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'.
I suspect you've noticed that floorless/flawless are not homophones for most speakers on the west side of the Atlantic. so the problem of translation exists across dialects as well. In much the Southern US, idle/addle are homophones. I found this out when teaching in Georgia. I had used "addle" as an example of a verb that narrowly limits its subjects. Generally only brains and eggs can addle. When I said that, a student from Memphis, TN, said, "But my car addles every time I stop for a stop sign!"
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