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The Polysystem Theory. An approach to children's literature





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Abstract

This paper attempts to discuss the polysystem theory with an approach to children's literature. Mainly, it considers the positions that translated writings can occupy in this system in comparing to the original writings in a country, especially in Iran. It discusses the causes and effects that the translated literature can occupy either the central position or peripheral one in literary system of a country. Then it indicates children's literature; its importance in shaping the children's mind, thought and future, and its position in polysystem.

Key terms: Polysystem, Central Position, Peripheral Position, children's literature

Introduction

Translating may be defined as rereading and rewriting for target-language audiences, which makes translations uniquely different from their originals: every time texts are translated they take on a new language, a new culture, new readers, and a new point of view.

Lefevere (1992:2) considers to translation and its influences on culture. He emphasizes that translation is not just a "window opened on another world," or some such pious platitude. Rather, translation is a channel opened, often not without a certain reluctance, through which foreign influences can penetrate the native culture, challenge it, and even contribute to subverting it.

Hence, translations are not made in a vacuum. Translators function in a given culture at a given time (ibid.14). Snell-Horny has a similar view in this issue. It has for centuries been taken for granted that translation merely takes place between languages. Instead, language is not an isolated phenomenon suspended in a vacuum but is an integral part of culture (Snell-Hornby 1988:39).

In this sense translation of children's literature is very similar to that of other literary texts. Yet translating children's literature has its own special features.

If we divide a literature in a country into two parts of native and translated literature, and if we think about the influences of the literature on people especially the children, we have to pay more attention to this issue. The fiction books are the most favorite books for children. Meanwhile, the translated fiction books constitute a great part of the literature of a country, especially in Iran.

In recent decades, children's literature has been made a subject of academic research because of its importance in shaping the minds and thoughts of children. Simultaneously, more and more translations have been dedicated to the children's literature. There are some important factors which have prompted such studies; for example the assumption that translated children's books build bridges between different cultures, the source culture and the target one or, the polysystem theory which classifies children's literature as a subsystem of minor prestige within literature. This review of critical approaches to the translation of children's literature is structured in relationship to polysystem theory in order to explore the causes and effects of the positions which can be occupied by translated literature, in considering its position to be either central or peripheral in literary system of a country, especially in that of Iran. 

Polysystem

Polysystem theory was suggested in 1969 and 1970, sub-sequently reformulated and developed in a number of later studies and improved, then shared, advanced, enlarged, and experimented with by a number of scholars in various countries. But, its foundations had already been solidly laid by Russian Formalism in the 1920s (Even-Zohar 1990).

In the Dictionary of Translation Studies polysystem theory is defined as a theory to account for the behavior and evolution of literary system. The term polysystem denotes a stratified conglomerate of interconnected elements, which changes and mutates as these elements interact with each other (Shuttleworth & Cowie 1997:127).

In polysystem theory a literary work is not studied in isolation but as part of a literary system. In other words literature is a part of social, cultural, literary and historical framework. A literary system can influence other ones. It's to say, the translated literature which is being imported to a country can influence the native writings. These effects can be more or less in according to some causes and effects.

Snell-Hornby in her book Translation Studies an Integrated Approach points to translation system within the polysystem and writes that in this theory literary translation is seen as one of the elements participating in the constant struggle for survival and domination. It is emphasized that translations play a primary, creative and innovative role within the literary system. Hence, in this approach, translation is seen essentially as a text-type in its own right, as an integral part of the target culture and not merely as a reproduction of another text (Snell-Hornby 1988:24). 

Even-Zohar (1978) points out; it seems that there is neither awareness of the function of translated literature for a literature as a whole or of its position within that literature, nor awareness of the possible existence of translated literature as a particular literary system. The prevailing concept is rather that of "translation" or just "translated works" treated on an individual basis.

We should be aware that translated literature can possess its own effects, which not only can be to certain extent but also even be exclusive to it. So, these points make it justifiable to talk about translated literature.

Even-Zohar (1978:193) indicates that through the foreign works, feature (both principles and elements) are introduced into the home literature which did not exist there before.

Central Position and Peripheral Position

As we know the literature of every country consists of 'original' writings and 'translated' writings. Each of these kinds can occupy the central position or peripheral one in the literary system of a country. But as Munday (2001) indicates the idea of the literary polysystem amongst other things, different literatures and genres, including translated and non-translated works, compete for dominance. Even-Zohar (1978) conceives that translated literature not only is as an integral system within any literary system, but as a most active system within it.

Sometimes the primary position is occupied by original writings and sometimes by translated ones. But what would happen if the translated works are in the primary position of the polysystem literary in a country? Even-Zohar (1978) admits that if translated literature maintains a central position in the literary polysystem it means that it participates actively in shaping the center of the polysytem. Thus, if translated literature assumes such a situation it would be by large an integral part of innovatory forces; and in this case, it would play a major role event in literary history of a country. Consequently, this implies that in this situation no clear-cut distinction is maintained between 'original' and 'translated' writings.

Even-Zohar (1978: 193-194) gives three major cases when translated literature can occupy the primary position in a country:

(a) When a polysystem has not yet been crystallized, that is to say, when a literature is 'young' in the process of being established;

(b) When a literature is either 'peripheral' (within a large group of correlated literature) or ' weak, ' or both; and

(c) When there are turning points, crises, or literary vacuum in a literature.

Munday (2001) believes that a literature is 'peripheral' or 'weak' and imports those lacking literary types. This can happen when a smaller nation is dominated by the culture of a larger one.

Even-Zohar (1978) admits that all kinds of peripheral literature may in such cases consist of translated literature. This can happen at various levels. It may be assumed that in a long run no system can remain in a constant state of weakness, "turning points," or crisis, although the possibility should not be excluded that some polysystems may maintain such states for quite a long time (ibid 196).

Munday (2001:110) gives an example "in modern Spain smaller regions such as Galicia import many translations from the dominant Spanish form Castilian, while Spain itself imports canonized and non-canonized literature from the English-speaking world."

As noted above, translated literature can occupy the primary position in several causes. One of them is when there are literary vacuums in the literature of a country. It#39;s to say, one of these vacuums takes place when the current original literary works are no longer considered sufficient. In these situations that the native literature can not satisfy the public expectations, it is easier for foreign literature to assume central position.

But we should consider that when translated works occupy the primary position, they can have influences on culture at a given time or forever. In this case it can have influence on other literary systems. In other words, as Even-Zohar (1978: 197) admits, not only is the socio-literary status of translation dependent upon its position within the polysystem, but the very practice of translation is also strongly subordinated to that position. We can conclude that translation not only is a phenomenon whose nature and borders are given once and for all, but also an activity that may have a certain relationship with the cultural system.

There are cases when translated literature occupies the secondary position and represents a peripheral system within the polysystem. So, in this situation it has no major influence over the central system which is the original and native literature. In fact, it attempts to conform itself to the literary norms of the target system, the native one. Even-Zohar (1978:196) points out that this secondary position is the "normal" one for the translated literature.

Children's literature

Children's literature is not just a peripheral literary phenomenon: in the dynamics of the literary field it fulfils a basic role. History teaches us that this basic role specifically is heavily influenced by translation, since the repertoire of children's books and children's (narrative/literary) discourse are systematically developed on the basis of international traditions. A question could be propounded here: Can the import of Western children's literature be a hindrance for the development of native (non-Western) children's literature? Fortunately or unfortunately the Low Countries have interest in importing the foreign literature.

An acquaintance with the understanding of literary characters is one of the first ways a young child has of making sense of what it is to be human. We all come to know more clearly who and what we are while reaching out, imaginatively, for what we might become. As the child dwells in and wonders at the lives lived in story, she comes to know both herself and the world and begins to see that world as something over which she, as a character in life, might exercise some control. The events of story are a means of exploration of the world, helping her to confirm, to illuminate, and to extend her own life experiences, in ways that give her power over them. Story gives public form to private meanings and thus helps those who receive its messages to reach out to other human beings in the world, knowing that they share some of the same concerns and feelings. Informational narratives are also important forms of children's literature and ways for young people to understand and appreciate their world and those who share it with them. We all need to learn about life both literally and literarily, efferently and aesthetically.

Children's literature has been made a subject of academic research because of its importance in shaping the minds and thoughts of children. Simultaneously, more and more translations have been dedicated to the children's literature. There are some important factors which have prompted such studies; for example the assumption that translated children's books build bridges between different cultures, the source culture and the target one or, the polysystem theory which classifies children's literature as a subsystem of minor prestige within literature. This review of critical approaches to the translation of children's literature is structured in relationship to polysystem theory in order to explore the causes and effects of the positions which can be occupied by translated literature in considering its position to be either central or peripheral in literary system of a country. 

Children's literature in Iran

Ghaeni (2005) in his book points out that the children's literature in Iran has a very old history which dates back to more than 3000 years ago, when the first Persian families narrated rich oral literature, including lullabies, folktales, rhythmic fables, generation by generation. Also in addition to children's oral literature, the children enjoyed written stories which dated back to theSasanides period. This claim was proved when a Pahlavi manuscript of "Asurik Tree" (the story of palm date and the goat) was found about 2000 years ago. The extensive research on the history has proved that although there are a lot of similarities between the historical patterns in the west and the east, during the middle ages, children's literature in Iran is different in certain aspects, inter alias, one can refer to the very progressive views of the Iranian philosophers toward children and the concept of childhood in the Islamic period. Then we reach the Islamic era when the children were educated in traditional schools which were called Maktabkhaneh. In these schools children learned some parts of the holly book, Quran. Modern educational system which was inspired by western countries was established in Iran in the middle of 19th century (constitutional era), but the turning point occurs in the late 19th century and early 20th century, when new educational concepts entered the scene by those Iranian intellectuals who were educated in western countries and thus the number of modern schools gradually intensified. In the beginning of 1920 only about 5 percent of population were literate. At that time the most important task was finding new ways to increase the number of literate children. Children in new educational system needed modern textbooks. The pioneer educators tried to contribute in preparing new textbooks which could address the special needs of children. Finally, the modern children's literature started about 1930, when several pioneer writers and poets wrote stories and poems for children and a lot of children's books from western countries were translated and published. In spite of these activities, not only the rate of illiteracy among children was high, but also the Iranian children hadn#39;t enough books yet. At this time a group of independent writers found more opportunities to be active and create literature for children. But, this hasn#39;t been successful in changing the situation in the way that Iranian children's literature could flourish.

Ghaeni (2005) points to researching necessaries in Iran; she adds that a new generation of scholars who have taken children's literature seriously and considered it as a scientific and academic subject, have started to do research on different aspects of children's literature. As a result of these attempts the new criteria and standards for research works are forming which would develop the academic works in Iran.

Mohammadi & Ghaeni (2001:243) discuss the history of children literature, they write that research in pre-Islamic and Islamic works makes it clear that there are very few texts addressed directly to children. However, many passages can be found in the general literary works that are written for children and are clearly addressed to the young reader.

The turning point occurs in the late 19th century and early 20th century, when such new factors enter the scene: new educational concepts, continuity of oral literature and folklore, development of a more simple Persian prose, the advent of translations from the West, the start of the printing industry in Iran, establishment of new schools, the study of child psychology, and the rise of pioneer personalities as early publishers of books for children. (ibid. 243)

The analysis of a limited-material sample

After discussing the polysystem, the central and peripheral positions, children's literature, and finally children's literature in Iran, I confronted one main question:

Which position is occupied by the translated literature for the children in Iran, Central position or peripheral position?

Therefore, I chose a limited-material sample to find – as far as possible – a holistic answer. Thus, I referred to Kanoon Parvaresh publication and Sadaf publication, the two most remarkable publications in the field of children's literature. Then, I gathered the list of books that had been published or were to be published for children in 2006, either translated books or original ones in the Kanoon Parvaresh publication. The number of these books was 100. Furthermore, I chose 58 books published by Sadaf publication during three years (2004, 2005 and 2006). It is important to remind that all of my choices were at random. The specifications of the books are shown in the Appendix.

Table 1 shows the number of books which have been published or are being published in both publications, the translated books and the original ones;

Table 1. The number of books been published in the both publications

  Translated books Original books
Kanoon Parvaresh publication 25 75
Sadaf publication 32 26

I compared the number of the translated children's books to the number of the original ones in order to get the percentage.

The Sum of the translated children's book = 57
The Sum of the original children's book = 101
The Sum of all mentioned books = 158

Polysystem Theory image

Table 2 demonstrates the percentage of translated books and original ones to the all books;

Table 2. The percentage of translated and original books

  Translated books Original books

the SUM calculation
57 101
the Percentage calculation 36% 64%

The table shows that the percentage of Translated books to the all books is 36%, and that of Original ones is 64%.

Conclusion

In this paper I tried to find answers to some questions as following:

Which position is occupied by the children's translated literature? Central position or peripheral one?

Sometimes the primary position is occupied by original writings and sometimes by translated ones. But what would happen if the translated works occupy the primary position of the polysystem literary in a country?

As Even-Zohar (1978: 197) admits, not only is the socio-literary status of translation dependent upon its position within the polysystem, but the very practice of translation is also strongly subordinated to that position. We can conclude that translation not only is a phenomenon whose nature and borders are given once and for all, but also an activity that may have a certain relationship with the cultural system.

If translated literature maintains a central position in the literary polysystem it means that it participates actively in shaping the center of the polysytem. Thus, if translated literature assumes such a situation it would be by large an integral part of innovatory forces; and in this case, it would play a major role event in literary history of a country. If translated literature occupies the secondary position then it represents a peripheral system within the polysystem. So, in this situation it has no major influence over the central system which is the original and native literature. Even-Zohar (1978:196) points out that the secondary position is the "normal" position for the translated literature.

Children's literature has a very important role in shaping the minds and thoughts of children. Furthermore, more and more translations have been dedicated to the children's literature. We should be aware that translation of children's literature is very similar to that of other literary texts. Yet translating children's literature has its own special importance. We should be aware that children's literature is not just a peripheral literary phenomenon; but, in the dynamics of the literary field it fulfils a basic role.

In this paper my aim was to consider the children's literature in relationship to polysystem theory in order to explore the causes and effects of the positions which can be occupied by translated literature in literary system of a country.

I analyzed children's literature in Iran and stated a summary of history. Then I analyzed a limited-material sample. Now we get, as far as possible, some answers to the raised questions. The calculations show that the percentage of translated books to all books is 36%, and that of original ones is 64%. We can conclude (of course in the mentioned limited-material sample) that translated literature for children occupies the peripheral position in Iran.




Works cited

Even-Zohar, I. (1978). The Position of Translated Literature within the Literary Polysystem.
In: Venuti, L. (Ed.). 2000. Translation Studies Reader. London and New York: Routledge. pp. 192-7.

---------------- (1990) Polysystem Theory, in Polysystem Studies, [= Poetics Today 11:1], 1990, pp. 9-26.

Ghaeni, Z. (2005) Children's Literature in Iran:  From Tradition to Modernism
Available in: www.macondo.nu/intro_iran.htm

Lefevere, A. (1992) Translation/History/Culture London and New York: Routledge

Mohammadi, .H & Z. Ghaeni (2001) Oral tradition and Ancient Times,

Tehran: The Foundation for Research on the History of Children's Literature in Iran, and Cheesta Publishing Co, available at : www.payvand.com/news/03/jan/1108.html

Munday, J. (2001). Introducing Translation Studies: Theories and Applications.
London and New York: Routledge.

Shuttleworth, M. & M. Cowie (1997) Dictionary of Translation Studies
Manchester: St Jerome

Snell-Hornby, M. (1988) Translation Studies: an Integrated Approach
Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamin's publishing company




Appendix

The children's books are to be published in Kanoon Parvaresh publication in 2006:

The children's books are to be published in Kanoon Parvaresh publication in 2006

The children's books are to be published in Kanoon Parvaresh publication in 2006

The children's books are to be published in Kanoon Parvaresh publication in 2006

The children's books are to be published in Kanoon Parvaresh publication in 2006

And the books published in the same publication in 2006:

the books published in the same publication in 2006

www.kanoonparvaresh.com









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