Document Type

Paper Series

Publication Date





It is a great pleasure to be able to address colleagues and students at Lingnan College on a fresh occasion.* And on this occasion I would like to begin by talking Nonsense!

There was an old man of Hong Kong
Who never did anything wrong;
He lay on his back, with his head in a sack,
That innocuous old man of Hong Kong.

Fortunately I did not have to invent this nonsense-it is of course a limerick by Edward Lear, the Victorian humorist poet. It illustrates vividly the problem which I want to debate with you today-the challenge of Modernist literature-European and American literature largely written between 1880 and 1930 but with antecedents and with descendants through to the post-World War II years and into the 1960s and 1970s-to translation theory and practice. How can one translate into the language of another speech community and culture works that in everyday parlance 'make no sense'? Or at a deeper level, where the language of the work seems to defy or ignore the rules of grammar and syntax and individual words seem no longer connected with the physical or mental reality to which they usually refer?


CLT Occasional Paper Series No. 10

Recommended Citation

Reeves, N. B. R. (1999). At the limits of language: The challenge of modernist literature to translation theories and practice (CLT Occasional Paper Series No.10). Retrieved from Lingnan University website: