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Maria Todorova

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Wordplay in Chapter 7 A Mad Tea-party of Alice in Wonderland
(contrastive analysis of the original and Lazar Goldmans Bulgarian translation)
In the following paper, I will try to analyze the linguistic differences in the English and
Bulgarian texts of the chapter, focusing on the instances of wordplay inherent to Lewis Carrolls
writing and the techniques Goldman has used to render them in Bulgarian. The subtle humour of
the story relies heavily on the different nuances of meaning in language and is realized mainly in
the characters communication, the way they use and abuse puns, and more lightly in the choice
of their proper names. Lazar Goldman has rendered a narrative truthful to the original in terms of
plot, however, wordplay depends extensively on words linguistic features and the slightest
difference in those features in the source and target language poses a great challenge to the
translator. I will focus on the solutions that Goldman has come up with in order to reconcile those
situations and I will also comment on the linguistic differences between English and Bulgarian
that can be observed in these instances.
Humour in this chapter springs mainly from the several instances of wordplay. In his
essay on puns, Introduction, Dirk Delibatista defines wordplay as the general name for the
various textual phenomena in which structural features of the language(s) are exploited in
order to bring about a communicatively significant confrontation of two (or more) linguistic
structures with more or less similar forms and more or less different meanings (DD). In this
chapter of his book, Carroll present several great examples of horizontal wordplay, which,
according to Delibatista, happens when the development of the pun is on the syntagmatic level
and its separate elements are presented in a consequent manner. Delibatista classifies puns
according to the linguistic feature that they are constructed upon (phonological structure,
semantic structure, morphological structure, etc.) which makes wordplay and its translation an
interesting domain for contrastive analysis. Lets observe the linguistic aspect of Lazar
Goldmans translation of these instances.
In the first case, we have witty wordplay works on two levels firstly, combining
different collocations with the word time in two different meanings and, secondly, presenting
time as an animate object. I have divided the corpus of examples that I am going to use for the
analysis according to those two levels and I am going to comment on each of the steps in the
development of the pun in both languages:

Maria Todorova
FN: 968M

1st level:

do something better with the time - -

wasting it -
In those first two instances, the semantic aspect of the collocations doesnt create a
problem since they would sound just as fine in Bulgarian. For the first one, Goldman has chosen
two semantically more narrow words for do () and better (-) which has
led to a change in syntax as well. In English, time is a complement in a prepositional phrase,
which in combination with the preposition with suggests a possible meaning of time being a
participant in the action. In Bulgarian, however, is the object of the verb
(use) which rather makes it the recipient of the action. This change, although minor and not
changing the core meaning, slightly deviates from the following development of Time as a
personified agent.

to beat time - ,
The situation here is slightly different since the equivalence in meaning is achieved on the
referential level the text differs both lexically and grammatically. Translating the idiomatic
expression beat time to its Bulgarian closest counterpart wouldnt have been enough
considering the context of wordplay. Therefore, the translator has used another strategy using a
grammatically equivalent phrase as a start ( ) and then adding the adverbial
modifier to preserve the dualistic semantic aspect of beat making the pun
achievable in Bulgarian.
2nd level:

If you knew Time as well as I doyou wouldnt talk about wasting it. Its him.
, ,
. . .
The personification of time bears a twofold implication as I already mentioned, in
English it is treated as a participant rather than a recipient of the previous actions, and secondly,
the device relies on the difference of 3rd person singular pronouns for male and for inanimate
objects. This difference doesnt exist in the Bulgarian pronominal system since our pronouns
differ in terms of gender (which includes the neuter gender) and not in terms of

Maria Todorova
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animate/inanimate opposition. Whats more, the object pronouns in the original (it and him) have
identical former correspondents in Bulgarian ( or ). Goldmans decision here is to
lexicalize the semantic aspect of personification, making it a subject complement in the sentence
. and he has also decided to further add the sentence
. This in a way explains the pun but is not excessive since the wordplay in
Bulgarian cant be as subtle as the English version in this case.

it wont stand beating -

In this clause, we see the combination of both the pun and the personification. As far as the pun is
concerned, the translator has preserved the reference of beat but has used a different Bulgarian
verb. In the first element of the pun, Goldman uses the adverbial modifier ,
where time is neither a participant nor a recipient of the action the translator just lays ground
for the development of the (+violence) segment of the pun. In ,
however, time has become the recipient of the action. I personally dont find a reason for the use
of a different verb to cover the (+violence) element, but that was the translators decision. A
linguistic contrast between English and Bulgarian, which is observed in this clause is the
correspondence between the present participle in English and the Bulgarian infinitive. In English
verbs of tolerance, likes and dislikes such as stand, love, like, hate, enjoy take the gerund form of
the verb, signifying the action that is the object of the main verb. Thus, the English present
participle can correspond not only to its Bulgarian counterpart ( in this case), but to the
infinitive or even to a verbal noun (). The translator has chosen to use the infinitive and
what makes the present case even more interesting is the fact that, in English, the verb implies
that time is the recipient of the beating, while in Bulgarian this is made possible through the
addition of the object pronoun .
The last element of this pun is in the sentence:

Hes murdering the time. .

Firstly, the collocation in English is an expansion on the idiomatic expression to kill
time, which exists in Bulgarian as , meaning the same. In English, the deviation

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from the set phrase is in the choice of verb and in the addition of the definite article, which can
have two readings as a definite reference to the Time character in the story, or to another
meaning of the word time. The latter is highly possible because of the context of the story the
Hatter was singing when the Queen bawled out the fatal sentence and time bears a secondary
meaning of the number of beats in each bar in a piece of music presenting time as rhythm.
Having those semantic considerations in mind, we can say that the author achieves a highly
sophisticated play on words integrating various aspects of meaning in one single phrase. This is
almost unachievable in Bulgarian, but Goldman has tried to do the best that he could. The
definiteness of time is in the inflection -, and he has also added a possessive . In this way,
although losing the reference to musical time, the translator reconciles the phrases
and , thus keeping the wordplay on a satisfactory level.
The next example of wordplay from this chapter is the play with two of the meanings of
the verb draw:

to make a picture, pattern, line etc. using a pen or pencil;

take liquid from something take water from a well.

In order to analyze the linguistic changes that Goldman has introduced, lets observe the
development of the pun in both texts:

they were learning to draw


What did they draw? ?


You can draw water out of a water-wellyou could draw water out of a treacle-well


Maria Todorova
FN: 968M

They were learning to draw and they drew all manner of things -
As we can see, the wordplay in English relies only on the polysemy of the verb draw.

Since there isnt a lexical equivalent that possesses the same dual meaning in Bulgarian,
Goldman had to resort to other means in order to preserve the comic effect. His choice of strategy
is to construct the pun on the basis of phonological features, something which Delibatista refers
to as soundplay and explains as punning in which sound provides the basis for lexical
association (DD). In elements 1, 2 and 3, Goldman has used two different translations of draw
and (or , which Alice supposedly heard), apparently striving to create
a phonological connection, which compensates for the semantical one in the original.
What is also noticed in this instance is the difference in the grammatical realization of
tense in English and Bulgarian. In the English text, we have the infinitive to draw (in 1 and 3),
and then, the past tense realized through the auxiliary did and the bare infinitive draw. In
Bulgarian, all those instances of the verb bear different inflections for the referential
purposes of the sentence they are found in. In the first sentence, the infinitive (or the
supposed ) is in agreement with the subject, which is realized through its inflection for 3rd
person plural -. In the second sentence, we see how the Question word + auxiliary +
subject + bare infinitive structure in English corresponds only to question word + verb. This is
so because of the way questions and tense are represented grammatically in Bulgarian. Firstly, we
have no auxiliaries which possess the nice properties, the question word in the beginning of the
sentence, which simultaneously places the unknown object in initial position instead of after the
verb, is a sufficient marker. Furthermore, Goldman has rendered the Past Simple of the original in
the so called inferential mood (), the use of which is typical for narratives from the
viewpoint of a non-witness. This is a perfect grammatical choice, since the context is of the
Dormouses telling a story. The mood is, again, realized in an inflection (-), which also bears
the 3rd person plural of the subject.
The pun advances in a similar manner in the next sentences, only this time, Goldman adds
further lexical content, which doesnt exist in the original in order to make the phonological play
possible (element 4). In this way, Goldman divides the pun of the original into two separate ones
in order to preserve the humour. This time, the soundplay involves the words and

Maria Todorova
FN: 968M
, which in my opinion, is possible not only because of the repetition of , but also
because of the identical inflections for 3rd person plural -. Whats more, in order to keep
the backbone of the pun, which is in the polysemy of draw, the translator had to include a word
from the same semantic field which at the same time has a phonological counterpart which allows
for soundplay. As far as the choice of is concerned, I believe it shows talent and
cunningness on the translators part to come up with a phonologically related word, which can
also be related to the context of the original (the sisters lived in a well full of liquid), and at the
same time not to harm the narrative with this creative addition.
In the last sentence, we see Goldman expanding the semantic field hes created on the
basis of draw now it includes , , . Thus, he has managed to keep the
wordplay and most of its reference, by relying on common semantic and phonological features
instead of the polysemy of the original.
Another instance of wordplay, which, however, I dont believe works in the Bulgarian
text, can be observed in the following exchange:
Take some more tea,
Ive had nothing yet, so I cant take more.
You mean you cant take lessits very easy to take more than nothing.
- ?
- , -
, .
In English, the wordplay relies on the opposition between more and less, which
correspond to the Bulgarian and -. However, in Bulgarian, the more common
phrase for this pragmatic purpose is rather than since more takes up the
position of in English with the meaning of an additional number or amount (LDOC). This
strategy works for the second line, where the referential meaning of take more and is
the same and the idea of adding something to nothing, therefore having more than nothing, is the

Maria Todorova
FN: 968M
basis of Alicas remark. Whats more, Goldman changes the subordinate clause so I cant take
more into an interrogative sentence. In this way he switches the expression of inability from the
negative modal cant into a rhetorical question. In the next line, however, the translator
preserves the words of the Hatter both in them being a remark and in the negative modal, which
might confuse the reader as to what is the pragmatic connection between the two lines of the
exchange. Furthermore, in the third line of the conversation, the wordplay reverses the reference
from more to less, and the translator, once chosen is left without a Bulgarian word opposite
in meaning. There is no way to compensate for this semantic gap, and the translator just goes on
in the lines of the original (less -), preserving the meaning of the exchange but, in my
opinion, losing a great deal of the comic effect. In the last sentence ( ,
.) even the very element of wordplay is omitted (there is neither
nor ) and the translator relies on the verb to convey the meaning of adding
something. The nothing part of the message is conveyed through the negative past indefinite
tense of the verb ( ).
An interesting observation on the more essential grammatical differences between English
and Bulgarian, which can be made from this exchange, although not playing a part in the weaving
of the wordplay, is the way the negative is formed in both languages. In English we have the
modal can with as its Bulgarian counterpart. Since in English, modals take the nice
properties in the VP, the expression of inability is found in the negative particle not, attached to
can. In Bulgarian, there is also a negative particle , but it comes before the verb and, unlike in
English, it cannot be contracted.
When it comes to the names of the characters, I believe those of the March Hare and the
Dormouse can also be analyzed as wordplay. In English, the name of the March Hare has a
dictionary meaning of:

a hare during its breeding season in March, noted for its wild and excitable
behaviour (esp in the phrase mad as a March hare)
The origin of the characters name is important most of all because of the following

`We quarrelled last March--just before he went mad, you know--' (pointing with his tea
spoon at the March Hare,) -

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, (
Although there isnt an idiomatic expression in Bulgarian similar to as mad as a March
hare, at least the referential meaning of the exchange is more-or-less preserved since Goldman
has used a literal translation of the name. What is more intriguing, however, is the fact that, in
English, the name of the month can become a pre-modifier without undergoing any
morphological change. This is not the case in Bulgarian, where the pre-modifier is an adjective
derived from the noun by the addition of a derivational suffix -. Whats more, in
English the definite article the is a separate particle functioning as a central determiner in the NP,
while in Bulgarian the definiteness of the proper name is realized through the inflection -. In
the case of the Dormouses name, however, Goldmans strategy is completely different. He has
translated it as with the possible consideration that it is an animal more familiar to
the Bulgarian audience than a dormouse would be (whose Bulgarian equivalent is
/). The characters name is important because it is related to the narrative where
the Dormouses most salient characteristic is its always being sleepy or falling asleep. With the
choice of , this relation would have been preserved.
The last fragment that I am going to discuss is the following:
Theres no such thing
I dare say there may be one.
One, indeed!
- !
- .
- !
This exchange, although not a full-fledged example of wordplay still goes in the lines of
the language games Carrolls characters constantly provoke. What we can see here is the use of
one as a cohesive device for substitution (referring to the treacle-well the characters are
discussing). Therefore, in the last sentence, the Dormouse oversees this use of one in order to
make his indignant remark, in which the salient meaning of one is of a numerical signifying a
single object. Goldman has preserved this connection between the separate elements by using the

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phrase , where although exists in its numerical meaning and not a
substitute, allows for the Dormouses remark.
In conclusion, I believe this chapter of Alice in Wonderland introduces some of the most
intriguing instances of how meaning can be used and distorted on the basis of different linguistic
correspondences. It becomes even more interesting when those have to be rendered in another
language. It serves as a great example how pragmatic equivalence can be achieved in a target
language by using different linguistic structures and correspondences and also gives the
opportunity for the analysis of some of the other more basic linguistic differences between two

(LDCE): Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, Fifth Edition Pearson
(Collins): Collins English Dictionary Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014
HarperCollins Publishers 1991, Limited 1978, 2009

Maria Todorova
FN: 968M
(DD): Delabastita, Dirk. 1996. Introduction. In Wordplay and Translation: Essays on
Punning and Translation, Dirk Delabastita (ed.), 122. Special issue of The Translator 2 (2)
Carroll, Lewis. 1865. Alice in Wonderland, Oxford Childrens Classics 2010 Edition
, . 1865 , : , 1996,