NeMLA 2020: Linguistic and Cultural Challenges of Translating Dialects (Roundtable)

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Northeast Modern Language Association
contact email: 

March 5-8, 2020

Boston, MA (Marriot Copley Place)


Linguistic and Cultural Challenges of Translating Dialects (Roundtable)


The relation between standard and dialect is a well-known issue in linguistics. Dialect is often associated with a more colloquial and uneducated register, a misconception that relegates it to the status of “minor language.” As Luigi Bonaffini has noted, “Any critical discussion of works written in dialect is destined to run up against the heavy legacy of prejudices and misunderstandings that has historically weighted upon literature in dialect.” When it comes to the translation of dialect, the generally accepted approach–influenced by the common disdain in which it is held–tends to discourage attempts to translate into a dialect in the target language, preferring instead a translation into the standard language.

This attitude to dialect may pose challenges in the translation of many literary works from different traditions in which dialect plays an important role. Such is the case, for example, in many works in which code switching between dialect and standard speech is relevant in terms both of form and content. In these situations, for the translator to “flatten” the text and overlook or minimize the author’s deployment of translation is to risk unacceptable losses in the translation. To solve this problem and to preserve more of the text’s authenticity, some translators have resorted to using an existing dialect in the target language with which readers may be more or less familiar. Others have instead found it useful to invent their own dialect, drawing on existing parlances but without relying exclusively on a specific one.

This roundtable will explore different ways in which dialect has been rendered in translation, proposing alternative ways to retain and best feature its expressive resources. The purpose is to focus on a variety of languages, in order to cast light on stratagems and solutions that may be suitable for works from different traditions.


Please submit a 250-word abstract and short bio by September 30 through the NeMLA submission page: