Jabberwocky: An Example of Creative Translation

The strange word that appears in the title of this post, “Jabberwocky,” describes a strange monster that is the protagonist of a poem by the same name written by Lewis Carroll and included in his book Through the Looking Glass. The poem is nonsensical, although it can nevertheless be read, understood, and, of course, translated!

What are the characteristics of this poem? To begin with, its structure is the same as that of any other classic poem in English. The grammatical organization of its sentences is correct, and poetic form, such as the use of quartets with iambic rhythm, is observed. The most interesting aspect is that it is possible to have an idea of what is being narrated even though the majority of the words to not actually exist, but are instead the inventions of the author.

While Carroll’s original version has achieved its goal, we also know that this poem is considered to be a classic and, naturally, has been translated to numerous languages. It is interesting to analyze the manner in which different translators have approached Jabberwocky. Regarding translations into Spanish, most translators have opted to construct the words in the same manner as in the original; that is, they have used the same roots or inventing words that have a pronunciation similar to the original. However, the problem is that sometimes this makes the reader lose the “feeling” provoked by the word in the original English version, which, although apparently absurd, resembles other existing English words. It is for this reason that many translators have applied the theory of functional equivalence, which indicates that one must aim to maintain the effect of a translated text more so than its form or literality. In this way, for the word “mimsy,” which may be a combination of the adjectives “miserable” and “flimsy,” one of the several Spanish versions opted for the word “misébil” (a combination of miserable and débil). While this does not resemble the word in English, it does evoke the feeling that the original transmits. Of course, this isn’t the only way of translating the word: this text is a clear example that there is seldom such a thing as a single possible translation.

However more creative the original text, the more broad and varied are its possible translations. This rather complex case illustrates the process of creative translation, which is sometimes referred to as “transcreation” and which requires a special talent beyond everyday translation skills.