Translators face many challenges in attempting to convey meaning from the medium of one language to another. The many idioms, nuances and semantic differences between languages renders all acts of translation necessarily imprecise. In other words, translation, especially of literature, is very much an art rather than a science.

Corpus linguistics has helped to generate some significant insights into how translators go about this delicate task of transformation while preserving meaning. By comparing large bodies of text, such as EU documentation, which are rendered into multiple languages simultaneously, corpus methodologies have assisted understanding of the alchemical process of translation.

But dry and precise legislative documents are one thing; literature provides a series of additional challenges to translators seeking to transmit the literary experience and meaning across language barriers. The challenge of translating aesthetic, cultural, metric and prosodic components sometimes seems insurmountable, or at least, an act of approximation.

Then there are additional challenges – that of translating dialectal elements, or dense idiomatic components closely related to individual cultures. In relation to our project – the translation corpus of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ – we are examining how translators seek to convey the meaning inherent in ‘Nadsat’, the invented teen dialect in which the novella is written.

We hope to use methodologies derived from corpus linguistics to illuminate this translation process, in the hope that it may tell us new things about how the artistic aspect of translation functions.

We’re keen to hear from other researchers who are looking at the process of translating the untranslatable, especially those who are utilising corpus methodologies to do so. And we offer a warm welcome to anyone working in this area to come along to the ‘Ponying the Slovos’ conference at Coventry in March.

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