“He Saw a Black Man in the Street, but Not a Cannibal”. Translation and Political Correctness

Michał Borodo


The article focuses on Kaytek the Wizard, the English translation of Janusz Korczak’s children’s classic Kajtuś czarodziej, originally published in Poland in 1933. Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, the book came out in English with the New York-based Penlight Publications in 2012, almost eighty years after the original publication. The article begins with an overview of the theoretical context of translating children’s literature, with regard to issues such as censorship, political correctness, and ideological manipulations. It demonstrates that contentious passages have often been mitigated, in order to create a commercially or ideologically “appropriate” text, for example in the former countries of the Eastern Bloc, in Spain, or in the contemporary United States. It then describes the context of the publication of the English version of Korczak’s novel, shedding light on the roles of the copyright holder and translation commissioner, the publisher and the translator, and also mentioning the English language reviews of the translation in literary journals. Following that, the article examines the translator’s treatment of the original expressions and passages concerning racial issues, which would be considered racist today. These include references to Africans as “savages,” “apes” or “cannibals,” a reflection of the European racial stereotypes of that period. It is demonstrated that, in her treatment of such lexical items, the translator adopted a middle course, retaining some of the contentious passages but also partly omitting and toning down other controversial examples in question. The article also reflects on the role of, and constraints on, the literary translator, who may be confronted with the ethical dilemma of either respecting the integrity of the original, and recreating the collective consciousness of a bygone era, or appropriating the original text, through eliminating passages which negatively portray blacks, so as to better adapt it to the target context of multicultural American society.

Słowa kluczowe: political correctness, children’s literature translation, literary translation, Janusz Korczak

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