In our project using corpus linguistics methodologies to analyse the invented language of Nadsat in Anthony Burgess’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’, we have discovered that there are significant grey areas demarcating the borders between language, creole, pidgin and dialect.

Is Burgess’s ‘Nadsat’ a language? Is it merely, as some glossary compilers and editors have suggested, a lexicon of slang appended to English? Is it somewhere in the hinterland between – a creole, perhaps? Is it maybe even just the protagonist’s own dialect, an idiolect? Whichever it is, it is certainly not formal English.

While the process of translation already offers problems to translators dealing with formal versions of established languages, such as how to translate idioms or culturally specific terms, this becomes even more complex when dealing with less formal examples of language.

Students challenged with Old English texts, such as Beowulf, often struggle with the idea that they are, in fact, still dealing with the English language, and desire a modern ‘translation’ to ease comprehension. This can even be encountered among students dealing with later texts again, such as the works of Chaucer, or even the Elizabethans.

Similarly, people who speak strong dialectal versions of a language may struggle with comprehending a different dialect of the same language. I recall a Glaswegian friend asking a barman in Cork whether the local customers were speaking Irish when in fact they were communicating in their local heavily accented and dialect version of English.

So all sorts of issues can arise when a translator is faced with dialect or similarly informal versions of a language. Luigi Bonaffini has written intelligently of the many challenges faced by translators when they are confronted with dialectal language. As he correctly points out, the problems begin with perceptions that dialect is a “subaltern, marginal” form of language which diminishes the validity and cultural role played by dialect.

Some translators seek a kind of metaphoric or analogous transformation, rendering dialect in one language into a comparative dialect in the target language. For example, the poems of Giacomo Belli, a 19th century sonneteer in the Roman dialect, have been variously translated into Scots, “Tyke” (a Yorkshire dialect), “Strine” (1960s Australian dialect), Mid-Ulster Hiberno-English and many more regional dialectal variants of formal English. In each case, the translator has been forced to render the unique cultural environment evoked by Belli’s 19th century Rome into analogous cultural environments located within the 20th century Anglosphere. This can quickly lead to significant semantic differences opening up between the source text and the translation.

Obviously, when the dialect involved is an invented one, with no existing penumbra of culture upon which to draw, the translator is faced with an even more exacerbated problem. How can one translate a culture which doesn’t really exist beyond the pages of a slim novella?

As a team, we’re looking at various translations of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ in order to see what is happening in them, and to compare the translation strategies and processes, in the hope that this may shed useful light upon the translation process in general.

We’re therefore interested in hearing from other scholars who have an interest in how components like dialect come to be translated, and we would urge anyone with an interest in this area to look at our call for papers and consider presenting their perspectives at our symposium in March.

Closing date for abstracts is 29th January.

Happy new year!

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