Wordplay and translation

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This chapter opens with a number of long-standing paradoxes concerning the translation of wordplay. The famous play on words in the Italian expression “traduttore - traditore” is widely quoted in Translation Studies and carries the crux of the matter here as when translating the wordplay into English, for instance, the pair “translator - traitor” in fact loses the very play on words, and only a feeble alliteration and assonance survive. The English translation commits treason as it were on the original Italian saying, and in the same vein, translating wordplay is generally considered impossible. A large number of types of language manipulation may be included under the umbrella term of “wordplay”: acrostic, malapropism, palindrome, rhyming slang, tongue twisters, spoonerism, riddle, chiasmus, etc. Here I will, however, focus on the type of wordplay which causes the most problems to translators and which has received the greatest attention in the field of Translation Studies: the pun. That is, the manipulation of sounds and meanings of words with the intent of being witty. Unfortunately, such wordplay is often considered of lesser value than fancy metaphors or other stylistically sophisticatedways of expressing profundity. The great lexicographer Samuel Johnson coined the second famous saying above that “A pun is the lowest form of wit”, forever pushing double meaning witticisms into the shadows of bad taste as there is no significant sapience in them.And here the Italian saying appears as a perfect testimony to his claim that youmerely pick a word that is plain and then take another that sounds the same: “traduttore - traditore”.

TitelThe Routledge Handbook of Translation Studies and Linguistics
RedaktørerKirsten Malmkjær
Antal sider16
ISBN (Trykt)9781138911260
ISBN (Elektronisk)9781315692845
StatusUdgivet - 2018
NavnRoutledge Handbooks in Translation and Interpreting Studies


  • oversættelse
  • ordspil
  • translation
  • wordplay
  • linguistics
  • lingvistik

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