Ask-A-Linguist Message Details
When a book, film or TV program is translated into another
language, what do translators do when puns, anagrams or other
wordplay is involved?
To use one example, one mystery story I read had the solution hinge
on the homophone floorless/flawless. When translated, this would
'break' and the premise fails.
Another example is the movie Sneakers. The plot hinges on an
anagram 'Setec Astronomy'/'too many secrets'.
When I did translations, I went for equivalence in the target language, wherever possible – quite time-consuming, but often great fun to research. In many cases, though, even equivalence failed to work in the way intended by the author of the original text. Footnotes are sometimes used in such cases, but extensive use of these ends up defeating the purpose of a fluent text.
You might want to try the forum of the Free Translators & Translation Companies, proz.com, for discussion of these matters:
The database is searchable, so just type e.g. “puns” or “anagrams” in the Search Forums box.
I hope this helps
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