University of Cincinnati Lindner College of Business

Sound Symbolism in Translation

Status: Published
Year: 2017
Publication Name: Translation and Interpreting Studies
Volume: 12, Issue: 1, Page Number(s): 137-161


Readers may infer that literary characters are sympathetic or unsympathetic based on the perceived phonetics of character names. Drawing on brand name literature in marketing, we investigate whether Slovene and English speakers can identify sympathetic and unsympathetic characters in Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist based solely on their names, despite being unfamiliar with the novel. Both Slovene and English speakers can make this distinction, suggesting that sound symbolism may help communicate Dickens's intended characterizations. Dickens's documented focus on creating meaningful names suggests the sound symbolism in his characters' names is likely intentional. These findings are relevant to the translating convention of preserving proper names, which leaves spelling intact (given similar alphabets). Preserving the original names in translation may be justified for readers fluent enough to perceive the original name sounds. However, not altering character names in translation may sometimes lead to different phonetic perceptions, which alter the sound symbolic meaning.

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