(Another of the exercises I’m giving my Art of Compost class.)
In a homophonic translation, you translate for sound, rather than for sense. For instance, this sentence in French
Je vais aujourd’hui à la maison de mon ami.
sounds roughly like
Juh vase oh zhour dwee a la may zon de moan am ee.
And so its homophonic translation might go
Juvie, so, sure, twee. Ah, lamb, he’s on demon, am ye?
Notice how a word in the French can become two in English, or the end of one word and the start of another, in the French, can fuse to form a single English word. In other words, don’t worry about preserving the boundaries between words.
Notice, too, that the translation isn’t exact—vowel sounds shift a little, and sometimes a voiced consonant (e.g., “d”) becomes unvoiced (“t”).
The exercise. Take a passage of 50-75 words, verse or prose, in a language other than English, and do a homophonic translation into English. It’s better to choose a language that you know how to pronounce, but if there aren’t any of those, just make your best guesses.
Examples follow. You might also check out David Melnick’s Men in Aida.
Louis and Celia Zukofsky, Catullus
Source Text (Latin)
Multus home es, Naso, neque tecum multus homost qui
descendit: Naso, multus es et pathicus.
Mool ’tis homos,’ Naso, ’n’ queer take ’im mool ’tis ho most he
descended: Naso, mool ’tis – is it pathic, cuss.
Christopher Patton, Overject
Source Text (Old English)
Frige mec frodum wordum nelæt þinne ferð on
hælne degol þæt þu deopost cunne nelle icþe min
dyrne gesecgan gifþume þinne hyge cræft hy
lest ⁊þine heortan geþohtas ∙ gleawe men sceolon gieddū
wrixlan god sceal mon ærest hergan fægre fæder user
ne forþon þehe us ætfymþe geteode lif ⁊lænne
willan heusic wile þara leana gemonian ∙ meotud sceal
inwuldre mon sceal oneorþan geong ealdian god us ece
biþ ne wendað hine wyrda nehine wiht dreceþ adl
Fridge me, Frodo. Um, word. Um, nail a thin firth on
hell. Ned—eagle that thou deepest can. Uh, Nellie—itch the mine,
dear. Now you sedge, an’ if thou math in how ye craft, how
lost and thin a heart an you thought as. Glue we men shall on yet. Um,
were Ixlan god, shall man arrest her gain? Fare a fader user.
Knife or than the hay us at fume. The yet ode, life and lane, uh,
will an hay us itch, while, o’there, Alan a’ye money on. Meow. Dude shall
in weld, remand shall on earth, an’ yon gulled Ian, god us each, uh,
both new. Endeth he new word. An’ a he new wicked dreck i’th’addle.
6 thoughts on “Exercise: Homophonic translation”