Essay Asks, “What Exactly Is Translation?”

Nihon jido bungaku (Japanese Children's Literature)

The Sept-Oct 2011 issue of Nihon jido bungaku (Japanese Children’s Literature)

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

When Deborah Iwabuchi and Kazuko Enda translated the ebook Little Keys and the Red Piano by Hideko Ogawa—described on this blog here—they and Ogawa read an essay by Yumiko Sakuma in the journal Nihon jido bungaku (Japanese Children’s Literature), “What Exactly Is Translation?”

In the essay, Sakuma describes her career as a translator of children’s books from English into Japanese. (Her oeuvre includes Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda, Hitler’s Daughter by Jackie French, and titles by Uri Shulevitz, plus U.S. president Barack Obama’s picture book Of Thee I Sing.)

Sakuma explains and shows how a translation for children goes far beyond a literal rendering, and may involve changes—even to characters’ names—to accommodate readers’ needs and backgrounds.

Thanks to Sakuma’s essay, Iwabuchi writes, the author of Little Keys and the Red Piano showed “enormous empathy for her translators” and considered every question they raised with her. Iwabuchi found Sakuma’s article so helpful that she has translated it into English in full. It now appears on the SWET website.

“Pianyan, Little Keys, and Yumiko Sakuma” by Deborah Iwabuchi

If you are a publisher working with a children’s translation, an author being translated, or a translator explaining your art, treat yourself to this essay. It puts words to how translation involves so much more than conversion of language.

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