature, 28 October 2021. I would like to thank Editage [http://www.editage.com] for editing and reviewing this manuscript for English language.

Funding

This work was supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant No. JP19K23045.

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Correspondence to Haru Takiuchi.

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Haru Takiuchi is associate professor at Aichi Prefectural University, Japan. He is the author of British Working-Class Writing for Children: Scholarship Boys in the Mid-Twentieth Century (Palgrave 2017).

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Takiuchi, H. The Translation of Working-Class Speech and Culture in Japanese Translations of Robert Westall’s Novels Set in North–East England. Child Lit Educ (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10583-022-09491-y

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Keywords

  • Robert Westall
  • English-to-Japanese translation
  • Translation of working-class speech
  • Japanese women’s language
  • Children’s literature