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'.
Various ways. What you do depends on the kind of text, the skill of the translator, and whether or not there is an analogous pun.
Anthea Bell, the translator of the Asterix and Obelix books is especially brilliant. She doesn't translate every pun: sometimes a pun in the original French will not be a pun in English, while new puns are introduced.
The names in Asterix are all puns. The names of the two heroes work equally well in French and in English. But others don't. The bard is "Assurancetourix" (=Comprehensive Insurance) in Frencg but "Cacofonix" in English, which makes a more appropriate pun for the character, this time.
It's a very interesting thing to study. As an obsessive comparer of translations, I can also tell you that the way L'Occitane perfumes are said to smell varies quite a bit from language to another!
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