Three versions of Nadsat: English, French & Spanish

Most of us are accustomed to thinking of Nadsat in one way only. After all, most of us only read the novel in one language, whether Burgess’s original, or else in one of the more than fifty extant translations. But of course, each of those translations represents a variant of Nadsat. Some languages have hosted multiple Nadsats, sometimes even by the same translator, as our colleague Patrick Corness has noted in relation to Robert Stiller’s multiple Polish-Nadsats.

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Did you mean ‘forella’ or ‘soomka’?

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.

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