Syntactic Norms in Finnish Children's Literature

Tiina Puurtinen
University of Joensuu Savonlinna School of Translation Studies

Owing to children's developing reading skills and world knowledge, readability (comprehensibility as well as speakability) can be regarded as an important requirement of children's literature. This article focusses on one determinant of readability, the frequency of nonflnite constructions in children's books both originally written in Finnish and translated from English into Finnish. A high frequency of complex nonfinite constructions is likely to have a negative effect on readability, and consequently they might be expected to occur relatively infrequently both in original and in translated children's literature. A quantitative study of a large number of children's books shows that Finnish originals have indeed tended to favour finiteness, whereas translations show a higher degree of non-finiteness. The translations thus fail to conform to one of the syntactic norms of the receiving literature. The article discusses potential reasons for this syntactic difference, considers the possibility of the existence of different sets of norms for translated and originally Finnish children's books, and speculates upon the innovatory influence of translations.

Table of contents

The content and language of children's books reflect the culture-specific notions of what is "good" and suitable for children in general, and what is an appropriate level of difficulty for a particular age group. Both in the writing and in the translation of children's literature readability is a major consideration, as the text's level of difficulty is likely to be adjusted to the comprehension and reading abilities, and world knowledge of the potential readers with a view to providing children with pleasant and interesting texts, which encourage them to continue reading. Readability is normally defined as comprehensibility or ease of reading determined by the degree of linguistic difficulty of the text; in the present article the concept is also understood to cover speakability (the term from Snell-Hornby 1988: 35), i.e. the suitability of a text to be read aloud. The readability of children's literature varies in accordance with, among other things, society's predominant view on the primary function of children's literature—as entertainment and recreation or as a tool for education—the age and reading skills of the intended audience of a particular book, and the linguistic norms and conventions of literature in general and children's literature in particular—such as the requirement of "literary style" (as in Hebrew children's literature; see B. Even-Zohar 1992, Shavit 1981: 177) or common everyday language.

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