Overlexicalisation as a problem for translators
We’ve talked elsewhere about Nadsat’s function as an anti-language or the language of an ‘anti-society’, a group that sets itself up as in opposition to society and its norms (Michael Halliday first wrote about this phenomenon in 1976 while Roger Fowler drew attention to Nadsat as anti-language in 1979). What we didn’t go into was how Burgess’s understanding of this social phenomenon shows through the way Nadsat is organised and the types of words it includes.
Burgess was a great admirer of Eric Partridge’s fascinating Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English and knew that words in anti-languages tend to group around a fairly limited set of specific meanings. Partridge’s Dictionary is just one in a long line of works – stretching back at least to 16th century glossaries of thieves’ cants – that have tried to demystify the strange words used by outsiders, labelled by insider society as rogues and scoundrels.
The invented language component of
Nadsat in A Clockwork Orange poses many problems for translators.
Indeed, one of the purposes of this blog and the Ponying the Slovos project is
to leverage how these problems work to reveal translation strategies. But it is
not the only component which offers challenges to translators.
Arthur: The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water signifying by Divine Providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. That is why I am your king!
Dennis: Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Monty Python inadvertently touched on a major debate among translation theorists, as raised in Umberto Eco’s thought-provoking and entertaining book Mouse or Rat. Eco makes much of his guilt at having to criticise Roman Jakobson for potentially causing ‘confusion’ in his 1959 article ‘On Linguistic Aspects of Translation’ (a piece notable enough to merit its own Wikipedia article).
Jakobson, any particular word may be interpreted, or translated, in three ways: