As stated in the previous post, we have been attempting to establish what happens when an invented art language is translated, and what that can tell us about translation strategies.

But to do that, it is important firstly to define what we mean by invented art language. The one we chose is not a fully-fledged functioning language, like Tolkien’s Elvish, Dothraki, or Klingon. As these are fully functioning languages, with their own grammars and lexicons, it follows that they also have, to an extent, what might be termed an invented culture from which they (fictionally or in fact) stem.

In the case of Tolkien’s inventions, they arose as linguistic creations firstly, a product of what he called his ‘secret vice’ of language building. In order to justify their existence and creation, he invented a mythos and world within which to situate them. In the case of Klingon and Dothraki, their initial emergence, as just a few alien-sounding phrases, in Star Trek and George R.R. Martin’s The Song of Ice and Fire respectively, later inspired groups of fans to crowdsource those languages into creation. In all of these instances, a rich seedbed of invented culture was generated alongside the linguistic creation.

In Anthony Burgess’s infamous novella A Clockwork Orange, however, the invented language component is not a fully-functioning language so much as a cant – an in-group secret slang, or as Halliday would have it, an anti-language. As such, it is built upon an existing framework of English. This allowed Burgess to avoid the comprehensional strategies required for audiences to make sense of Elvish or Klingon (translation in subtitles was often used for the latter) but equally required him to generate an invented language which could be comprehended quickly while still being somewhat alien.

This is partly explained within the novel, when one of Alex’s doctors describes his Nadsat speech as “Odd bits of old rhyming slang … A bit of gypsy talk, too. But most of the roots are Slav. Propaganda. Subliminal penetration.” This means that the bulk of Alex’s speech is based on English, often mutated in various ways, accompanied by a Russified lexicon and some existing slang components. As a key this allowed us to begin categorising the differing elements of Nadsat.

Following analysis, we ended up identifying seven broad categories which all appeared to function either morphologically or semantically or in terms of creative invention in different ways. These are as follows (click on links to see full lists with glosses and notes):

  1. ‘Core’ Nadsat – a predominantly Russified lexis, which has attracted the bulk of critical and linguistic attention by previous academics.
  2. Creative Morphology – a category containing terms derived from English in various manners not generally permitted within English.
  3. Compounds – wherein Burgess has constructed within Nadsat compound terms along similar lines to how such compounds are constructed in other languages like German, but not how such is done in English.
  4. Archaisms – a category accounting for the curious and evocative pseudo-Elizabethan tone and lexis often utilised by Alex when speaking Nadsat.
  5. Rhyming slang – which accounts not only for terms Burgess borrowed from existing rhyming slang, often obtained via Eric Partridge’s famed dictionary of slang, but also rhyming slang of Burgess’s own invention.
  6. Truncations – a category of predominantly English words which Burgess truncates without loss of overt meaning to transform them into Nadsat usage.
  7. Babytalk – a category of terms, or rather a creative methodology of linguistic construction, in which Alex’s childlike repetition of certain syllables within words to render them Nadsat is accounted for.

You can find more explanation and discussion of these categories in our article in Language and Literature.

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