CFP: Translating Wordplay, Conference in Lille, France

Loose in Translation: Translating Wordplay.
23-24 March 2017
University of Lille, France

According to Bergson’s definition, wordplay (the comic created by language) is untranslatable, as opposed to the comic expressed by language. This impossibility is nevertheless overcome one way or another as translators find solutions every day: humour, a universal component, can always be translated thanks to equivalence. What immediately comes to mind is play on and with words (anagrams, antanaclasis, puns, spoonerism, paronomasia…), as well as linguistic play (linguistic creations meant to be humorous: portmanteaux words, parody) and linguistic accidents resulting in involuntary wordplay.

If establishing such a typology of wordplay can be tempting, and even useful, humour does not respect convention or rules (be they moral or grammatical), and it calls upon the translator’s creativity. When dealing with the polysemy of wordplay, translators sometimes find a favourable symmetrical solution between languages, but more often than not, one of the original semes must be dropped – when a polysemic link no longer exists, translation becomes more a matter of recreation.

However, translating wordplay does not mean unconditional and unrestricted freedom. Limits define the playground of translation and, therefore, make playing actually possible. Far from restraining play, rules foster creativity within these fixed delimitations. Translating play-on-words questions the translation process in general as it shows there is a lot of give and take in language itself: language has a lot of play because it is inherently unstable, and it is thus necessary to keep some leeway within the mechanics of the translated text.

This conference encourages participants to take into account the cultural dimension of humour and wordplay. Humour will occur differently  depending on context and culture. Translators therefore face a twofold challenge, as they need to negotiate the technical nature of wordplay without losing sight of a global framework.

For this interdisciplinary conference, we invite papers on translating wordplay in all languages, from or into French and English, in the literary and pragmatic fields: political, advertising, audiovisual discourses, taking into account the chosen corpus, the targeted audiences and editorial constraints. The conference languages will be English and French. The inscription fee, which includes breaks and lunches, is 100 euros per person (50 euros for PhD students).

Please send your proposal (300 words max) and short CV to by 15 February 2016.

For questions, please contact Julie Charles at

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