This is one of my favourite essays from my MA in Translation Theory and Practice. The MA certainly focuses more on the theory side of translation which is evident from this essay. The point of the essay was to compare two translations of a text and discuss their “equivalence” on various levels.

I chose the Jabberwocky because it’s a poem that I grew up with. I learnt the lyrics when I was about 7 and can still recite them in full today. So exploring two Japanese translations were very exciting for me.

You can find the original Japanese translations at the end of the essay.


Two Japanese Jabberwocky Poems


Achieving equivalence when translating a source text (ST) to a target text (TT) in another language is a translator’s main goal.

However, many theorists debate what determines equivalence between texts, whether it is between corresponding lexical utterances (Catford 1965; Baker 1992), on a syntactic level (Nida 1964; Nida 2000; Baker 1992), a semantic level (Nida and Taber 1982; Newmark 1981), stylistic or discursive.

Also, which equivalence a translation will use depends on a number of factors including the type of text, its message, the purpose of the author, the intention of the translator (bias towards ST or TT), and the audience (Newmark 1981: 20-21, 39; Nida and Taber 1982: 31; Nida 2000: 127).

To discuss the various text types, audiences and aims would be too much for a the scope of this essay, so I wish to focus on one text in particular; the poetic work of Lewis Carroll’s  “Jabberwocky”.


Poetry is particularly interesting to analyse in regards to equivalence because it has a strong base in the culture, poetic styles, and abstract meanings of its source language. Translators of poetry have to deal with these issues of translating the meaning versus utterances, to make it faithful to the ST while also making it understandable and meaningful in the TT (see Nida 2000: 131).

This essay will look at these issues when trying to achieve equivalence in two Japanese translations of the “Jabberwocky” by Yanagawa (Carroll 1994) and Sawasaki (2008)., focusing on the lexical aspects of the poems and drawing on previous theories of equivalence, Baker’s in particular.


Equivalence on the Word Level

One way a translation can achieve equivalence is at a lexical or, as Baker (1992) says, at the word level. The “Jabberwocky” is a piece written in 1871 for the book Through the Looking Glass. It was written as, what some people view, a “nonsense poem” (Klug 2000: 4) due to the large number of fabricated words by Caroll. However, when you break down the so-called ‘fabricated’ utterances you can see there is some sense to them in the English language which has been drawn upon in the Japanese translations.

Take the word “frumious” (which describes the Bandersnatch, a fictional monster) for example. In English this word draws upon the words ‘furious’ and ‘fuming’ both of which mean ‘angry’, but ‘fuming’ carries with it a ‘smoking’ meaning as well.

Japanese JabberwockyYagawa has translated this to takeburu which draws on the words takeru which means ‘to be fierce’ and keburu which means ‘to smoke’. Whereas Sawasaki translated this word to iburikurueru, using iburidau, ‘to smoke an animal out’ and kuruu, ‘to go mad’.

Both of these use imagery close to the English “frumious” with similar ‘smoky’ words for ‘fuming’, although they varied on their interpretations of ‘furious’ to ‘fierce’ or ‘mad’.

Baker’s theory of equivalence at the word level focuses on how direct equivalence is unachievable between texts, and so different approaches are needed to achieve equivalence at the word level (Baker 1992: 18-21).

Although she focuses on the issue of translating words with affixes, Baker’s concept of non-equivalence in different forms (ibid: 21) is most appropriate for this issue of fabricated words in the source text.

Both Yagawa and Sawasaki have achieved equivalences for “frumious” by paraphrasing it (ibid: 38), using their own fabricated words in Japanese, a similar tactic as Carroll, who drew upon two words in his native language to create a new one.


Equivalence Through Paraphrasing

Yagawa and Sawasaki do not use this tactic with every fabricated word in the text however, such as with the word “burble” (to describe the noise of the Jabberwocky as it approaches), which Caroll himself was quoted as originating from English words ‘bleat’, ‘murmur’ and ‘warble’ (Carroll 2009).

The translators have tried to achieve equivalence using what Baker calls “translation by paraphrase using unrelated word” (Baker 1992: 38), a tactic similar to the previous one but using a modified subordinate clause rather than changing the form of the language.

Yagawa uses sawaga mashiku which means ‘noisily at full speed’. Sawasaki translates it to domekizuri which uses the onyomi (reading based on the original Chinese) of the kanji meaning ‘angry’, mekimeki, meaning ‘conspicuously’, and zuriagaru which means ‘to creep up’.

Sawasaki uses a similar approach to Carroll by combining three words, which creates a fabricated word in Japanese meaning ‘angrily creeps up conspicuously’. Although he uses the same approach he loses a lot of the original imagery.

Yagawa does attempt to maintain the imagery of the sound the Jabberwocky is making, but neither have drawn upon the full English origins for this word, and have instead focused on the way the creature is moving by translating the word to subordinate clauses.


Direct Equivalence of Non-Fabricated Words

The “Jabberwocky” is not entirely made up of fabricated words and the way the two translators have translated the standard English utterances are important to touch upon.

The phenomenon when a word in the ST has direct correspondence with a word in the TT has been approached by a few theorists, including Catford (1965). He composed the idea of textual equivalence which is “any TL form (text or portion of text) which is observed to be the equivalent of a given SL form (text or portion of text)” (Catford 1965; 27).

He uses the example of ‘son’ in English compared to the French fil, which can also be seen in the “Jabberwocky” where both translators have translated ‘son’ to musuko in Japanese.

Textual equivalence can be viewed at a number of points in the poems where both translators have used the same corresponding utterances, such as tsurugi which means ‘sword’, or mori, ‘forest’.
Japanese JabberwockyHowever, this is not the case with all utterances where you might expect textual equivalence to apply, such as ‘claws’ which Yagawa translates to tsume and Sawasaki translates to kagitsume. The latter meaning ‘hooked claws’ is a slight shift in meaning from the ST for the sake of poetic effect and imagery.

This goes against Catford’s theory of textual equivalence, although he does say that texts which do not have an equivalent in the target language will have shifts in levels or categories of the text (Catford 1965: 73).

Sawasaki, however, did not shift the meaning of the translation because there was no direct translation from the ST. Parallel to textual equivalence Catford theorised what he called formal correspondence.

This is translation that is “only approximate” (idib: 32) because it is achieved when two languages “occupy, as nearly as possible, the ‘same’ place in the ‘economy’ of the TL as the given SL category occupies in the SL” (ibid: 27). Which means that Sawasaki’s translation of ‘claw’ to ‘hooked claw’ can still be considered a form of equivalence as it ‘occupies’ a ‘close approximation’ to the original.


Formal Equivalence

Similar to Catford, Nida theorised formal equivalence, where the “message in the receptor language should match as closely as possible the different elements in the source language.

This means, for example, that the message in the receptor culture is constantly compared with the message in the source culture to determine standards of accuracy and correctness” (Nida in Venuti: 127).

In other words, achieving formal equivalence can be determined by how closely a translator matches the TT to the ST.

There are issues with these approaches however, as Catford and Nida’s approaches display a bias towards the ST, stating that equivalence is only achieved when the TT is translated as close to the original lexis, syntax, style etc. as possible. If this were the case, the already difficult to understand “Jabberwocky” would become completely incomprehensible to a Japanese audience.

However, there are instances in this case where the translator does not use these approaches and completely changes the lexis of the original to suit the target audience. One such instance is the line “He went galumphing back” (Carroll 2009) which Sawasaki translates to kare wa ikitoutou taru gaisen no gyaroppu wo fumu, which back translates to ‘his heart [going] step-step he stepped a triumphant return gallop’.

Although it still conveys the same image of the boy returning, Sawasaki has re-worded it to suit a Japanese audience using Japanese onomatopoeia to form a more descriptive image.


Dynamic Equivalence

In the instance above, the translator has used what Nida calls dynamic equivalence, where in “translation one is not so concerned with matching the receptor-language message with the source-language message, but…the relationship between receptor and message should be substantially the same as that which existed between the original receptors and the message” (Nida 2000: 129).

In other words, at parts in the “Jabberwocky” the translators Sawasaki and Yagawa depart from translating the poem word-for-word and create a dynamic equivalence that re-creates the message and feelings that might have been evoked in Carroll’s original English text for a Japanese audience.


This dynamic approach, according to Nida and Taber (1982 :22), has, in most translations, a higher priority over formal equivalence, and a translator must consider the needs of the audience over the forms of the language (ibid: 31).

This is especially the case in poetry translations where there is a great need to focus on “reproducing the emotional intensity and flavour” (Nida 2000: 127). One should not translate a poem as if it were prose, but compose another poem in the target language which will have a life of its own separate from its source text (Matthews 1959 in Nida 2000: 127).

Japanese JabberwockyThis would explain how both translators have created Japanese versions of the original that convey the original message while also being two different texts in their own right. One example is the line in Carroll’s text “One, two! One, two! And through and through”, which Yagawa translates to Ei, ya! Ei, yaa! Koredemo kato bakari which means ‘Ei, ya! Ei, yaa! Even this [he did] more of’, implying the boy shouting a lot as he fights.

Sawasaki translates this to: ichi, ni! Ichi, ni! Tsuranukite nao mo tsuranuku which is a closer translation to the original, back translating to ‘One, two! One, two! Through and through more’.

As you can see here, both translators have attempted to keep the syntactic structure of the original but have composed their own unique works in Japanese at the same time. Although Yagawa has moved away from the ST more than Sawasaki she has tried to balance the message with the line sounding natural in Japanese.


Accuracy vs Naturalness

Just like Yagawa, translators are faced with the issue of accuracy to the source text and naturalness in the target text, and finding an appropriate balance between the two. Baker discussed this issue in terms of collocations, where translators are faced with “a difficult choice between what is typical and what is accurate” (Baker 1992: 60).

Although a sentence might be changed in the TT, it could inadvertently change the meaning slightly for the target audience. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as certain words and collocations are heavily based in cultural understandings which might not transfer to another culture and changing the meaning slightly may make it more understandable in the TT.

These culturally specific collocations are difficult to observe in the “Jabberwocky” due to the large quantity of fabricated lexis which create non-standard collocations in English in the first place, such as “the Jabberwock with eyes of flame” which is a marked collocation between ‘eyes’ and ‘flame’.

Unusual collocations such as these are what Baker (1992: 55) calls marked collocations, unusual combinations of words deliberately chosen to create new images and to challenge our expectations as readers. This is normally used in fiction, humour, news, advertisements and poetry.

Sawasaki translated this to ryou no manako wo keikei to moyashitaru ‘both eyes glaring and burning’; whereas Yagawa’s translation is manako ranran which means ‘eyes glaring’ or ‘burning’.

Both Sawasaki and Yagawa’s translations have attempted to keep the ‘fiery’ image, but have lost some accuracy in favour of naturalness by using more natural collocations in Japanese with the words that state the Jabberwocky is glaring, which is only implied in the marked collocation in English.

This balance of naturalness and accuracy of message is arguably the most difficult task for a translator in poetry transition due to the cultural embedded ideas and abstract nature of poetry.

Japanese Jabberwocky


There are many issues translators face in order to achieve equivalence, which is most likely why Catford (1965: 27) stated that translation was an “empirical phenomenon”.

This essay discussed how equivalence was achieved in two different Japanese translations of the poem “Jabberwocky”, focusing on the lexical differences based on previous theories of equivalence.

Both Yagawa and Sawasaki handled Carroll’s fabricated words in different ways, although both attempted their own fabricated Japanese words, but neither translator used the exact same wording, instead using their own interpretations of the English to paraphrase the meaning in their translations.

This is the same with the non-fabricated words, as each translator has interpreted them in their own way.

In some instances their translations match with Catford’s theory of textual equivalence, and at other times his theory of formal correspondence, but neither of the full texts match either of his theories entirely.

This is mostly due to a number of issues with Catford’s work, including  his concentrating on achieving equivalence when a TT is as close to the ST as possible, although some shifts may be needed for it to make sense in the TT.

The problem with this is that poetry, especially the “Jabberwocky”, is not something one can directly translate word-for-word, and even with shifts it would not make sense to the target Japanese audience.

Nida and Taber’s theories focus more on the audience and that equivalence is achieved when the message is accurately translated from ST to TT.

I would argue that this is achieved in Yagawa and Sawasaki’s translations, as they attempt to re-create the message and feelings that might have been evoked in Carroll’s original target audience for their Japanese audience.


Poetry, unlike a technical text, is a creative medium and needs to be translated in a creative way for the original message and emotions to transfer to the target audience.

Being too creative and moving away from the ST, however, can risk changing the message and may evoke emotions that are different from what the author originally intended. Jakobson states how, due to distinctive features of verbal code which carry their own autonomous signification, “poetry by definition is untranslatable” (1959: 238).

I would argue that this is not the case with “Jabberwocky” as the Japanese translators have achieved coherent translations that match, as best they can, the same message as the original while also maintaining the creative style of the poem drawing upon some of Carroll’s fabricated lexis.

This maintains a similar feeling as the source text, while also making it more understandable for a Japanese audience by paraphrasing some of the fabricated lexis.

Although in these instances one might argue the translators are losing the meaning of the original and are evoking different emotions, but Baker discusses whether a text coheres or not depends on the individual reader and their understanding of the world (Baker 1992: 233).

By her definition some native Japanese readers might find one poem more equivalent to the source text than others.

This therefore makes it difficult to judge as a scholar if equivalence is achieved in a text or not; although I believe equivalence is achieved in both these poems, other scholars might not.


by Jennifer O’Donnell        Sep 2014



Note: I haven’t listed my references in case someone decides to copy this essay.

(And if someone was stupid enough to copy this essay they will be discovered for plagiarism right away because Universities have programs which check the internet for this kind of stuff.)




Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
He chortled in his joy.

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

By Louis Carroll


ゆうまだきらら しなねばトオヴ

まわるかのうち じゃいってきりる

いとかよわれの おんボロゴオヴ

までたるラアス ほさめすりつつ

「むすこよ 邪婆有尾鬼にゃ心ゆるすな

あぎとも爪も 危険千万


いいか たけぶる万蛇砂魑にも」














でかしたぞ 来い わがピカ天息子

ああ愉快なる日よ あっぱれかっぽれ!」


ゆうまだきらら しなねばトオヴ

まわるかのうち じゃいってきりる

いとかよわれの おんボロゴオヴ

までたるラアス ほさめすりつつ

Translated by Yagawa Sumiko

















一、二! 一、二! 貫きて尚も貫く






                                              おお芳晴(かんば)らしき日よ! 花柳かな! 華麗かな!』



Translated by Sawasaki, Junnokai

Two Japanese Jabberwocky Poems
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments