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La traduction dans les cultures plurilingues

Francis Mus
Karen Vandemeulebroucke
Lieven D’Hulst
et al.

Espaces plurilingues

Translations of youth literature in Spain’s official languages

Francesca Blockeel

Texte intégral

1This paper deals with four items. We start with a brief outline of the position of the official languages in Spain, followed by a concise summary of the evolution of youth literature in the regional languages. The third part considers the translation policy in the different languages, and we conclude with the importance of translations to overcome intracultural frontiers.

1. Spain’s official languages

2Spain has long been considered a monolingual country but it is not. Besides “Spanish” or, more precisely, “Castilian”, the country has at least three other languages with an official status in the “historical provinces” where they are spoken, namely Catalan, Galician and Basque or Euskera. Other regional or minority languages are not officially accepted, e.g. the languages spoken in Asturias or in Aragon. The four official languages, however, are also marked by varieties: there is, for instance, a variety of Catalan spoken in the Balearic Islands and two others in the Valencian region; there are subgroups of Galician and of Basque. In Extremadura, Andalucía and Murcia, Castilian has its own pronunciation and influences from other neighbouring regions. Together they make up a singularly rich linguistic patrimony (See map: Leclerc 2009).

3This multilingual situation is a heritage from history, the Iberian Peninsula being divided into different kingdoms in the Middle Ages. When the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile were united in the fifteenth century, Castilian was imposed gradually on the whole of the territory, and in 1716, under the absolutist King Philippe V, who abolished ail existing governmental institutions in Catalonia, it became the only official language in the whole of the country, even if the habitants went on speaking the language of their region.

4At the end of the nineteenth century, with romanticism growing as well as its underlying nationalism, both Catalonia and Galicia experienced a kind of Renaissance, not only politically, but mostly culturally (Academy of the Catalan language: 1880; Institute of Catalan Studies: 1907). In Galicia, this was a fairly modest movement, but in Catalonia is was rather tierce, politicians urging Madrid for more independence and the restoration of their parliament, the Generalitat. They got it back in 1932, with the advent of the Second Republic. This republican govemment also stated the special case of the Basques as a historical region, but nothing was implemented because of the Civil War which broke out in 1936. The republicans lost that war, and the winner, general Franco, was only interested in one, big, unified Spain, as a resuit of which all former privileges were undone.

5On the linguistic level, Franco exercised a very repressive policy towards all languages other than Castilian as those were completely forbidden in public life. For almost three decades, their use was strictly confined to the home and their development as a cultural vehicle severely impeded. Books written in the regional languages were burned in public, all Basque names were suppressed from the toponymy and the civil registration lists and the printing businesses were subjected to severe censorship, whereas the govemment did everything possible to promote the use of Castilian. A growing general resistance resulted in the lifting of the ban in 1962, but it was not before the new constitution of 1978, which introduced the seventeen autonomous regions, that things really changed. Article 3 of the Constitution reads that “Castilian is the official Spanish language of the State. All Spaniards have the duty to know it and the right to use it”, but adds that “the other Spanish languages shall also be official in the respective Autonomous Communities in accordance with their Statutes”. In 1983, in every historic region a “Law on the linguistic normalization” was enacted, “normalization” not referring to the standardization of grammar, orthography or vocabulary, but to the restoration of the “normal” use of the languages after the long period of repression by the Franco regime (Rymenans & Decoo 1998: 203).

  • 1 The following information is mainly based on Leclerc 2009 and information of the Spanish Ministry o (...)

6The situation of the three biggest regional languages was, however, not the same1. First of all, only one language, Catalan, was really standardized and unified, and this already from 1913 onwards. After the Franco regime, Catalonia was the fiercest in trying to impose its original language. Although there were numerous non-Catalan speaking immigrants, the language was imposed in addition to Castilian, both languages being compulsory at all educational levels. A rewriting of the law in 1998 restricted the rules in favour of Catalan even more, so that the catalanization of the education in Catalonia is now almost complete: all people who went to school the last twenty-five years are fluently bilingual.

7In the Basque Country, Basque was spoken by about twenty percentof the population and certainly not by the immigrants who came to work in the industry; speaking it was considered a rural phenomenon (Bodemer 2001: 6). Out of the existing seven varieties of the language, a kind of common, standard language was forged, the ‘batúa’. The implantation of the education in Basque has been more difficult than in Catalonia or in Galicia because it is a language difficult to learn, it not being a romance language, not even an Indo-European one. Even though they leam the language at school, only twenty-five percent of the habitants of the Basque-speaking regions call it their mother tongue. In any case, contrary to Catalonia where the knowledge of both languages is compulsory, the Basque people in principle only have to know Castilian. Tthey have the right to use Basque, but it is not compulsory.

8Since Franco’s death, both Catalonia and the Basque Country have mostly been ruled by nationalist parties, which are characterized by certain aspirations of independence and use the language as a symbol of their identity. Galicia, on the contrary, has been mainly ruled by right wing politicians and sympathizers of the Franco regime, and as such has been very much in favour of a united Spain. A standard norm was established out of the existing varieties of Galician, but the discussions continue between the “galleguistas”, who defend the official Galician, which is rather close to Castilian, and the “Insistas”, who stand up for a more historic Galician, which is doser to Portuguese, not to speak of all those who use “castrapo”, a mixture of Castilian and Galician. In other words, the linguistic politics in Galicia have been somehow contaminated by antinationalist politics and that may have caused a softer policy, as a result of whichthe implementation of Galician in the educational System is less far advanced in comparison to the situation in Catalonia.

9The following statistics outlines which languages are spoken in those regions and to what extent.

Catalan-speaking regions Galicia Basque speaking regions
Population 11,3 millions 2,7 millions 2,1 millions
Castilian and Catalan Castilian and
Castilian and
Majority Catalan (58 %)
 – Catalonia: 60 %
 – Balearic Islands: 73 %
 – Valencian Community:
40 %
Galician (55,7 %)
+ bilingual (15,7 %)
Castilian (60 %)
Minorities Castilian (41 %) Castilian (27 %)
other: (1,5 %)
Basque (40 %)

(Leclerc 2009)

2. Youth literature in the Spanish languages

10What about literature in the three regional languages? The earliest literary text in both Galicia and Catalonia dates back to the twelfth century, and both regions produced a splendid literature, till the fourteenth and fifteenth century respectively. A renaissance did not arrive till half-way through the nineteenth century. In the Basque Country there was almost no written literature available before the twentieth century.

2.1. Youth literature before the Democratie period

  • 2 The following is mainly based on the PhD thesis of Monica Dominguez before it was published; that i (...)

11Concerning books for young people, the period ranging from the beginning of the twentieth century until the Civil War can be said to have been productive for both Castilian and Catalan youth literature2. They both renovated and knew an evolution to more modem and advanced literary forms, thereby following the aesthetic tendencies of modernisai and the pedagogic renovation principles present in the rest of Europe. The role of journals for children was an important one as good authors used them to publish short stories, longer stories in instalments and poems. A lot of books were translated and several classical works were adapted into both languages. Translations were very important because they introduced new literary models that led to a renewed Spanish repertoire. They played a bigger part in Catalan literature than in Castilian, not only because there were less Catalan authors, but also because the translators aimed at improving the standard Catalan as part of the linguistic “normalization” of the language. Translating foreign classics was a means to create an urban, cosmopolitan Catalan language, and children’s literature was considered a very important factor in this process. Translations between Castilian and Catalan, however, were not very frequent, although two editorial houses (Muntañola and Mentora) had double editions of a series of books (Domínguez 2008).

12At that time, the evolution of Galician literature was much slower than that of Catalan literature. There existed some short stories, some poems, and a piece of theatre. There was only one translation, in 1922, of an Irish legend, Ireland being felt as model for Galician nationalism. The selection of that text was inspired by ideological and national reasons, and by a cultural one in that both regions have a Celtic culture in common. In the Basque Country, there was almost no real authentic children’s literature in that period, as religious works, moralizing stories and fables dominated the literary scene. This explains why, translations of other literatures played an important part (Domínguez 2008).

13During the Franco period, it was forbidden to publish anything in any of the other Spanish languages till 1962. A new publishing house, “La Galera”, seized the opportunity to launch a bilingual collection of books, written originally in Catalan, and explicitly situated in Catalonia. Some books became bestsellers of the Catalan LIJ, and several authors still remain first-class youth authors (Josep Vallverdú, Mercé Company, Joan Manuel Gisbert and Emili Teixidor, cf. Surrallés & Moreno Verdulla 2004: 1228).

2.2. The Democratic period till now

14The introduction of the co-officiality of the regional languages in 1978 was very important for their linguistic recovery. More and more books were published in the other languages. The real cultural challenge for youth literature, however, came in 1983 with the laws on linguistic normalization, because the régional languages had to be taught at school. The children needed fictional works as a necessary complement to teaching, for reading at school (Fernández 2008: 101).

15Catalonia already had a long cultural and literary tradition, but not so the Basque Country and Galicia. The first problem encountered was the shortage of literary works to fiilfil the demands of the new market of readers. This market was not at all homogeneous. First of all, there had to be books for children ranging in age from three to sixteen years old, and secondly, there was the linguistic level of competence of the children: some children in the three historical regions were only speaking Castilian, others knew or could understand the regional language but did not speak it, some were bilingual, and for others it was their mother tongue, although they had never written or read it. The first books were simply tools, with a purely scholar content, meant in the first place to make access to the mother tongue and culture more easy. Put differently, the birth of Galician and Basque children’s literature began with texts that could hardly be considered literary works (Fernandez 2003: 89).

  • 3 In Catalonia: “CLIJCAT. Conseil Catalá del Llibre Infantil I Juvenil”, “Instituciô de les Lletres C (...)
  • 4 Anaya Group: Barcanova (Catalan), Xerais (Gallego) and Haritza (Euskera); Grupo Editorial Edebé: Ma (...)
  • 5 OEPLI has associations for every official language: Consejo General del Libro Infantil y Juvenil, C (...)

16This phase passed rapidly and the following one announced the production of authentic, qualitative and original literary works. The seventies and the eighties saw a boom of youth literature: several institutions were established to help and support literature in the regional languages (Fernández 2008: 102)3. The number of literary awards also showed an upward trend, some presented by specialized publishing houses (such as Barco de Vapor, Gran Angular, Delta), others especially for books written in the other official languages, such as Apel. les Mestres (Catalan), Lizardi (Basque) and Merlin (Galician) (Surrallés & Moreno Verdulla 2004: 1229). The big national literary prizes started to award Galician, Basque and Catalan authors, there being different convocations for the four official languages. An intelligent policy of translations and of co-editions Consolidated in a few years the characteristic plurilingualism of Spanish youth literature and the implantation of branches of the publishing houses in the whole of the country. Especially in the three historical regions, publications in the co-official language were promoted. All the big publishing houses now own regional ones with regional names4. The vitality of those years was also visible in the establishment of specialized journals (CLIJ, Faristol, Peonza, Platero) and of professional literary associations, the most important being the Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruipérez (1981), and OEPLI (1982), the Spanish branch of the International Board on Books for Young People5.

17All those initiatives contributed a lot to the consolidation of written children’s literature in the different Spanish languages, the three regions now all have a considerable list of renowned authors and illustrators, all with their own voice. Nevertheless, it had become quickly évident that this production was not enough, and translation was thus a solution almost imposed by circumstances.

3. Translations

18Talking about the global editorial market in Spain, the number of published books almost doubled in the last twenty years. This increase, however, did not affect the relative importance of translations, which stayed the same in this period: around twenty-five percent. The six most translated source languages are dominated by English, followed by Castilian and French, which switched positions, and then by German, Italian and Catalan. Galician and Basque count for less than one percent. In 2007, the foreign languages totalled about seventy-five percent of all translations, the Spanish ones representing twenty-five percent and six-and-a-half percent of the total production (Ministerio de Cultura 2008).

19Castilian has known a big leap forward and is the language that is most often translated to Catalan, Basque and Galician. In the case of Galician and Basque, the source language is more often another Spanish language than a foreign language. While in 2007, five percent of the translations to Castilian had another Spanish language as source language compared to ninety-five percent of foreign languages, in the case of Catalan, this is forty-eight percent versus fifty-two percent, in the case of Basque sixty-nine percent versus thirty-one percentand in the case of Galician it is even more obvious: seventy-five percent versus twenty-five percent (Ministerio de Cultura 2008).

20Nowadays, Spanish youth literature represents seventeen percent (one sixth) of the total editorial production. The evolution in the translation of this sector has been progressive and fast. During the years 1965-1985 there was a modest average of twenty percent of translations. In 1987 there was a sudden influx: forty-four percent of the books published were translated, and from then on this has been increasing gradually to fifty-five percent, more than half the production for the young people (versus twenty-five percent for the global market) (Fernández 2003: 87). This high percentage is due to Spain’s particular multilingual situation. Indeed, translations between the four oflicial languages are included. There are even some translations to languages not officially recognized, such as an édition in the four varieties of Catalan of a series edited by Bramera. The high proportion of translations (in the sector of illustrated albums and of knowledge books, it almost reaches ninety percent) has been criticised several times, because there have been translations just to fill series, but one cannot forget that they are extremely important as a carrier of cultural exchange. The quality of Spain’s actual youth literature is partly a result of the translation of foreign books, because these brought the Anglo-Saxon tradition and the modem European tendencies and currents to Spain. This had a big influence on the Spanish writers, as it broadened their horizon and changed the way they wrote.

21With the influx of translations from 1987 onwards, something curious happened: the first ten, twelve years, only foreign youth classics were translated, and very little originally Spanish books. It is only from the end of the nineties onwards that translations between the autonomous Spanish languages started to be considered normal. The publishing house Anaya gave the start, launching Sopa de Libros, a series of novels edited simultaneously in the four languages (Fernández 2008: 103). At first, an acute problem was the difficulty of finding competent people to translate into those other languages, as a result of which translations were delayed. Over the years, however, and thanks to the training of professional and well-prepared translators, this problem has been solved. By translating each other, the three regions leamed from each other and could appreciate the interchanges between them. This has clearly changed the idea and the image of a united Spain, which was still prevalent in the seventies, into the actual plural and diversified Spain.

22We will now consider some specificities of translations of Basque and Galician children’s literature.

23In the Basque Country (López Gaseni 2003: 330), where modem youth literature only took off in the eighties and the number of authors writing in Basque was very low, the part of translations was necessarily very high. It went from seventy-two percent in the eighties to sixty-five percent in the nineties. When authors started to write in Basque, however, their books had to be translated into Castilian to be profitable for the publishing houses. A typical Basque phenomenon is that about ninety percent of the translations are auto-translations, not only because there were almost no translators, but also because the writers feel themselves doubly marginalized: once because they write for children and a second time because they write in a minority language. By translating their own work, they show that they master both languages, aspiring to get appreciation via their texts. Another reason why they translate their own texts, is that most translations into other languages use Castilian as a source language, and the authors want to be sure that no misinterpretations occur due to the use of an intermediary language.

24The case of Galicia presents other aspects, as books in Galician were for a long time the motor of the process of affirmation of the cultural identity (Lorenzo Garcia 2003: 329). Most specialists of Galician literature agree that writing in Galician, or translating books into Galician, was in the first place intended to normalize the Galician language, to enrich it by creating a proper vocabulary and style and, by reinforcing the linguistic possibilities, to strengthen Galician identity. Somehow, people in Galicia felt a need to distinguish their culture from Castilian, maybe because of the politicians who favoured a united Spain. It should be added, however, that not everybody shares this opinion.

4. Translations and intracultural frontiers

  • 6 This view is also confirmed by a recent study about multiculturalism (sections: “interculturality” (...)

25Do all those translations help young Spanish readers better understand the other communities in their country? Asked about the presence of cultural differences between the regions, and how those are transmitted through the reading of books written by writers of a specific region, specialists in the field seem not to understand the question. They see Spain as a country with at least four different languages, but with only one culture, not as a multiculturel country or a federation of different cultural identifies. In their opinion, there are no books in which the specificity of an autonomous region is emphasized or in which a regional identity is stressed6.

26Are there then no specific features characteristic of those regions that Spanish children can pick up via the books they read? There surely must be, as some editorial houses have understood. Actually, an association of six editors formed one publishing house, Editores Asociados, moved, as the text on the back cover of every book indicates, “by the wish to get a broader dissemination of our literary works, our authors and illustrators. We feel united by the fact of belonging to minority cultures and languages and by our desire to promote our mutual esteem and literary knowledge of the pluricultural reality in which we live” (translation: FB). They publish books for beginning readers and for children aged nine to ten, in which cultural éléments are present, albeit not very prominently. All proper names, for instance, refer to the region of the author; if Catalan, you find protagonists named “Mireia, Montse, Miquel or Nùria”, if Basque “Ainhoa, Asier or Iker”, alongside with more common names. In one short story, the protagonist is introduced by the following description: “with her brothers she plays football, soka-tira and boxing”. The word “soka-tira” is not translated or italicized, and neither is it explained, although probably few children will know what this Basque sport consists in or how to practice it. In short, some people are aware of the cultural differences in multicultural Spain and see literature as a means to transmit them to young readers.

27However, a recent study about Basque youth literature mentioned a curious phenomenon in the works of some well-know Basque writers, namely that recent books, written by authors who know that they will be “exported” to other languages, are increasingly more globalized than the former works, the authors dropping spécifie Basque elements, because they are thinking and writing with a larger audience in mind (López Gaseni 2003: 334). Patxi Zubizarreta, for instance, is known to invariably introduce elements of the Basque folklore and popular culture in his novels, but one of his most recent books is situated in a country in the north of Europe. Juan Kruz Igerabide, who used to choose specific areas of Basque towns as settings of his books, has now locations in Madrid or in other countries and introduces secondary characters from Madrid, Asturias, Granada or Galicia. Lopez Gaseni concludes that it is too early to know if this is pure coincidence or rather a trend.

28To conclude this study, we have seen that the co-official languages did not evolve identically. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Catalan was by far the most Consolidated language, and there existed a youth literature fairly well established at the same level as the Castilian one when the Civil War broke out. In Galicia and the Basque Country, modem youth literature only started to take off in the eighties, and both regions had to forge their language into a tool for written literature. The many initiatives to promote works in the four languages contributed a lot to the consolidation of the regional youth literatures, to the extent that nowadays many publishing houses edit books simultaneously in two, three or four of the official languages. Translations played an essential role in consolidating a new modem literature, although translations between the four languages are a very recent phenomenon, dating back approximately fifteen years. We can also say that multilingualism is more characteristic of Spanish youth literature than it is of adult literature. There, double editions in Castilian and Catalan are becoming more and more general, but translations into the four official languages is a typical characteristic of children’s literature.

29On the other hand, it seems that most Spaniards see themselves as living in one national space, without borders, and forming one culture, be it a multilingual one. They do not have the feeling of belonging to different cultures because they speak a different language, as happens in Belgium where Walloon and Flemish people seem to be more and more convinced of being part of distinct cultural spaces. Nevertheless, we are inclined to believe that the reading of books written by a specific ‘regional’ author, and translated into the other Spanish languages, contributes to a better perception of that regional culture by the young readers, intracultural translating thus helping to frame this multilingual culture. It is only by comparing youth novels, by analysing specific characteristics of each region and investigating the reception of those books by the young reader, that this kind of considerations will become clearer. This is surely a topic on which more research needs to be done.



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Fernández Victoria, « Panorama de la LIJ en las lenguas autónomas. Receptión de la LIJ en otras lenguas extranjeras », in Isabel Pascua Febles (ed.), Traducción de la literatura infantil, Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Ediciones Anaga, cdrom, 2003, p. 87-96.

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1 The following information is mainly based on Leclerc 2009 and information of the Spanish Ministry of Culture, besides other sources.

2 The following is mainly based on the PhD thesis of Monica Dominguez before it was published; that is why there are no page numbers in the references.

3 In Catalonia: “CLIJCAT. Conseil Catalá del Llibre Infantil I Juvenil”, “Instituciô de les Lletres Catalanes” and “Consorci de Biblioteques de Barcelona”; in Galicia: “Asociación Galega do Libro Infantil e Xuvenil (GALIX)”, “Biblioteca Fundación Caixa Galicia” and “Concejalía de Cultura”; in the Basque Region: “Galtzagorri Elkartea” and “Departamento de Cultura” of the autonomous government.

4 Anaya Group: Barcanova (Catalan), Xerais (Gallego) and Haritza (Euskera); Grupo Editorial Edebé: Marjal (Valenciano), Rodeira (Gallego) and Giltza Errdakzioa; Grupo Editorial Everest: Edicions Cadí (Catalán), Everest Galicia (Gallego) and Aizkorri Argitaletxea; Grupo Editorial Luis Vives (Edelvives): Edicions Baula (Catalan), Tambre (Gallego) and Ibaizabal argitaletxea. Other publishing houses are simply bilingual, Castilian and Catalan in the case of Editorial Susaeta, Editorial Serres, Editorial Zendrera Zariquiey and Editorial Tándem, or Galician and Castilian, in the case of Editorial Kalandraka and OQO Editera.

5 OEPLI has associations for every official language: Consejo General del Libro Infantil y Juvenil, Conseil Català del Llibre Infantil i Juvenil, GÁLIX and Galtzagorri Elkartea.

6 This view is also confirmed by a recent study about multiculturalism (sections: “interculturality” and “other cultures”) in Spanish youth literature (Roig Recheu, Soto Lopez & Lucas Dominguez 2006). Not a single book is mentioned that discusses the identifies of the Spanish regions.


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