Thomas Mofolo’s sentence design in Chaka approached in translation


  • Christiaan Swanepoel University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa



literary translation, topography of the page, punctuation marks, source language (SL), target language (TL)


Mofolo’s sentence design in Chaka is a challenge to the translator, not only because of the significant length of the sentences, but in particular for the extensive use of the semicolon, appearing within sentences of “paragraph-length”. This prompted the suggestion that it be referred to as the “semicolon phrase”. This article explores this stylistic feature, amongst others by responding to several compelling questions, ranging from how five translators of the work approached it in their respective languages, possible attitudes and influences, and likely intentions on the part of the author. With regard to the question of how the semicolon phrase should be approached in translation, it is argued that the topography of the page vests in the author who is licensed to shape the text as s/he wishes. Punctuation marks, however, appear to be more negotiable than narrative content, though the shape of the source text should be respected as far as possible. At the same time the target text needs to be approached in accordance with the conventions at work in the target language. The result is a challenging balancing act requiring considerable discretion.


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Author Biography

Christiaan Swanepoel, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa

Christiaan Swanepoel is Professor Emeritus of University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa, Research Fellow in African Languages, and served five years as vice-principal academic and research before retirement. He is a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa.






How to Cite

Swanepoel, C. (2016). Thomas Mofolo’s sentence design in Chaka approached in translation. Tydskrif Vir Letterkunde, 53(2), 132–146.



Research articles