Review article
Focus on the Pun Wordplay as a Special Problem in Translation Studies

Dirk Delabastita

Table of contents

Wordplay and ambiguity are customarily seen as somehow presenting 'special' problems to both the translator and the translation scholar. The root cause of these special (real or alleged, theoretical or practical) difficulties lies in the fact that the semantic and pragmatic effects of source-text wordplay find their origin in particular structural characteristics of the source language for which the target language more often than not fails to produce a counterpart, such as the existence of certain homophones, near-homophones, polysemic clusters, idioms, or grammatical rules. How to divorce meaning (intention, function, effect, communicative value) from verbal formulation when the former seems to be the exclusive effect of the latter? The question has traditionally tended to provoke one of two standard responses. First, one finds a lot of theoretical argument between those who claim that no 'real' translation of wordplay is possible and those who argue to the contrary. Second, there is a plethora of statements specifying how the translation of wordplay should allegedly be done in order to circumvent the theoretical obstacles, or at least mitigate their consequences.

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