Saturday, February 04, 2017

New to the Wiki: Muslim Reworkings of Romance/Chick Lit and German Translations

Newns, Lucinda, 2017. 
"Renegotiating romantic genres: Textual resistance and Muslim chick lit." Journal of Commonwealth Literature. Online first. 1-17. [Abstract]
Newns examines Leila Aboulela's fictional The Translator and Shelina Zahra Janmohamed autobiographical Love in a Headscarf:
Through their manipulation of secular romantic forms, they present readers with more nuanced articulations of Muslim womanhood that fuse feminist and religious concerns. Aboulela’s novel The Translator (1999) and Janmohamed’s memoir Love in a Headscarf (2009) appropriate the domestic novel and chick lit genres, respectively, and recast them within an Islamic signification system.
Newns doesn't mention popular romance except in passing, but Aboulela's novel is compared in some detail to Jane Eyre, while Janmohamed's book is compared to chick lit.]

Sinner, Carsten, 2012. 
"Fictional orality in romance novels: Between linguistic reality and editorial requirements." The Translation of Fictive Dialogue. Ed. Jenny Brumme and Anna Espunya. Amsterdam: Rodopi. 119–136.
In constructing the characters' social context, interpersonal distance is overtly manifested in some languages. Carsten Sinner [...] illustrates the conscious efforts made by German translators of English-language romance novels to recreate the highly conventionalized use of the terms of address Sie (distant) vs du (close), and even to ensure verisimilitude in the switch from one to the other, a protocol regulated by various parameters (age, superiority, personality). (22)

Carsten Sinner [...] attests to the "sanitization" strategy (term coined in Kenny 1998) followed by German publishers of romance novels through their translation style-sheets. Any feature of speech that may have a negative impact on the reader's opinion of the 'good' character has to be attenuated or even deleted, no matter the consequences for the verisimilitude of the situation. The difficulty does not lie in finding the model of language that is homologous to the source text colloquial variety but rather in achieving plausibility without shocking the reader. (23-24)

Other things generally omitted in the translation because of the publisher's style prescriptions are religious allusions and anything seen as nationalistic, heroic in a military sense, etc, which sometimes appears in the American originals. (133)


  1. I had a look at Carsten Sinner's article (or at least the bits that the Amazon Look Inside feature let me read). Imo, it is slightly problematic that he cannot reveal which style sheet belongs to which publisher because the changes imposed upon the text will depend greatly on the publisher and the format (i.e., whether the book is published as a single title or as a series romance). In fact, I find it immensely problematic what he writes about the language of romance in general:

    "The production of sentimental novels involves a range of amending activies that include rewriting, reshaping, re-adjusting in length, etc. Furthermore, this often encompasses rigorous style adjustments aimed at making the titles in the series more uniform. As a matter of fact, 'romance novels, like all paraliterary genres, please and amuse, precisely because they always use the same formulae (in terms of plot, characters and, consequently, style and language)' (Curti 1991: 372 [...]), and this 'always identical style and language' [...] has to be guaranteed by the writers or editors as well as translators and translations editors." (Sinner 120-21)

    Uhm... *scratching my head* Not really. (Why the heck do people still make these ridiculous claims about language in the romance genre?!?)

    His assumptions about authors of romance fiction are equally problematic:

    "The 'industrialised' drafting of the text according to preconceived standards goes together with a generalised use of pseudonyms and a strict elimination of the notion of author who is very often substituted by a pseudo-author presented to the reader with an invented biography (Rak 1977, Curti 1991: 373)" (Sinner 121)."

    Again: I think not. As a generalization, his claim is incorrect, even though to some extent it can be applied to category romance in the sense that A) most authors of category romance use pseudonyms and that B) Harlequin Mills & Boon typically market their category novels by pushing a line, rather than a specific author. But even here, exceptions apply.

    One of the big problems of translating English-language texts into German is that you need more words in German and, thus, the word count of the German text is automatically higher. As a result, when books are translated from English into German, they are often slightly abridged - though this typically not acknowledged. The first time I noticed this was when I read the English edition of Anne Rice's "The Vampire Lestat" and stumbled across various passages that were not included in the German translation. I later noticed the same thing when comparing the English and German editions of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander novels.

    When it comes to romance, the most extreme abridgements typically happen in German category romance, and it's typically here that you also see the most extreme changes. (Wasn't there an article or blog post that compared English category romance novels to their French translations a couple of years ago?)

  2. (I'm sorry this is getting so long!!!)

    As to the "sanitization" Sinner is talking about in regard to sexually explicit language - I don't think his examples are very convincing. E.g., in one English text there is the phrase "bare butt", which was first translated as "nackter Arsch" and then amended to "nackter Hintern." Sinner claimed this is an example of the German text using less explicit or less vulgar language than the original. But that's not really the case: "Hintern" is a good translation for "butt"; "Arsch", by contrast, is much more vulgar than "butt".

    What he doesn't really go into - and this is something I find a bit strange - is the GENERAL difficulty of translating explicit sex scenes into German because informal German terms for genitals and sex acts tend to be excessively more vulgar than their English counterparts. So as a translator you'll always face the problem of how to render these scenes in German without sounding too clinical or too vulgar.

    Sinner's examples of vulgar language (his chapter 2.2.4) are also rather mystifying, imo - especially because he does not mention that the German translations of specific English terms have vastly different connotations than their English counterparts. So even if "grunzen" is the correct German translation of "to grunt", it still can be stylistically wrong to use it. So when a publisher's style sheet tells a translator to avoid the word "in the descriptions of the actions realised by the heroine and her male counterpart" (Sinner 131), it's not really a toning down of the language, but the publisher is alerting the translator to the fact that certain words are used in a different way in German or carry different connotations. This is a general problem when translating texts; it's certainly not specific to translating romance novels.

  3. Sinner said he wasn't able to reveal the names of the publishers who used the style-sheets because they asked for that to remain confidential. So I suppose one has to take some of this on trust and it's not going to be clear exactly which publishers were involved.

    I think there have been a few articles on translation into French and some about translations into other languages (e.g. Swedish and Greek)

    Paizis (1998) suggests that French makes much greater cuts than German. Paizis concentrated on one novel and its translations into French and Greek. He writes that in the series it is part of

    The original length of a standard-size Harlequin novel is between 180 and 190 pages. The French Harlequins are 150 to 160 pages long, as are the Greek. The French uses larger type than the Greek so that, in terms of number of words, the English text is about 65,000, the Greek 55,000 and the French 45,000. Bearing in mind that, as a rule, French requires about 10% more words to convey the same meaning as English [...], the result is that the French text is about one third shorter than the source text; the Greek books are only half as short as the French. (5)

    In French (as in the German translations described by Sinner),

    One trait that reinforces formality in French is [..] the formality of the *vous* form, which in the French romances is maintained until the first proper kiss and often till making love [...] while the same form in Greek is dropped as early as page 7. Next, there is the vocabulary that requires that very familiar words be avoided because they reflect negatively on a character, or the narrative, that uses them. [...] However, constraints relating to curses or other imprecations should be viewed diachronically. Many of the constraints operating in Romance languages today were also in force twenty or thirty years ago in Britain and America.(8)

    We also find that there is an obvious neutralization of an important aspect of the content, namely the sex scenes. There are two types of alteration - of content and of relations between the protagonists. [...] On page 149-50, there is a description of oral sex which in [the French translation] is replaced by penetrative sex. However, in [the Greek translation], the original is reproduced but in an abridged version. This does not indicate the operation of some cultural or religious taboo against the description of oral sex in French literature but rather suggests that it evokes a type of writing that is clearly not in harmony with the type that the editors believe the reader to expect or want. (9)

    Paizis briefly mentions German translations:

    Not all texts produced in the UK or North America are deemed reproducible in the other culture. Equally, there is considerable unevenness in the changes that the original undergoes, with texts passing into German requiring the least cutting (this is also the market that takes the greatest number of texts). (11)

  4. The reference for the Paizis is:

    Paizis, George, 1998. ‘Category Romances - Translation, Realism and Myth’, The Translator 4.1: 1-24.

  5. "So as a translator you'll always face the problem of how to render these scenes in German without sounding too clinical or too vulgar."

    That's something that is discussed by Paizis, but I couldn't quote everything he wrote that was of relevance or I'd have been typing out most of his article :-)