Translating Literary Dialogue: A Problem and Its Implications for Translation into Hebrew

Rina Ben-Shahar


The present paper focuses on literary dialogue as a text type highly susceptible to inadequate translation. It is claimed here that translators of literary dialogue are likely to reduce a linguistic-poetic-pragmatic source utterance into a linguistic or linguistic-poetic one. The paper discusses different causes for the difficulties of dialogue translation. Some are general, stemming from the nature of literary dialogue itself and/or general principles of translation, while others are specific to the Hebrew language, which will serve as a case in point.

Table of contents

Literary dialogue constitutes a kind of text considerably different from narrative. To the extent that a decision is made to simulate daily, hence oral speech in the first place, its language formation entails an inherent paradox: the need to transmit features of the oral medium through a system pertinent to the written one. The transmission of spontaneous speech in a literary dialogue is obviously not a mere imitation of speech in the written system, let alone its mere transliteration. Rather, it involves selecting certain linguistic means [ p. 196 ]considered in a particular culture as representative of spoken language and filtering these through certain conventions of written representation developed in the literature in question.

Full-text access is restricted to subscribers. Log in to obtain additional credentials. For subscription information see Subscription & Price. Direct PDF access to this article can be purchased through our e-platform.


Ben-Shahar, Rina
1983Dialogue Style in the Hebrew Play, both Original and Trans-lated from English and French, 1948-1975. Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University. [Ph.D. Thesis. Hebrew]Google Scholar
1987 “Terms of Address in Plays Translated from English and French into Hebrew”. Bamah 108. 51–57. [Hebrew]Google Scholar
1990 “On Phonetic Representation of Spoken Language in Modern Hebrew Literature”. Moshe Goshen-Gottstein, Shlomo Morag and Simcha Kogut, eds. Studies on Hebrew and other Semitic Languages, presented to Chaim Rabin. Jerusalem: Academon, The Hebrew University 1990 25–53. [Hebrew]Google Scholar
Biber, Douglas
1988Variation across Speech and Writing. Cambridge UP.   CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Blum-Kulka, Shoshana
1986 “Shifts of Cohesion and Coherence in Translation”. Juliane House and Shoshana Blum-Kulka, eds. Interlingual and Intercultural Communication: Discourse and Cognition in Translation and Second Language Acquisition Studies. Tübingen: Narr 1986 17–35.Google Scholar
Even-Zohar, Itamar
1982a “Russian VPC's in Hebrew Literary Language”. Theoretical Linguistics 9:1. 11–16.Google Scholar
1982b “The Emergence of Speech Organizers in a Renovated Language: The Case of Hebrew Void Pragmatic Connectives”. Nils Erik Enkvist, ed. Impromptu Speech: A Symposium. Åbo: Åbo Akademi 1982 179–193.Google Scholar
1985 “Gnessin's Dialogue and Its Russian Models”. Slavica Hierosolymitana 7. 17–36. [A revised version in Even-Zohar 1990a: 131-153.]Google Scholar
1990aPolysystem Studies. Durham: Duke University Press. [= Poetics Today 11:1.]Google Scholar
1990b “Russian and Hebrew: The Case of a Dependent Poly-system”. Even-Zohar 1990a : 97–110.Google Scholar
[ p. 220 ]
1990c “The Role of Russian and Yiddish in the Making of Modern Hebrew”. Even-Zohar 1990a : 111–120. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
1990d “Israeli Hebrew Literature”. Even-Zohar 1990a : 165–173.Google Scholar
1990e “Void Pragmatic Connectives”. Even-Zohar 1990a : 219–245. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Even-Zohar, Itamar and Khone Shmeruk
1990 “Authentic Language and Authentic Reported Speech: Hebrew vs. Yiddish”. Even-Zohar 1990a : 155–163. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Kay, Paul
1977 “Language Evolution and Speech Style”. Ben G. Blount and Mary Sanches, eds. Sociocultural Dimensions of Language Change. New York: Academic Press 1977 21–33. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Lakoff, Robin Tolmach
1982 “Some of My Favorite Writers Are Literate: The Mingling of Oral and Literate Strategies in Written Communication”. Tannen 1982 : 239–260.Google Scholar
Olson, David R.
1977 “From Utterance to Text: The Bias of Language in Speech and Writing”. Harvard Educational Review 47. 257–281.   CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Ronen, Ruth
1986 “Poetic Coherence in Literary Prose”. Style 20. 66–73.Google Scholar
Tannen, Deborah
ed. 1982Spoken and Written Language: Exploring Orality and Literacy. Norwood, NJ: Ablex. [Advances in Discourse Processes, 9.]Google Scholar
Toury, Gideon
1977Translational Norms and Literary Translation into Hebrew, 1930-1945. Tel Aviv: The Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics, Tel Aviv University. [Hebrew]Google Scholar
ed. 1987Translation Across Cultures. New Delhi: Bahri Publications.Google Scholar
Weissbrod, Rachel
1989Trends in the Translation of Prose Fiction from English into Hebrew, 1958-1980. Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University. [Ph.D. Thesis. Hebrew]Google Scholar

Literary works (originals and Hebrew translations)

Albee, Edward
1965Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? New York: Pocket Books.Google Scholar
[1965] Mi mefaxed mi-Virginia Woolf?, tr. Tirza Atar. [Tel Aviv]: Merkaz le-tarbut u-le-xinux šel ha-histadrut.Google Scholar
Bond, Edward
1976Lear. London: Eyre Methuen.Google Scholar
1980Lear, tr. Ada Ben-Nahum. Ramat Gan: Beit Tsvi.Google Scholar
Faulkner, William
1961Sanctuary. London: Chato & Windus.Google Scholar
1976Miklat, tr. Amazia Porat. Tel Aviv: Am Oved.Google Scholar
Mansfield, Katherine
1973 “Pictures”. Bliss and Other Stories. New York: Books for Libraries Press 1973 156–169.Google Scholar
1978 “Sratim”. Mesibat Gan, tr. Rina Litvin. Tel Aviv: Zmora, Bitan, Modan 1978 67–78.Google Scholar
Osborne, John
1975Look Back in Anger. London: Faber & Faber.Google Scholar
1984Habet axora be-za'am, tr. Eran Baniel. Ramat Gan: Beit Tsvi.Google Scholar
Parker, Dorothy
1973 “The Sexes”. The Portable Dorothy Parker. New York: The Viking Press 1973 24–28.Google Scholar
1955 “Šnei ha-minim”, tr. Hemda Alon. Kitvei Dorothy Parker. Tel Aviv: Karmi et Naor 1955 43–46.Google Scholar
Pinter, Harold
1968 “The Room”. Two Plays: The Birthday Party and The Room. New York: Grove Press 1968 89–116.Google Scholar
[ p. 221 ]
1982Ha-xeder, tr. Tova Kešet. Tel Aviv: Or Am.Google Scholar
Salinger, J.D.
1991 “Just Before the War with the Eskimos”. Nine Stories. Boston, Toronto, London: Little, Brown and Company 1991 39–55.Google Scholar
1979 “Mamaš lifnei ha-milxama im ha-eskimosim”, tr. Judith Dorf. Tiš'a Sipurim. Tel Aviv: Siman Kri'a 1979 59–71.Google Scholar