Publication details [#63789]

Sundmark, Björn. 2017. Some uffish thoughts on the Swedish translations of “Jabberwocky”. The European Journal of Humour Research 5 (3) : 43–56.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language
Place, Publisher
Cracow Tertium Society for the Promotion of Language Studies


This paper handles the “translatability” (and/or untranslatability) of nonsense. For this aim, five Swedish versions of Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem “Jabberwocky” from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass (1871) are explored: the vocabulary, the syntax, the metre and rhythm, as well as the poem’s contextual framing, here mostly comprehended as the narrative in which Jabberwocky is embedded. Consideration is also paid to the poem's generic and stylistic context, and the corpus of Swedish translations. Such an interpretation is justified by the status of Jabberwocky both as a seminal work of nonsense and as a translation showpiece. Weighty critics, from Elizabeth Sewell (1952) to Jean-Paul Lecercle (1994) have employed Jabberwocky as a crucial nonsense text. And even when it is to ask whether Jabberwocky is a good example or not – Michael Heyman, for instance, asserts that Jabberwocky is something of an “outlier” in the empire of nonsense since its nonsense is linguistic rather than logical (2015) – it stays a determining nonsense text. Also, it is a crucial text in translation history. Indeed, seeing the perceived troubles in translating it, Jabberwocky has truly been termed “the holy grail of translation” (Heyman 2015), something that is confirmed by the big amount of studies dedicated to it, like Orero Pilar’s 2007 monograph of divers Spanish versions of Jabberwocky. This study brings to this judicial debate empirical material that has not been revealed before (the Swedish translations), and a novel viewpoint.