Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Bilingual Wordplay

In the last post, I wrote about my research into the translation of wordplay. There was one form of wordplay that I didn’t discuss and that is bilingual wordplay. First of all, what is bilingual wordplay? Well, simply put, it is when an author creates jokes through the intersection of two or more languages. There might a sentence that is partly in one language and partly in another, or there might be a phrase that can be read in two or more ways, depending on which language/s the reader believes is/are being used, or the wordplay can be bilingual in some other way.

In the collection of essays Wordplay & Translation, edited by Dirk Delabastita, there is an article by Tace Hedrick called “Spik in Glyph? Translation, Wordplay and Resistance in Chicano Poetry”. Dr. Hedrick says that bilingual puns serve “as a bridge between two separate and seemingly autonomous language systems” and such wordplay “points at the ways in which the borders of languages can become fluid when they come in contact with each other” (146).

How, then, can a translator translate bilingual wordplay? Should it be translated monolingually? If so, surely some of the flavor and feeling of the source text will disappear. So should it only be translated bilingually? If so, which language/s should be used and why?

As with other aspects of translation, the translator’s decisions when it comes to bilingual wordplay depend to some extent on the audience. Will the source audience recognize all the bilingual wordplay? Why or why not? What does the author expect or want the source audience to understand? And who will be reading the target text? What language/s would they likely be familiar with and what feelings or stereotypes are connected to those languages?


Anna said...

I came upon your blog while researching translation as a career. I'm enjoying it very much, and felt that I had to comment on this post by sharing on of my favorite corny language jokes:

What comes between fear and sex?



Of course it's more effective when spoken, since you don't get into the double spellings of fear/vier and sex/sechs.

I plan to keep reading!

best wishes,

B.J. Epstein said...

Thanks so much, Anna!
I hope you decide to join the confederacy of translators!

Best wishes,