Translation as Defamiliarization: Translating Tawada Yōko’s Wordplay


  • Shani Tobias Monash University, Australia



Keijirō Suga coins the term “translational poetics” to describe the essential similarities between literary translation and creative writing, since both perform a linguistic revolution or transformation. Japanese-German writer, Yoko Tawada, exhibits a literary style that exemplifies this transformative and interactive potential of language, deriving from her self-described existence in the “poetic ravine” or border zone between languages and identities. Many of the characters in her works are also travelers and lack a sense of national identity or most-comfortable language. Tawada forces her readers to question their belief in the naturalness of their native language through a defamiliarizing style that often involves wordplay, such as humorously drawing attention to the literal meaning behind commonly-used idioms and proverbs. This paper focusses on an excerpt from Yoko Tawada’s 2002 work Yōgisha no yakōressha, “To Zagreb”, and its English translation by Margaret Mitsutani, considering how the defamiliarizing effects of Tawada’s wordplay can be conveyed to an English audience. While double meanings and puns are inevitably achieved differently in the two languages, various translation strategies may create similar effects, such as making Japanese and English creatively interact, or exploiting the inherent possibilities of wordplay in English.


Author Biography

Shani Tobias, Monash University, Australia

Dr Shani Tobias coordinates and teaches translation units in the Master of Interpreting and Translation Studies at Monash University. She is also a NAATI-certified translator between Japanese and English. Her research publications focus on cultural and literary translation between Japanese and English, in particular the translation of metaphor.