The difficulties of translating forms of address into Afrikaans in respect of Alan Paton’s Cry, the beloved country

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Abstract

Forms of address are used to structure the relationship between those taking part in a conversation (Ponelis 1979:35). In most languages, aspects such as status, respect and social distance are indicated by the use of forms of address. This is also the case in Afrikaans. During the years of apartheid, as well as during the years preceding that period, race played a big part in the choice of forms of address. This asymmetric power situation, as well as the fact that English makes use only of you as a form of address (Ribbens 2004:343), creates a big challenge to literary translators who translate from English into Afrikaans (Baker 2011:108). In this article this problem is discussed with reference to Brümmer’s (2015) Afrikaans translation of Alan Paton’s well-known novel Cry the beloved country (1948).

Cry, the beloved country, Alan Paton’s world famous debut novel, is described as follows on the back cover of Random House’s 2002 edition:

First published in 1948, Cry, the beloved country addresses the problem of race relations in South Africa with the scrupulousness of the historian, the sensitivity of the poet, and stands as the single most important novel in twentieth-century South African literature.

Whether the book could indeed (as the quote above claims) be seen as the most important South African novel of the 20th century is debatable, but that it is one of the most successful and widely known South African novels to date can be seen from the book’s sales. At the time of Paton’s death in 1988 the novel had been published numerous times by many different publishing houses around the world, and more than 15 million copies had been sold (Alexander 1995:222).

Alan Paton was a well-known South African liberal (Alexander 1995:274–326). He gave expression to the liberal ideology through his writing, and later through his involvement in the South African Liberal Party (Alexander 1995:276 and Paton 1988:68). Cry, the beloved countryis written in the liberal tradition. According to Richard Peck (1997:93) several of South Africa’s top-selling English literary works were written in the liberal tradition in protest against the apartheid ideology of the then ruling National Party (NP). Peck (1997:93–107) argues that Alan Paton and (Sir) Laurens van der Post were the best known authors in the South African liberal tradition.

Peck (1997:93) explains the liberal tradition as follows:

Its core beliefs in the sanctity of the individual and the importance of rational argument and morality left it distrustful of politics that relied on groups, power, and ideology. By the same token, however, its belief in rationality and its assumption that bad policy arises from ignorance led liberal writers to attempt to change the hearts of policymakers by bringing to their attention consequences of their actions. (My emphasis)

Cry, the beloved country addresses the injustices and dangers of an apartheid society. In this novel, the reader travels with Stephen Kumalo, an umfundisi (church minister), from a small town in Natal, to and through Johannesburg in search of his son. Kumalo meets several people during his trip, some only once, and with others he becomes friends.

The circumstances under which black people lived during the years of apartheid, as well as the power that white people had over black people, are revealed to the reader through the book.

Language is also used to show and to enforce power. A good example is the use of racial pejoratives, such as “native” (22); “non-European” (14) and “kaffer” (42). O’Barr (1984:265) explains: “[L]anguage is both a mirror of society and a major factor influencing, affecting and even transforming social relationships.” The social relationships between white people and black people during the apartheid years are also mirrored through the use of forms of address.

The distinction made in Afrikaans between the formal form of address “u” and the informal form of address “jy” causes the power relations that prevailed between white and black during apartheid to be placed in the forefront much more clearly than is the case in the source text.

Brümmer’s (2015:126–82) Afrikaans translation of Cry, the beloved country is theoretically founded on Vermeer’s (2001:221) skopos theory and Nord’s (1997b:123) adaptation of the skopos theory by the addition of the concept of loyalty.

Vermeer’s (2001:227) functional translation theory states that the goal of each translation determines what the translation should look like. He puts it as follows:

Skopos theory focuses above all on the purpose of the translation, which determines the translation methods and strategies that are to be employed in order to produce a functionally adequate result.

Within Vermeer’s skopos theory (2001:227) the skopos (goal or function) of the target text is more important than that of the source text. As mentioned, Nord adds the concept of loyalty to the skopos theory. Loyalty relates to the relationship between the translator and the source text as well as the source text writer.

Nord (1997b:126) explains the concept of loyalty as follows:

Loyalty refers to the interpersonal relationship between the translator, the source text sender, the target text addressees and the initiator. Loyalty limits the range of justifiable target text functions for one particular source text and raises the need for a negotiation of the translation assignment between translators and their clients.

Loyalty brings about the fact that a translator cannot simply change the target text as he wishes.

The skopos of the Afrikaans translation of Cry, the beloved country was determined by first determining the skopos of the source text and then comparing this with the function of the intended target text. In so doing, the skopos of the Afrikaans translation could be determined: to create a target text which, within the current socio-political situation in South Africa (post-apartheid) is as true to the source text as possible.

The phrase “forms of address” is used to refer to the words or titles used by one person to address another. There are a few different forms of address in Afrikaans. Direct and indirect forms of address are examples of these. English also makes use of direct and indirect forms of address. There is, however, one big difference between the use of indirect forms of address in English and Afrikaans.

English makes use of only one indirect form of address, “you” (the so-called T-form, the informal indirect form of address),for both formal and informal situations (Ribbens 2004:343).

As far as Afrikaans is concerned, we know that the V-form (the formal indirect form of address, u) was hardly ever used in inter-ethnic communication during the years of apartheid (Bosman and Otto 2015:367).

In the Afrikaans translation of Cry, the beloved country the selectors race and social distance played a big role in the choice of forms of address.

When it comes to social distance the main characters, Kumalo and Msimangu, addressed strangers with the V-form and those who were familiar to them with the T-form. The challenge was to determine when to switch from the V-form to the T-form as the characters became more familiar with each other. It was found that the relationship between the two characters involved is the determining factor when it comes to the choice between the V-form and the T-form.

As for the selector race, white characters addressed black characters with the T-form whilst black characters reciprocated with the V-form.

The fact that English makes no distinction between the V-form and T-form made the above-mentioned choices quite difficult and each case had to be decided on separately. The skopos of the target text together with Baker’s (2011:14) guidelines on the “tenor of discourse” made it possible to make good translation choices in the Afrikaans translation.

The fact that the V-form is still regularly used in Afrikaans today (Bosman and Otto 2015:389) means that it will also be a feature of translations into Afrikaans. The Afrikaans Translation of Cry, the beloved country has proven this.

Keywords: Cry, the beloved country; forms of address; literary translation; Paton, Alan; skopos theory; source culture; source language; T-form; target culture; target language; V-form

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: Die problematiek van die vertaling van aanspreekvorme in Afrikaans aan die hand van Alan Paton se Cry, the beloved country

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