Ambiguity translated for children: Andersen’s “Den standhaftige Tinsoldat” as a case in point


This article addresses ambiguity in translations for children. ‘Ambiguity’, here understood as something that allows for more than one interpretation, is supposed to be critical in translation for children as it clashes with some mediators’ ideas of what children’s literature is or ought to be. Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of “Den standhaftige Tinsoldat” [‘The steadfast tin soldier’] and a sample of twenty-four translations thereof (twelve into Swedish and twelve into Spanish) are used to explore different ways that ambiguity is translated for children. The objective is to determine if and how the tale’s ambiguities are manipulated in the various translations, and thus to initiate a theoretical discussion of ambiguity in translation for children. A difference is established between ‘textually resolvable’ and ‘textually irresolvable’ ambiguities and these two kinds of ambiguity are found to be treated differently in the analyzed sample of translations.

Table of contents

Tales that form part of our cultural heritage are repeatedly reprinted in new versions. They are published over and over again, with new illustrations, or in new translations or modernizations. Furthermore, they are often incorporated as intertexts into other literary works, and adapted for radio, film, theatre, opera and ballet. The literary fairy tales written by nineteenth century Danish author Hans Christian Andersen are no exception to this rule. In fact, his work is considered among the most translated in the world and his stories have given birth to numerous adaptations for media other than literature (see e.g. Krogh Hansen and Wolff Lundholdt 2005: 15; Haahr 2000: 497).

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