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Do women and men really translate differently?

Four Estonian translations of A. Tolstoy’s story “The Golden Key, or the Adventures of Buratino”

Keywords: literary translation, gender, Buratino, female, male

Today the role of the translator’s gender is quite actively researched in linguistics as well as in translation studies. However, in Estonian theory and practice of translation this topic has not yet received enough attention. In the current ­article four Estonian translations of the story “The Golden Key, or the Adventures of Buratino” by A. Tolstoy are compared and analysed. Two of the translations (from 1946 and 1964) belong to female translators and two (from 1996 and 2016) to male translators.

Different researchers have suggested some characteristics that distinguish “female” translations from “male” ones:

(1) in the works of female translators, one can notice more emotionality and expressiveness (for example, female translators use far more diminutives etc);

(2) female translators tend to enrich their translations with words (especially with a positive connotation) that are not present in the original text;

(3) female translators tend to follow the structure of the original text, male translators are more likely to change the structure of the original text (for example, long sentences may be translated into several shorter ones);

(4) female translators tend to use neutral vocabulary, while the texts of male translators are richer in dialect, informal, obsolete words, etc.

Based on the analysis of these four Estonian translations of the Russian text it can be said that the third and the fourth characteristics can indeed be ascertained in the translations, while the first and the second arguments prove not to be true, since in “male” translations some additions can be found that are not present in the original text. Diminutives are also used more often in “male” translations of A. Tolstoy’s story than in the “female” ones.

In conclusion, there are indeed some features that can distinguish female translations from male ones. However, some earlier observations prove not to be true, at least in Russian-Estonian translations. We should not deny the fact that the gender of the translator can have some influence on the way he or she translates, but all the rest of the differences between translations are caused by other factors, such as the age, social status, level of education or personal and professional qualities of the translator, etc. It is impossible to say yet which of these characteristics play a significant role and which do not.

Sirje Kupp-Sazonov (b. 1982), PhD, University of Tartu, Lecturer in Russian ­Language and Translation Studies, sirje.kupp-sazonov@ut.ee

 

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