Wednesday, April 11, 2007

More on the Conference

In the last post, I wrote about what I presented on at the Child and the Book conference in Istanbul. Now I’d like to tell a little more about the conference in general.

The keynote presentation was by Professor Zohar Shavit from Israel. She spoke about the development of children’s literature and children’s culture. Initially, children were viewed simply as small adults with special needs, and gradually childhood became a concept of its own, and children were recognized as distinct from adults in many respects. However, Professor Shavit pointed out that among the upper classes, both children and the lower classes (often service people) were viewed as dependent, and in need of help. This connection between children’s culture and people and things that were service-related or on the (espeically lower) periphery of adult culture is primarily what she discussed. Examples include the trend for sailor outfits for children and rocking horses as toys. One positive aspect of all this, she thought, is that the ambivalent status of children’s literature allows it to discuss issues that are not considered appropriate in literature for adults.

The guest author at the conference was Swedish writer Åsa Lind, whose work has been translated to many languages, but unfortunately not English. She told many entertaining stories about her background and career and how she writes, but also mentioned the literary hierarchy and how children’s authors are often lowest. Little importance is attached to children’s literature, for a variety of reasons. But on the contrary, Ms. Lind thought, this shouldn’t be the case, since writing for adults excludes children, while people who write for children include everyone. Children’s literature is thus inclusive and deserves more respect. She also said, “Stories are essential for kids. It’s a question of democracy. When you have the language, you can be part of the society in which you live.”

Throughout the conference, there were parallel presentations on a multitude of issues related to the translation of children’s literature. Many of the lectures sounded interesting (although despite the fact that the theme of the conference was translation, a surprising number seemed only tangentially related), so it was hard to choose which to attend, and perhaps the conference should have been longer so there were fewer choices to make. My favorite presentation was by Belgian Professor Jan van Coillie, who spoke about translating poetry for children, which he views as “the ultimate challenge”. He identified several strategies for translating poetry: repetition (literal translation), addition, deletion, submission, and transmutation. Poetry is especially challenging because the translator must pay careful to attention to the formal, semantic, and pragmatic levels, whereas in other kinds of translation, there isn’t as much interplay between the three levels, nor necessarily as much emphasis on each of them. In addition, Professor van Coillie mentioned how literature can be used for the transmission of norms or morals, and also how there are many different possible text functions (such as recreative, creative, emotive, and educative). He is working on creating a general comprehensive methodology and strategy for translating poetry for children, so his research is fascinating.

Besides all the academic presentations, during the conference, there was also a panel on the history of Turkish children’s literature, a performance of karagöz (traditional shadow puppet theater -- see the photo below), and a presentation on a special Turkish anthology used to educate teenagers about violence.

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