Original Research

Are ideophones translatable? The case of translating isiZulu ideophones in DBZ Ntuli’s short story Uthingo Lwenkosazana (The Rainbow)

Mthikazi Rose Masubelele
Literator | Vol 39, No 1 | a1408 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v39i1.1408 | © 2018 Mthikazi R. Masubelele | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 04 April 2017 | Published: 12 April 2018

About the author(s)

Mthikazi Rose Masubelele, Department of African Languages, University of South Africa, South Africa


The meaning of words comes into play when words as units of translation are to be translated from one language into another. Lexical items that are extant in one language but not in others pose enormous problems for translators. The translation of ideophones – which feature very prominently in African discourse – is a case in point in this article. Translators faced with the translation of such forms are required to come up with strategies to aptly express their meanings in the target text. This article seeks to establish how CSZ Ntuli, in his English translation of an isiZulu short story Uthingo Lwenkosazana by DBZ Ntuli, has translated some of the ideophones used by the original author. Translation strategies used by CSZ Ntuli in his translation to express the meanings of the isiZulu ideophones will be brought to light in this article. It will be confirmed that CSZ Ntuli, using different lexical forms in the target language, has effectively changed unfamiliar isiZulu cultural notions to concepts that the English target reader can relate to. It will also be shown that the meanings of the isiZulu ideophones can be expressed in the target language using approximation and amplification as translation strategies provided that the translator has a good command of both source and target languages. The discussion will also look at how various translation scholars view the notion of equivalence at word level, and research on ideophones in isiZulu will also be reviewed.


ideophones; meaning; equivalence; translation strategy; approximation


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