Was the world’s most famous bear a girl?

Unlike the world of show business or sports, the translation sector is one in which events arousing strong emotions are rare. However, one of Polish translators of “Winnie the Pooh” has caused a lot of confusion, extensively commented on also abroad. In the new edition of the book, “the bear with a very small brain” triggered a heated discussion on the rightness of the choices made by Monika Adamczyk-Grabowska, the translator, which were commented on by other translators for a long time.

Why? In Monika Adamczyk-Grabowska’s rendition, Kubuś Puchatek is not Kubuś. Moreover, although it is still a male bear, it has a female name – Fredzia Phi-Phi. Interestingly, the first rendition of “Winnie the Pooh” was done by Irena Tuwim – a sister of that Tuwim – and she is the one whom we owe the expressions which we have known since we were children, such as “what tigers like best”, “the bear with a very small brain” or even the names of the characters.

Why was Kubuś turned into Fredzia? The author of the controversial translation came to the conclusion – once she had read, as a first-grade student, the original version of “Winnie the Pooh” – that the first rendition of the book was its adaptation. She inferred that Julian Tuwim’s sister was so much influenced by her brother’s and Jan Brzechwa’s works that she created a very poetic, nice, charming and even sweet reality, while that in the original book is not so sweet – after all, the main character is a bear with a very small brain, accompanied by animals and a small boy – do any of these characters seem capable of making such perfectly rhymed poems?

Why Fredzia Phi-Phi? The translator explains that she tried to render the source text as accurately as possible, unlike Tuwim did in her “domesticated” translation.

Thus the word “Pooh” in the name Winnie the Pooh can be translated as the onomatopoeic “fe!”, or that contemptuous “phi”, while the name “Winnie” was derived from the name of the bear which Christopher – son of Alan Alexander Milne – frequently visited in the London zoo. The bear came from Winnipeg in Canada, and was named Winfred – abbreviated to Winnie, Fredzia in Polish. This is how Christopher Robin (or Christopher) names the bear in Milne’s book. Why did he choose a female name? The translator says simply – just like that. Because this is to show the absurdity of the children’s world and there is just no point in explaining why a male bear has a female name.

Adamczyk-Grabowska changed also the names of other characters – e.g. Krzyś was turned into Krzysztof (the author did not use the diminutive form in his book either – the boy’s name was Christopher Robin), while Maleństwo was turned into Gurek (from “kangurek”, just like “Roo” from “Kangaroo” in the original version).

Irena Tuwim’s rendition can be considered a classic – Kubuś Puchatek and his friends have been amusing by now already the fifth generation of Polish children, so the revised translation by Monika Adamczyk-Grabowska has a good reason to arouse such intense emotions. And in this way a translation of a book for children has caused the biggest scandal in the history of the translation sector. Have there really been grounds for that? Translators and readers have different opinions in this regard, but at least students of linguistics have a good topic for their dissertations.

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