Giggers, Greeners, Peyserts, and Palliards Rendering Slang in al-Bukhalāʾ of al-Jāḥiẓ

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Kevin Blankinship



Traditionally studied as a window onto Arab-Muslim social reality, the medieval Arabic underworld slang found in Kitāb al­-Bukhalāʾ (The book of misers) by al-Jāḥiẓ (d. 869 CE) and indeed al­-Bukhalāʾ as a whole serve a number of functions and meanings at once, not just historical documentation. Such multiplicity has implications for translation, which should strive to convey the work’s sociolinguistic and textual heterogeneity. With this ideal in mind, this article compares two English versions of the Arabic slang: R. B. Serjeant’s The Book of Misers and Jim Colville’s Avarice and the Avaricious. Serjeant uses transliteration, explicitation, and footnotes to create a “thick translation” that exposes the rich sociolinguistic and textual range. In somewhat of a contrast, Colville employs English colloquialisms and Scots canting slang to produce what might arguably be called “dynamic equivalence,” which stages a natural English reading experience. The comparison raises further questions about the relationship between a translation’s effects and the translator’s intent, as well as between translation and a second process to which it is sometimes compared, namely, reading.

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