Emotive tools in target audienceoriented translation

Mariya Bagasheva-Koleva


Abstract: The paper analyses the emotional language in some Russian fairy tales and the ways it is projected (or not) into Bulgarian and English translated versions. More specifically, it investigates the abundant use of diminutives in Russian fairy tales and gives an account of the quantitative and qualitative translation of such forms into Bulgarian and English. The aim of the present paper is to explore the linguistic ways in which the emotional language in Russian fairy tales can be translated or transformed into Bulgarian and English, as well as to argue that the purpose of the translator is not only to translate but to adapt the text to a target audience.

Keywords: emotional language, emotionality, diminutives, expressiveness, emotion words.


Diminutives are the main feature in the rhetoric of Slavic tale-telling whether it be of folk tales and their written versions (as with the tales of A. Nechaev) or of author’s tales (those of A.S.Pushkin). In German folk-telling tradition, however, the texts are not intended for the child audience and are written in a literary style which can be hardly understood by children. But with the human development in the context of their socio-cultural experience, the folk-tale texts have reoriented towards a younger audience and need to be adapted.

 In this respect T.Kiryakova-Dineva [5] emphasizes the close interrelation in translation between fairy tales and different circumstances. As Kiryakova-Dineva points out “the characteristics of the target group are not to be disregarded; e.g. the tales of Brothers Grimm are written in a style incomprehensible for children, although the tales are intended for child audience. The translation in this case may not have an informative function but a communicative one. Having in mind the fact that children are the target group of fairy tales, the aim of the translator is not only to convey the content but also to adapt the stylistic devices and the difficult grammar constructions.” [5, p.174].

 In the translation of author’s tales, e.g. the tales of Brothers Grimm, Andersen, Wilde, etc. in such cases the target text becomes an adaptation depending on the age of the target group, and the author’s intentionality in creating the text, acquires the aspect of primary intent while the aim of the translator to render the target text into a relevant version acquires the status of secondary intent [1].

 In German the adaptation of text to a younger audience is connected mainly with adaptation of the literary style, e.g. stylistic devices, simplifying difficult grammar structures, using shorter sentences, etc. In Slavic languages, adapting a text means not only simplifying the textual characteristics, but also using a more communicative approach by applying different linguistic devices.

The basic linguistic tool for communicative adaptation of a text is diminutiveness. The use of diminutives is characteristic for child-centered discourse. When a child is born into a family, everybody in the family changes their way of speaking when addressing the child. They start using various emotion words, nicknames, pet-names, diminutives. In this way people express their endearment, love, affection. Their everyday communication with the child changes their manner of expression as well. Parents start simplifying their speech, e.g. they use shorter sentences and simpler words. As fairy tales become part of a child’s upbringing and education, they should also be adapted to a child language. Fairy tales present the first source of knowledge about the world and introduce new words and ideas to young audience.

Children are the main target of fairy tales. So, the language of fairy tales should mirror all the ideas, emotions, thoughts and concepts that parents want to introduce to children.

Moreover, folktale language represents the oral tradition in narration as it reflects the national, cultural, social and linguistic differences of people.

In some cultures, however, it is not usual to use nick-names and diminutives, even when addressing children. These cultures are considered rather conservative, strict and rigid, and this reflects their folk tales as well. There are few emotion words and almost no diminutives.  In Anglo-Saxon culture it is natural to disapprove of the extremely emotional manner of speech, whereas in Russian culture the verbal expression of emotions is considered as one of the basic functions of human speech. Therefore, if we compare Russian and English, Russian language pays greater attention to emotions and has many various lexical and grammatical structures to differentiate nuances [4].

So if an English or German folk tale is translated into Bulgarian or Russian, the translator will have to adapt the text to a young audience and add many emotion words and diminutive forms, because the child is used to hearing such forms in fairy tales. Whereas if a Russian folk tale is translated into English or German, many of the emotion and diminutive words will be omitted or will be expressed in a less emotional way. Hence Russian tradition of folk telling is famous for its emotional language and overuse of diminutive words. In Bulgarian the number of diminutive words is smaller but, on the whole, the expressive language is characteristic and the text will sound very emotional. Traditionally, Bulgarian fairy tales are also a source of expressive language and emotional lexis.

On the contrary, English translations of Russian fairy tales will lack a lot of the diminutive words and will not be at all as emotional as the original text. In English there is a tendency of verbosity when translating the emotional language. Although English language does not use many diminutives, there are emotion words and words denoting and associated with emotions which are used in fairy tales for that purpose.

I have researched 6 Russian folk tales and their translated versions into English and Bulgarian.

Table 1

Russian Bulgarian English
1 Иван-царевич и серый волк Иван Царският син и сивият вълк The Tale of Ivan Tsarevich, the Firebird and the Gray Wolf
2 Перышко Финиста ясна сокола Финист – ясният сокол The Tale of Finist the Falcon
3 Гуси-лебеди Гъски-лебеди The Swan-Geese
4 Царевна-лягушка Царкинята жаба The Frog Princess
5 Колобок Житената питка The Round Little Bun
6 Марья Моревна Маря Хубавица Maria Morevna

Table 2

Quantative data of diminutive use – number of diminutive words and diminutive forms in the fairy tales

Number of Fairy tale Russian fairy tale Bulgarian translation English translation
1 11 5 6
2 21 17 7
3 24 16 7
4 20 13 4
5 11 21 3
6 18 8 5

Table 3

Qualitative data of diminutive use

Number of Fairy tale Russian Bulgarian English
1 DN* – 10DAdv – 1 DN-5DAdv-1 ‘dear’+noun-3‘young’+noun-1Lexical Dim.-2
2 DN-21 DN-16DPN-1 ‘small’+noun-2Lexical Dim.-1Emotion-laden words(endearment)-4
3 DN-21DAdj-3 DN-16 ‘little’+noun-6‘baby’+noun-1
4 DN-19DAdv-1 DN-12DAdv-1 ‘young’+noun-1‘dear’+noun-2‘little’+noun-1
5 DN-11 DN-14DPN-3DAdj-4 ‘little’+noun-1DN-2
6 DN-17DAdj-1 DN-8 ‘small’+noun-3Lexical Dim.-2

*Note: DN-diminutive noun

            DAdj-diminutive adjective

            DAdv-diminutive adverb

            DPN-diminutive personal nouns

Table 2 shows the quantative data of diminutive words used in the   fairy tales. As it can be seen, in 5 cases out of 6, Russian has the most diminutive words of all. In Bulgarian the number is half the number in Russian. There is one exception – Case 5 has twice as many diminutives in Bulgarian than in Russian. In English, there are few diminutives.

Table 3 shows the types of diminutives used in the fairy tales. In Russian and Bulgarian the greatest number of diminutives is of diminutive nouns, while diminutive adjectives and diminutive adverbs are a few. A special case of diminutive nouns is diminutive personal names which show endearment, love, and affection. They are common in Russian and Bulgarian fairy tales and are used mainly in dialogues of characters when they address each other, e.g. Иванушка, Марюшка, Машенька.

In Russian fairy tales it is characteristic to use many diminutive words denoting mainly objects and expressing a positive subjective evaluation which adds a feeling of endearment and affection to the text and makes it extremely emotional. Most usages of diminutive nouns are of this type – they denote a personal attitude, not an objective description of a small object. Some of these nouns are translated with the same meaning into Bulgarian but not into English. In the English version these nouns are not used in the diminutive form. In some cases, however, a diminutive is used with its basic meaning of denoting a small object or a young animal. These cases are present in Bulgarian and English versions as well, e.g. стръкче, пчеличка, жребче; nesting, cub, lad.

Although not numerous, but there are also some forms of diminutive adjectives and diminutive adverbs in Russian fairy tales, which are translated into Bulgarian in the same way using a diminutive form (тихонько – полекичка; маленький – мъничък). In English such forms are not possible.

The number of diminutive words in Bulgarian translations of the fairy tales is not as great as in the Russian tales; nevertheless, they are present and have the same connotations as the Russian diminutives.

In the English translated versions the use of diminutives is rare, mainly in the cases of denoting an object of a small size or a young person or animal. The common formation of diminutive meaning is by using an adjective whose lexical meaning denotes smallness (e.g.

small, little, young, baby) + a noun  – a small box, little brother, baby son, younger brother. There are several cases of using the adjective “dear” + a noun to express endearment and affection but not actual diminutiveness – my dear father, dear friend, dear Marya. In these texts there are no cases of diminutives formed by a diminutive suffix.

Still, there are cases of using emotion-laden words to express endearment – sweetheart, beauty, darling.

On the whole, in the English versions emotionality, if at all present, is rendered not by the use of diminutives (their number is insignificant), but by the use of emotion words including emotion-laden words and emotion-related words [6], e.g.

1)      emotion words – distressed, enchanted, furious, overjoyed, jubilant, charmed, frightened, sorry, terrible, sad, happy, sorrowfully, astonishment, filled with envy, etc.

2)      emotion-related words – to scream, to weep, to beg, to curse, to yell, to grieve, to leave in tears, to shed many tears, to burst into tears, etc.

Moreover, there are various stylistic devices and emphatic structures which are used in order to make a text more expressive, e.g.

repetition  – saying over and over again; she ran and she ran; by and by; turning round and round; getting hungrier and hungrier;

comparison – as if a thousand lights were shining on it; as if illuminated by the setting sun; as if she were a princess; like a flash; like a bullet; like magic; like a storm;

Wierzbicka [3] points that in the English language emotions are more frequently rendered by adjectives and participles than by verbs: Mary was sad/pleased/afraid/angry/disgusted. These types of adjectives and participles denote passive emotional states, not active ones. The verbs of emotions denote a more active role of the subject: He is worrying/rejoicing/grieving.

On the contrary, in Russian and Bulgarian, there are a great number of ‘active’ emotional verbs, which can be rather difficult to translate into English – радоватсья, тосковать, скучать, унывать, гордиться, любоваться; радвам се, скучая, гордея се, любувам се.


In sum, cultures in which emotional language is characteristic in communication between people have many different emotive tools to express these emotions in written texts such as folk tales; e.g. Russian and Bulgarian. Russian fairy tales are full of diminutive words that express endearment and affection and are a characteristic feature of such child-oriented texts.

Bulgarian translations of Russian tales are also rich in diminutives although not in such numbers. Still, there are cases when Bulgarian texts have more diminutives than the Russian equivalents. Both languages are Slavic and have common traditions in story-telling, which explains the research results.

For the Anglo-Saxon culture, on the other hand, emotional language is very rare and it can be seen in written texts as well. In fairy tales, where one can expect emotional lexis because of the target audience, there is almost none. Fairy tales are not intended to be emotional as it is in Russian and Bulgarian. So, in the English translations of Russian fairy tales, there are few diminutives, mainly denoting the small size of an object or a young person or animal. However, some emotion words are used as well as emotion-laden or emotion-related words [6], which gives some emotionality to the text.

The translator of folk tales should adapt the text to the target audience and should have in mind the cultural, historic, social and language traditions of the target language so that the translated version does not sound strange and unusual to the listener or reader.

Authors cited or referred to:

[1] Apostolova, G. (2012)

[2] Васева, И. (2006). Отражение национального характера в языке болгар и русских. http://www.rissian.slavica.org/article2238.html

[3] Вежбицкая А. (1996) Язык. Культура. Познание. М.,

[4] Вежбицкая А. http://philologos.narod.ru/ling/wierzrl/rl2.htm.

[5] Кирякова-Динева 2011: Т. Кирякова-Динева. Преводът на фразеологизми от приказките на Братя Грим в български и руски език. В: Езиков свят, т. 9, кн. 2, Университетско издателство „Неофит Рилски”, Благоевград, стр. 172-180.

[6] Pavlenko, A. (2002a) Emotions and the body in Russian and English. Pragmatics and Cognition, 10, 1-2, 201-236.


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