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Culture-Specific items in Jens Lapidus’ Snabba Cash and its translations into English and Croatian


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Badić, Edin. (2017). Culture-Specific items in Jens Lapidus’ Snabba Cash and its translations into English and Croatian. Diploma Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of English Language and Literature
Department of English Language and Literature > Chair of Scandinavian Languages and Literature. [mentor Antunović, Goranka and Pavlović, Nataša].

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Everything around us is immersed in culture. Culture does not only entail values, norms and lifestyle patterns as merely symbolical or ideological entities specific to a particular society, but it also comprises artifacts, i.e. material goods produced by its members (Giddens 1994). Avid readers of genre fiction stemming from various countries and cultures have certainly come across such entities: they are usually names, objects or phenomena rooted in the source culture. Swedish popular fiction, for instance, opens a gateway to the world where many implicit and explicit references to Swedish culture are to be found. But how does one recognize what might be perceived as typical of a particular foreign culture? The answer to that question is relatively simple: an item could be considered culture-specific when it is brought into contact with another culture (cf. Franco Aixelá 1996). How these items are rendered in translation appears to be one of the greatest challenges literary translators may face in their professional careers. As intercultural mediators, translators play an indispensable role in constructing cultural identities since they are largely responsible for how the source culture is depicted in the target text. Hence, it is essential to examine items representative of a specific source culture in translations intended for other cultural markets. The primary objective of this study was to investigate potential similarities and differences in how culture-specific items were rendered in the English and Croatian translations of Jens Lapidus’ breakout novel Snabba Cash, as well as to identify the translation techniques and strategies employed. Although the topic of CSIs in general has hitherto been addressed by many influential scholars (Ivir 1987, Florin 1993, Franco Aixelá 1996, Pedersen 2007 etc.), there are very few relevant studies dealing with culture-specific items in translation from Swedish into English and/or Croatian (Grundler 2012, Takáč 2015). Therefore, the purpose of this thesis was to contribute to this area of translation studies by offering fresh and helpful insights that could be used in further research of the phenomenon. Given that the novel about Stockholm’s underworld garnered great attention in Sweden, achieving remarkable success on the market, which swiftly turned Lapidus into a bestselling author on the well-established Swedish crime fiction scene, the choice of Snabba Cash as the primary research material is not particularly surprising. Although usually perceived as “low-brow” and “market-oriented” (Storm 2016: 10), meaning they appeal to the widest range of consumers as they are produced, sold and translated very quickly and cheaply, crime novels make a vast majority of today’s translation production and, as such, may reveal more about the decision-making process than translations of “high-brow” literature (ibid.). Praised by critics, Lapidus’ approach to writing crime fiction differs from the traditional Swedish one: he portrays the world of criminals, gangs, and brats from their own perspectives, describing them as whole individuals made of flesh and blood. Three life stories are intertwined in the novel. Johan Westlund, a.k.a. JW, a student of economics, earns money by driving an illegal taxicab and selling cocaine in order to climb the social ladder and sneak into Stockholm’s upper-class social circles. Drug dealer Jorge Salinas Barrio, originally from Chile, is on the run from both the police and the Serbian mafia. Having escaped from the Österåker prison, his mind is set on fleeing the country as soon as possible. Lastly, Mrado Slovovic, a Serbian hatchet man, manages his boss Radovan’s money laundering business, while fantasizing about a good life for his daughter Lovisa and himself. What connects these three life stories to one another is, of course, a burning desire to earn easy money. Linguistically, this novel is even more enthralling, as Lapidus allows for a clash of different languages and writing styles: Rinkebysvenska vs. legal Swedish, journalistic writing vs. economics jargon (Lundberg 2006). In Snabba Cash, the dialogues between characters who come from an immigrant background are partially written in förortssvenska, a multiethnic variety of Swedish, which illustrates the darker side of Swedish society more realistically. Consequently, this study, though to a lesser extent, also provides preliminary findings on how various lexical, syntactic and pragmatic features characteristic of this specific linguistic variety can be transferred into English and Croatian. Widely spoken in the immigrant suburbs of large cities such as Stockholm, Gothenburg or Malmö, it clearly represents the values promoted by Sweden as a multicultural country, which makes the variety “equally Swedish” as any other culture-specific item. As suggested by Ulla-Britt Kotsinas (2005), it has never been easier to move long distances. We live in an era of globalization where state boundaries have been redrawn and large groups of people have been displaced. While many have abandoned their homelands for political and/or economic reasons, others have moved to new countries to seek adventures. As early as in the 1960s, the first large wave of immigrants from Greece, Turkey, and the former Yugoslavia arrived in Sweden to enter the labor market. At first, they lived in industrial towns, but soon they moved to cities, eventually settling in the so-called “concrete ghettos”, i.e. suburban areas surrounding Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö built during the miljonprogrammet (“The Million Program”), a public housing program implemented in Sweden between 1965 and 1974. People from all corners of the world eventually came to live there. In the 1980s, it became obvious that many young people who grew up in the immigrant, predominantly western, suburbs of Stockholm spoke a different variety of Swedish. Consequently, many people concluded that they did not speak “properly”, referring to the variety as “broken Swedish”. The suburban youth, however, took pride in how they spoke and named the variety rinkebysvenska after Rinkeby, a district in western Stockholm with a high concentration of people of immigrant ancestry, boasting about how broad their vocabulary was, as it comprised lexemes from many immigrant languages. Since the large-scale immigration into the Stockholm area during the 1970s and 1980s, other popular terms with geographical connotations, such as rosengårdska (Malmö) and gårdstenska (Gothenburg) have come into use. In addition, even terms carrying social connotations have emerged, e.g. miljonsvenska after miljonprogrammet, betongsvenska as a reference to the aforementioned “concrete ghettos” or blattesvenska, where blatte is used pejoratively to describe dark-skinned immigrants. In this respect, förortssvenska can be seen as a borderline case between a dialect and a sociolect. But there is a third possibility: the variety can be classified as a multiethnic socio-dialect (Bijvoet and Fraurud 2006), or a multiethnolect (Quist 2009). The reasoning behind such a terminology is clear: a multiethnolect denotes a linguistic variety that stems from a multiethnic community where speakers have many different native languages, but share one common, contact language. In the case of förortssvenska, this contact language is naturally a variety of Swedish that takes on the characteristics of the speakers’ native languages. The multiethnolect is distinguishable from the standard variety of Swedish with regard to several aspects such as phonology (pronunciation, word boundaries, prosodic features, and vowel length), morphosyntax (concord, the use of prepositions, word order), lexis (förortsslang) and pragmatics (discourse particles). As for culture-specific items, the research questions asked in the beginning were as follows: 1) What culture-specific items can be found in the novel and its translations into English and Croatian? 2) How did the translators render these culture-specific items in their respective translations? 3) Are there any substantial differences between the English and Croatian translations? 4) Which global translation strategies can be established in the translations? In accordance with previous research (Grundler 2012, Takáč 2015) and my own assumptions regarding culture-specific items in translations of popular literature, the following four hypotheses were formed: 1) Both the target culture and the target language influence how culture-specific items are rendered in translation. 2) How culture-specific items are rendered in translation depends on their type. 3) With respect to culture-specific items, the English translation is predominantly exoticized. 4) The Croatian translation is more educational than the novel’s English translation. The primary material for the analysis included the Swedish original, Snabba Cash (2006) and its respective translations into English, entitled Easy Money, and Croatian, under the name Laka lova. The novel was first translated for the American market in 2011 by Astri von Arbin Ahlander. The version examined in this paper is a mere republication of the American translation that was put on the British market in 2012 by the well-known publisher Pan Books. The Croatian publishing company V.B.Z. d.o.o. launched the novel in Danilo Brozović’s translation onto the Croatian market that same year. As the main objective of this study was to conduct an in-depth, comparative analysis of the novel and its respective translations into English and Croatian with a special emphasis on culture-specific items, I decided to look at the first hundred pages of the Swedish original, where many items surfaced for the first time. However, it seemed too demanding to carry out an analysis of all culture-specific items, as such approach would suggest going beyond the usual scope of a diploma thesis. The study was conducted in several steps. In the first step, the focus was laid on text analysis, which means that all the culture-specific items encountered in the first hundred pages were properly marked. Secondly, the items in the original were compared with their respective renditions into English and Croatian. For this purpose, two bilingual parallel corpora were formed. While the first corpus comprised data on the Swedish-English language pair, the second corpus was composed of data on the Swedish-Croatian language pair. During the analysis, the two corpora were edited, supplemented with necessary information and codified with respect to the following two categories: translation technique and global translation strategy. It is vital to distinguish between these two notions. While translation techniques refer to “the various kinds of relationship observable between source text segments and target text segments, translation strategies “could be conscious or automatized” and denote “cognitive routes which lead to problem-solving and are concerned, therefore, with the translation process” (Marco 2009: 73, qtd. in Veselica Majhut 2012: 31). In order to map these items, Newmark’s model (1988: 95, 215) was used. As the model, unfortunately, did not meet the requirements for this research, it was crucial to modify it. Consequently, the culture-specific items were counted and divided into six categories: geographical names; names of institutions, companies, organizations and other business activities; names of people; mass media; food and drinks; and other. In addition, it is worth mentioning that the Swedish-English and the Swedish-Croatian corpora differ in the total number of recorded culture-specific items for various reasons. As already stated, an item becomes culture-specific when it is exposed to another, foreign culture. Looking at examples from the novel, such as kilometer or kilogram, which are only deemed culture-specific in relation to the American, and not Croatian, culture, the discrepancies in the overall count appear even more justifiable. However, another aspect should be taken into consideration. Due to the inconsistencies in the rendering of culture-specific items in the novel, I decided to note, and subsequently count, every occurrence of a culture-specific item rendered differently as a separate item. The collected culture-specific items were then analyzed qualitatively in light of the taxonomies of translation techniques as suggested by Pedersen (2007) and Franco Aixelá (1996). The taxonomies were slightly altered on the basis of the analyzed material. Therefore, the classification applied in this study includes ten translation techniques: complete retention, adapted retention, direct translation, generalization by a superordinate term, generalization by paraphrase, omission, replacement with a source culture item, replacement with a transcultural item, replacement with a target culture item and combination. Moreover, all translation techniques contributed to one of the four global translation strategies (Veselica Majhut 2012, Pavlović 2015): exoticization, neutralization, education and assimilation. While exoticization implies a more source-culture oriented target text, assimilation entails a more target-culture oriented target text. Neutralization means that cultural specificity is neutralized and/or deleted in the target text. Finally, education is a global strategy revealing the degree of informativity in the target text (Pavlović 2015: 86-87). It should also be noted that some of the techniques such as direct translation or combination contributed to different translation strategies depending on the context. The quantitative analysis produced interesting results. The overall distribution of culture-specific items, as well as the findings regarding the techniques and strategies dominant in each category, are presented comparatively, followed by a general overview of the translation techniques and strategies employed in the two translations. The main findings of this study should be brought to light with regard to the formulated research questions and hypotheses. The first question concerns culture-specific items that can be found in the novel and its translations into English and Croatian. As mentioned previously, the culture-specific items were grouped into the same six categories in both corpora, but their total amounts vary for the above-mentioned reasons: while the Swedish-English corpus comprises 218 culture-specific items, the Swedish-Croatian corpus contains 222 culture-specific items. The second and the third questions can be answered simultaneously. The rendering of culture-specific items in the two translations differs from category to category. Although the proposed taxonomy involves ten different translation techniques, only nine of them were detected in the English translation, as no items were replaced with other source-culture items. On the other hand, all of them were applied in the Croatian translation of the novel. What is more, the most frequently used translation technique in the English translation is complete retention (91 occurrences, 41.28 %), while combinations, i.e. two or more translation techniques in combination prevail in the Croatian translation (66 occurrences, 29.73 %). The fourth and final research question deserves to be discussed in several paragraphs. The employed translation techniques contributed to one of the four global translation strategies (exoticization, neutralization, education and assimilation). Geographical names and names of institutions, companies, organizations and business activities were largely exoticized. The main difference between the English and Croatian translations of culture-specific items grouped into these categories is noticeable in the distribution of education. According to the obtained quantitative data, the Croatian translation is much more informative than the novel's translation into English. Similar trends can be identified in the case of names of people: while the Croatian translation was highly exoticized, an equal number of names were either neutralized or exoticized in the English translation. Culture-specific items in smaller categories such as mass media or food and drinks were rendered differently. The majority of the names of newspapers and radio stations were assimilated in the English translation, while neutralization was the dominant strategy in the translation into Croatian. On the other hand, names of food and drinks were mostly neutralized in both the English and Croatian translations. Overall, both translations were highly exoticized (EN: 51.38 %, HR: 44.59 %), but they differ in how informative and instructive they are for the respective target audiences. The second most common global strategy applied in the Croatian translation is education (29.28 %), followed by neutralization (21.62 %), while the data on the English translation suggest an opposite tendency, as neutralization (27.06 %) precedes education (11.47 %). In both translations, however, assimilation proves to be an infrequently adopted strategy (EN: 10.09 %, HR: 4.50 %). Going back to the formulated hypotheses, the following four conclusions can be drawn: 1) Both the target culture and the target language influence how culture-specific items are rendered in translation. (hypothesis confirmed) 2) How culture-specific items are rendered in translation depends on their type. (hypothesis confirmed) 3) With respect to culture-specific items, the English translation is predominantly exoticized (hypothesis not confirmed) 4) The Croatian translation is more educational than the novel's English translation. (hypothesis confirmed) The study also seeks to provide preliminary findings on how various lexical, syntactic and pragmatic features of förortssvenska, a specific multiethnic variety of Swedish, were rendered in the English and Croatian translations. In this study, only three of these common variables could be detected in the novel and analyzed in the two translations: förortsslang, word order in main and subordinate clauses and discourse particles. Perhaps the most prominent feature of förortssvenska is förortsslang, consisting of many loanwords from various immigrant languages. At the very beginning, the donor languages included Greek, Turkish and Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, but since then many native speakers of Latin American Spanish, Persian, Kurdish and Arabic have settled in the country. For this reason, many words and phrases have been borrowed from these languages: ti kanis (‘how are you’) from Greek, guss (‘girl’), para (‘money’) or aina (‘the police’) from Turkish, chica (‘girl’), amigo (‘friend’) or dinero (‘money’) from Spanish, as well as guzz (‘girl’) and keff (‘bad’) from Arabic or bre (‘brother’) from Serbian. As Kotsinas and the Swedish-Venezuelan rapper Doggy Doggelito indicated in their dictionary (2004), förortsslang should not be seen only as a mixture of words from different languages, given that it contains invented words and phrases that function as signs of creativity and humor. Furthermore, the use of such common words and expressions produces a sense of collective identity, but the variety is not only limited to those of immigrant ancestry, as many Swedes use förortsslang in order to demonstrate solidarity. The findings showed five distinct ways of rendering these lexical features. In both translations, förortsslang was predominantly replaced with American and Croatian informal and slang expressions. Words of Spanish origin were mostly retained, while those belonging to older Swedish slang were neutralized in the English translation. It is worth mentioning that neutralization rarely occurred without compensation in the Croatian translation, while retention was frequently followed by explanations or comments inserted by the translator, which cannot be said for the novel’s translation into English. Non-standard word order in main and subordinate clauses is a significant feature in this variety as well. In main clauses, this primarily concerns the position of the finite verb. Standard Swedish has a subject-verb-object basic word order, but it also utilizes verb-second word order after a single major constituent preceding it. These constituents are frequently adverbs, adverbial and prepositional phrases or dependent clauses, for example, I morgon kommer han. In förortssvenska, however, slight deviations in word order are evident, as the finite verb rarely follows the first constituent, e.g. I morgon han kommer (Gunnarsdotter Grönberg 2013). In subordinate clauses, the famous Biff-regeln (“I Bisats kommer Inte Före det Finita verbet”) should be taken into consideration. This rule stipulates that sentential adverbials are always placed before the finite verb in subordinate clauses. Therefore, the following sentence would not be considered correct in Standard Swedish, as the adverbial också (‘also/as well’) is placed after the finite verb vill: Kanske finns det några nya krogar som vill ha oss också. According to the preliminary findings, three ways of rendering this syntactic feature can be established. In both translations, the non-standard word order was predominantly neutralized and compensated for, usually by various stylistic markers, e.g. contracted verb forms in the Croatian translation. In some cases, this deviation was neutralized by omission, while both translators at times decided to replace it with similar word order deviations in their respective target languages. The final variable pertains to discourse particles, i.e. words or phrases utilized to preserve or save face, as well as to structure and maintain interaction (Wirdenäs 2013). In Swedish, these “small, unnecessary words” such as liksom (‘like’), typ (‘like’) and eller hur (‘right?’) also contribute to fluency in spontaneous conversations (Gunnarsdotter Grönberg 2013). According to Svensson (2009), there are three discourse particles especially characteristic of förortssvenska: du vet (‘you know’), fattar du (‘do you understand’) and ey (‘hey’). Alternatively, the particles du vet and fattar du may also appear in other forms: vetdu, duvet, ni vet, to address more than one person, and du fattar, respectively. In accordance with the findings, three basic ways of dealing with discourse particles in translation can be identified: replacement with corresponding target language discourse particles, omitting but compensating for the discourse particle in question by stylistically marking the dialogues and retaining the source language discourse particle. In both translations, the analyzed discourse particles were commonly replaced with target language discourse particles, which implies that this variable was prevalently rendered with respect to American and Croatian culture. To summarize, no definite conclusions can be drawn, as the design of the corpora limits the ability to generalize. Nevertheless, these findings indicate different tendencies regarding the culture-specific items in translation relevant for further research. In future, it could be interesting to compare several novels within the same genre and writing style in order to investigate whether these findings might form a recurrent pattern. In addition, the results of both the qualitative and quantitative analyses could potentially be complemented with textual data extracted from interviews with translators. Possible interfering factors and agents such as translators’ experience and level of education, the influence of publishing companies, proofreaders and revisers, as well as the availability of reference translations in other languages, might also put these findings into a wider perspective. When it comes to the multiethnic variety of Swedish, förortssvenska, this small-scale pilot study might serve as a basis and motivation for other researchers to tackle the topic of multiethnolects in literary translation, as it has not yet been adequately covered, especially if we consider the Swedish-English and Swedish-Croatian language pairs. Addressing this and other similar challenging, but insufficiently investigated research areas promises to contribute to the further development of translation studies as a discipline.

Item Type: Diploma Thesis
Uncontrolled Keywords: culture-specific items, translation techniques, translation strategies, förortssvenska, multiethnolect
Subjects: English language and literature
Scandinavian languages and literatures
Departments: Department of English Language and Literature
Department of English Language and Literature > Chair of Scandinavian Languages and Literature
Supervisor: Antunović, Goranka and Pavlović, Nataša
Date Deposited: 05 Jul 2017 07:54
Last Modified: 05 Jul 2017 07:55

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