Challenges and Distortions of Translating Grammatical Gender in Literary Texts: Julio Cortázar Translated into Various European Languages

Uwe Kjær Nissen

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With a focus on various translations of the short story ‘Historia con migalas’ by one
of the most renowned Latin American writers, the Argentinian author Julio Cortázar, this article describes and exemplifies numerous translational problems with respect to grammatical gender. In spite of the difficulties in Spanish of entirely avoiding gender/ sex references, Cortázar deliberately endeavours (successfully) to hide the gender of the protagonist couple by tricking the reader into a heterosexual, stereo-typical mindset until, at the end of the story, he reveals that the couple consists of two women, forcing the reader to reanalyse and reinterpret the entire story. As this article shows, not all translators seem to be aware of Cortázar’s subtle play with grammatical gender, and vice versa – in this case – biological gender and, therefore, entirely miss the quintessence of the story. A relevant question that arises is whether it is possible in the languages under consideration to translate this playing with gender at all, or whether constraints as to the structure of the languages impede it (for example, differences between grammatical gender and natural gender languages). Finally, some evidence is brought forward to address the question of how the (mis)translated short stories were received by reviewers.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBulletin of Hispanic Studies
Issue number7
Pages (from-to)679-691
Publication statusPublished - 15. Jul 2021

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