In his recent book Kubrick en casa (Kubrick at Home), author Vicente Molina Foixtells how, in 1978, he accepted one of the most complex assignments of his career: translating the dialogue of the famous film A Clockwork Orange. Warner Bros. planned to re-release this film classic since, on its first release in Spain (in 1975), viewers could only enjoy a subtitled version adapted by Franco’s censorship. Carlos Saura was about to take on the role of dubbing director and told Molina Foix that he needed two translations of the dialogue: one for the dubbing actors and another for the new subtitles. We have already discussed this issue in the post “Dubbing or subtitles?”
In his book, Molina Foix refers to the challenge for a translator of producing a work in another language, especially if that work uses an invented language such as nadsat (in A Clockwork Orange) or if the film just contains one swear word after another, as is the case in Full Metal Jacket.
As well as being a novelist, Burgess was a linguist, hence his particular ingenuity to give the characters in A Clockwork Orange their own language. The name nadsat comes from a Russian suffix equivalent to “-teen”, as in “thirteen” (in Russian, the names of all the numbers from 11 to 19 end in “nadsat”; similarly in English, the names of all the numbers from 13 to 19 end in “teen”).
Due to the influence of A Clockwork Orange, youngsters at the time did use some of its language, although it did not end up becoming part of popular language.
Nadsat is basically English, but with some words that have been loaned from Russian. It contains influences from Cockney rhyming slang (a very common form of expression in British English, especially among the working classes of London), the King James Bible (English translation of the Bible) and German, but a lot of the words it contains were made up by Burgess.
Most of those words with a Russian influence are loan words that have been adapted slightly to English and which often keep the original Russian pronunciation. One example is the Russian word Lyudi, which becomes lewdies, meaning “people”. Another Russian word is Babushka, which becomes baboochka, meaning grandmother or old woman.
You can imagine the challenge involved in translating Nadsat into another language…
If you’d like to learn a little, here are some examples with the respective English translation:
Girl: devotchkaor ptitsa
And without further ado, we bid you farewell until the next post on our blog… Will we be finding out about other languages like this one?
Share this article: