Translating Humour in Audiovisual Texts
Table Of Contents
- About the Author
- About the Book
- This eBook can be cited
- Table of Contents
- Foreword: Humour and audiovisual translation: an overview: Elisa Perego
- Preface: Laugh and the world laughs with you: tickling people’s (transcultural) fancy: Delia Chiaro
- 1. Humour and Translation
- 2. Humour and Audiovisuals
- Introducción: La combinación de lenguas como mecanismo de humor y problema de traducción audiovisual: Patrick Zabalbeascoa
- 1. Introducción
- 2. Un breve repaso a las variables del humor pertinentes a la traducción
- 3. Fawlty Towers y ’Allo ’Allo: dos casos ilustrativos
- 4. El desarrollo de una mayor concienciación de L3 y su variabilidad
- 5. Las variables de L3TP
- 6. Resumen de las variables para L3
- 7. Combinaciones lingüísticas de L3TM
- 8. Conclusión
- Section 1: Humor and Cartoons
- Audiovisual humour transfer strategies in the Italian, German and Hungarian dubbed versions of Shrek the Halls: Judit Mudriczki
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Translation strategies, quality and audiovisual humour
- 3. Translation Theory Applied
- 3.1. Smooth Humour Transfer
- 3.2. Visual Clue Constrained Humour Transfer
- 3.3. Adaptive Humour Transfer
- 4. Conclusion
- Translating verbally expressed humour in dubbing and subtitling: the Italian versions of Shrek: Vincenza Minutella
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Classification of humorous instances in the Shrek films
- 3. Analysis
- 4. Conclusions
- Accent and dialect as a source of humour: the case of Rio: Silvia Bruti
- 1. Introduction
- 2. The genre and its constraints
- 3. Sociolinguistic variation in Rio and its Italian dubbed version
- 3.1. Reflecting on accents and dialects in animated films
- 4. Conclusions
- Back to Brazil: humor and sociolinguistic variation in Rio: Gian Luigi De Rosa
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Translating humor in audiovisual texts
- 2.1. Verbally Expressed Humor and Non-verbally Expressed Humor
- 3. Verbally Expressed Humor and Linguistic Variation in Rio
- 3.1. Cultural stereotypes in Verbal e Non-verbal Humor
- 3.2. Between Cross-language humor and comedy of errors
- 4. Conclusions
- Humour e giochi di parole in Astérix et Obélix : Mission Cléopâtre. Quali strategie nella traduzione audiovisiva?: Alessandra Rollo
- 1. Introduzione
- 2. La traduzione audiovisiva: peculiarità e problematiche
- 3. Lo humour e la traduzione audiovisiva
- 4. Astérix et Obélix : Mission Cléopâtre. Trama e curiosità
- 5. Strategie traduttive
- 5.1. VEH invariato
- 5.2. Sostituzione (linguistica e/o umoristica)
- 5.3. Naturalizzazione/Adattamento
- 5.4. Antroponimi
- 5.5. Compensazione
- 5.6. Omissione
- 6. Per concludere
- Culture, language, and humour: adapting wordplay in the Italian version of Wreck-it-Ralph: Elena Manca & Daesy Aprile
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Adapting wordplay in audiovisual translation
- 2.1. Verbally expressed humour and translation
- 2.2. Verbally expressed humour and screen translation
- 2.3. Wreck-it Ralph and Ralph Spaccatutto: the analysis
- 2.3.1. Nesquik sand and hopless
- 2.3.2. Hero’s Doodie
- 2.3.3. Fungeon
- 2.3.4. Pixslexia
- 2.3.5. Pay per play
- 3. Conclusion
- Section 2: Translating Transcultural Humor
- A tragicomic Australian film in Italian translation: finding something funny in Muriel’s Wedding: Brigid Maher
- 1. Suburban satire
- 2. The umorismo and pathos of life in Porpoise Spit
- 3. Concluding remarks
- Commedia in scompiglio: One, Two, Three. Il multilinguismo come veicolo di umorismo: Giuseppe De Bonis
- 1. Introduzione
- 2. Il ruolo del multilinguismo sul grande schermo
- 2.1. Il significato del multilinguismo al cinema
- 2.2. Multilinguismo: conflitto e confusione
- 2.3. Il multilinguismo come veicolo di umorismo
- 3. One, Two, Three: multilinguismo, umorismo e scelte traduttive
- 3.1. La scena dei commissari russi
- 3.2. La visita del medico tedesco
- 3.3. L’interrogatorio di Otto
- 4. Considerazioni conclusive
- La variación en la recepción del humor como elemento cultural en la traducción audiovisual: Un estudio de caso: Lucía Ruiz Rosendo
- 1. Introducción: humor, texto e imagen en la traducción audiovisual
- 2. Descripción, presentación y justificación del corpus
- 2.1. La película: Crimen Ferpecto
- 2.1.1. Argumento
- 2.2. Características del humor de la película
- 3. La traducción de las referencias culturales en los textos audiovisuales
- 4. Análisis contrastivo entre la versión original y la versión subtitulada al inglés
- 5. Estudio experimental
- 5.1. Establecimiento de la hipótesis
- 5.2. Diseño
- 5.3. Sujetos
- 5.4. Instrumentos de medida
- 5.5. Procedimiento
- 5.6. Resultados
- 5.6.1. Recepción en tiempo real
- 5.6.2. Resultados de las encuestas post-visionado
- 5.7. Discusión
- 6. Conclusiones
- Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis – Giù al nord: lo stesso film? Sull’intraducibilità dello humour: Elisa Lupetti
- 1. La traduzione dello humour
- 2. Il caso di Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis
- 3. Lo humour situazionale
- 4. Lo humour linguistico
- Convenzioni Di Trascrizione
- Lo humor di Almodóvar tradotto in italiano. Casi emblematici di doppiaggio e sottotitolaggio in ¡Átame!, La flor de mi secreto e Todo sobre mi madre: Beatrice Garzelli
- 1. Introduzione
- 2. Humor e filmografia
- 2.1. Almodóvar tra esperpento e humor negro
- 3. ¡Átame! (1990): umorismo sadico o ironia e ribaltamento della normalità?
- 4. La flor de mi secreto (1995): amore frustrato e situazioni umoristiche
- 5. Todo sobre mi madre (1999): Agrado e lo humor con valore terapeutico
- 6. Conclusioni
- Humour partenopeo e varietà linguistiche nel doppiaggio spagnolo di Benvenuti al Sud: Antonella De Laurentiis
- 1. Introduzione
- 2. Obiettivi del lavoro
- 3. Umorismo linguistico e stereotipi: varietà diatopica
- 4. Analisi della varietà diafasica: uso delle forme allocutive e delle espressioni idiomatiche
- 5. Umorismo, stereotipi e linguaggio non verbale
- 6. Riflessioni conclusive
- Section 3: Dubbing Humor
- Dubbing or subtitling humour: does it really make any difference?: Juan José Martínez Sierra
- 1. Dubbing and subtitling
- 2. The study of the translation of humour in audiovisual texts
- 3. Precedents to the present study
- 4. Classification of humorous elements
- 5. Dubbed humour and subtitled humour: the comparison
- 6. Presentation and interpretation of the results
- 7. Final words
- It don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that sync – An analysis of word order, kinesic synchrony and comic timing in dubbed humour: Giovanna Di Pietro
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Word order, kinesic sync and comic timing in sitcoms
- 3. Research aims and methodology
- 4. Data analysis and findings
- 5. Translation strategies
- 5.1. Word-for-word translation
- 5.2. Omission of the relevance of word order
- 5.3. Change in grammatical category
- 5.4. Rewriting
- 5.5. Reduction
- 5.6. Addition
- 5.7. Reordering
- 6. Conclusions and further remarks
- Tradurre lo humor nei sottotitoli per ipoudenti: la “Kiez-Komödie” Die Friseuse di Doris Dörrie (2010): Claudia Buffagni
- 1. Die Friseuse: tra dramma e commedia
- 2. Umorismo à la DDR: una “Kiez-Komödie” dell’Est
- 3. Tipi di humor verbale
- 3.1. Giochi di parole
- 3.2. Allusioni culturospecifiche
- 3.3. Ironia verbale
- 3.4. Errori e humor involontario
- 3.5. L’uso del regioletto
- 4. Tecniche di traduzione audiovisiva per ipoudenti
- 4.1. I sottotitoli per ipoudenti
- 4.2. La traduzione dello humor nei sottotitoli per ipoudenti di Die Friseuse
- 4.2.1. Giochi di parole
- 4.2.2. Allusioni culturospecifiche
- 4.2.3. Ironia verbale
- 4.2.4. Errori e humor involontario
- 4.2.5. Uso del regioletto
- 5. Conclusioni
- Il comico verbale della Canção de Lisboa (1933): traducibilità e reinvenzione: Valeria Tocco
- Diversità culturale e umorismo nel film Maria, ihm schmeckt’s nicht!: Laura A. Colaci
- 1. Premessa
- 2. Obiettivi dell’analisi, metodologia e descrizione del materiale
- 3. Riferimenti culturali e humour nel film Maria, ihm schmeckt’s nicht!
- 3.1. Riferimenti intralinguistici
- 3.2. Riferimenti extralinguistici
- 4. Adattamenti culturali
- 5. Conclusioni
- Section 4: Subtitling Humor
- The Switch: an analysis of the film’s conversational humour in terms of Grice’s Cooperative Principle – and of its transfer into Swedish subtitles: Thorsten Schröter
- 1. Pragmatics
- 2. Grice’s Cooperative Principle
- 3. The Gricean maxims
- 4. Politeness
- 5. Breaking the maxims
- 5.1. Violation
- 5.2. Opting out
- 5.3. Clash
- 5.4. Flouting
- 6. Humour
- 7. The film studied
- 8. Examples of Switch humour analyzed in terms of the Gricean maxims
- 8.1. A pun
- 8.2. How (not) to talk with children
- 8.3. What to do?!
- 8.4. A more complex example
- 9. Overall situation regarding the humour in The Switch
- 10. So, what about the Swedish subtitles?
- 10.1. Wordplay
- 10.2. When utterances are not brief, clear and orderly
- 10.3. Culture-specific references
- 10.4. Other cases
- 11. Conclusion
- “Volver a inmadurar” e altri “funny tricks of time”. Decrescita, umorismo, prenotorietà e traduzione delle canzoni nelle versioni italiana e spagnola del film Mamma mia!: Marco Cipolloni
- 1. Decrescere, decrescere, decrescere
- 2. Ambiente cosmopolita, musica transnazionale, utopia transgenerazionale e umorismo translinguistico
- 3. Cover musical, remaking e destrutturazione del leading vocal
- 4. Generi e generazioni: il complesso di Edipo (aka Sophie & The Dynamos) in concerto
- 5. Long ago, another starry night like this
- 6. Semantica carnevalesca del Sun&Fun
- 7. Comedy of errors e doppi sensi
- 8. Taking future… even if you fail
- Fostering creativity in the translation of humour. The Stable Hyper-Islands Procedure: Francesca Bianchi
- 1. Introduction
- 1.1. Humour and translation
- 1.2. Creativity and translation: stages and cognitive processes
- 1.3. Creativity and translation: strategies
- 2. Teaching creativity in translation
- 2.1. The Stable Hyper-Islands Procedure (SHIP)
- 3. Some applied examples
- 3.1. An apparently straightforward line
- 3.2. A very complex line
- 4. Concluding remarks
- Section 5: Translating Humor in Video Games
- Playing with humor: the translation of humor in video games: Ornella Lepre
- 1. Humor in video games: general considerations
- 2. A thin fourth wall: humor and intertextuality
- 3. Humor and gameplay
- 3.1. Choices and consequences
- 3.2. Humor in wordplay: when translation is no joke
- 4. Conclusions
- Transcreating humor in video games: the use of Italian diatopic varieties and their effects on target audiences: Pietro Luigi Iaia
- 1. Theoretical background
- 1.1. Culture-bound transcreation processes: definition and limits
- 1.2. Theories of humor production applied to the selected Video Games
- 2. Corpus and method
- 3. Analysis
- 3.1. Case Study 1: Super Paper Mario
- 3.2. Case Study 2: Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s inside story
- 3.3. Case Study 3: Final Fantasy IX
- 4. Audience reception
- 5. Conclusions
Humour and audiovisual translation: an overview
Audiovisual translation (AVT) is a long established practice. It can be traced back to the origins of cinema, i.e., to the silent era, and it grew more complex during the transition to the sound era, when intertitles transformed into subtitles, early dubbing arose, and multiple-language versions as well as multilingual scripts had to be handled. For over 80 years now AVT has played a major role in satisfying the ever growing need to make film products readily available in numerous countries around the world. There are several known modes of AVT. They include the more common dubbing and subtitling (in its inter- and intra-lingual forms), and the less widespread voice-over, narration and commentary, and they now also embrace audio description for the blind. It is known that historical factors, financial means, cultural background, political orientation, linguistic choices and geographical dynamics have influenced countries around the world in choosing the form which better suited them, and most of them still stick to them (Perego & Taylor, 2012).
Once established, AVT soon aroused intense interest on the part of practitioners and scholars who started to feel the need to understand its inner mechanisms. Orero (2009) sets 1932 as the earliest date for research on AVT, which however began to be considered as part of the discipline of Translation Studies only around the 1980s, after considerable stiff resistance. Indeed, as Chaume (2004, but see also Kozloff, 2000; Pardo, 2013) points out, audiovisual texts had long been scorned and considered aesthetically inferior to literary works, which is the reason why AVT had been excluded as a discipline till relatively recently. Gambier (2003) claims that 1995, i.e., the date of the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the cinema, is when AVT really started to flourish, perhaps due to the fact that the 90s was a period of great advance in new ← 9 | 10 → technology. Díaz Cintas (2009) agrees, and sees in the close of the 20th century the moment of major expansion of interest in the topic.
Since AVT has been ascribed a clear role within the field of Translation Studies and as a university discipline (at least in some countries, e.g. Gottlieb, 1992), many scholars have begun to dissect its various properties. Initially, interest converged on very broad linguistic, technical, and translational aspects. Very soon however a strong need arose to tackle more specific and particularly challenging areas. Humour is one of them. Nowadays, as all the contributors to this volume point out, the literature on humour in AVT is abundant.
Most studies published on the subject are case studies and they consider the rendering of humour in dubbing and in subtitling, virtually excluding the analysis of this complex event in other forms of AVT (with some rare yet notable exceptions: Martínez-Sierra, 2009, 2010, for instance, has recently made the first attempt to study humour in audio description for the blind). In line with this tendency, this volume includes ten papers focussing specifically on dubbing, five papers focussing specifically on subtitling (standard subtitling, with the exception of Buffagni, who considers German intralingual subtitling for the deaf and hard of hearing), and four papers which consider and contrast both modes. The translation into Italian of US English videogames is also tackled in two contributions (Lepre and Iaia). A more general and theoretically grounded picture of humour and AVT is offered by Chiaro in her preface and by Zabalbeascoa, whose introductory contributions open the volume and set the ground for the works that follow.
The case studies presented in the volume all attempt to analyze and to describe the strategies used to render specific aspects of such a complex phenomenon in languages and cultures that are different from the languages and the cultures in which the products in question had originally been conceived. All of them are descriptive papers attempting to explain what it means to deal with humour in translation, and to understand the reasons for those translation tendencies and choices that have determined the success or failure, the appreciation or the disapproval of a given product abroad.
In terms of genres, the range of products analyzed in the volume is wide but it understandably focusses on humour-based genres, which tend to feature (verbally and nonverbally expressed) humorous instances. Consequently, it is most often comedy that appears to be chosen for ← 10 | 11 → analysis (as in the papers of Colaci, De Bonis, De Laurentiis, Lupetti, Rollo, Schröter). After all, comedy, which is a hybrid film genre, “merges together a series of narrative functions linked to humorous effects” (Bruti & Perego, 2008: 16, but see also Brancato, Denunzio & Frezza, 2001, and Dirk, 2006) – in a nutshell, in comedy language exaggerations and laughter-provoking, light-hearted plots are carefully contrived to amuse and entertain the viewer. Similar genres and sub-genres are likewise chosen. In particular, animations (aka cartoons and animated comedies, and analyzed by Bianchi, Bruti, De Rosa, Minutella, Mudriczki) which are entertaining products, but also US serial comedies and serial animations (Di Pietro, Martínez-Sierra), which typically portray hilarious situations and exploit verbal humour to amuse their audiences (Bruti & Perego, 2008: 31). Instances of humour have been detected and analyzed also in dramas and comedy-dramas (Buffagni, Garzelli, Maher), in spite of their being typically intense, plot-driven, realistic portrayals of life and character relationships (Dirk, 2006). The pervasiveness of humour enables it to infiltrate also in musical and dance films (Cipolloni) and in thrillers (Rosendo), and to be functional even in videogames (Iaia, Lepre), which are special types of highly interactive and engaging audiovisual texts, often exploiting comedic purposes to involve the player.
The humorous effect of games and that of different film genres is achieved through an infinite number of resources. In fact, universally humorous situations are very rare. The fact that the means to achieve comic effects are countless and not always shared, and the fact that they depend on the languages and the modes of AVT in question, certainly challenges the translator in several ways, as all the case studies gathered in this volume meticulously show.
In particular, the range of both source and target languages taken into account by the authors is considerably wide. The former include US English (Bianchi, Bruti, Cipolloni, De Bonis, De Rosa, Di Pietro, Iaia, Lepre, Martínez-Sierra, Minutella, Mudriczki, Schröter) which dominates the scene and is accompanied by the Australian variety (Maher), but they also include fewer instances of other languages: French (Lupetti, Rollo), German (Buffagni, Colaci) and Spanish (Garzelli, Rosendo), Italian (De Laurentiis) and European Portuguese (Tocco). On the other hand, the target languages that are considered are dominated by Italian (Bianchi, Bruti, Cipolloni, Colaci, De Bonis, De Rosa, Di Pietro, Garzelli, Iaia, Lepre, Lupetti, Maher, Minutella, Mudriczki, Rollo) but also ← 11 | 12 → include Spanish (Cipolloni, De Laurentiis, De Rosa, Martínez-Sierra), English (Rosendo, Tocco), German (Buffagni, Mudriczki), French (Tocco), Brazilian and European Portuguese (De Rosa), Mexican Spanish (De Rosa), Hungarian (Mudriczki) and Swedish (Schröter).
As mentioned earlier, the modes of AVT that have been taken into account are dubbing and subtitling. The analysis of the translation of humour in such a wide combination of languages and AVT modes enables us to identify at least some trends and preferences. Most papers, for instance, show that compensation in the most diverse forms is regularly resorted to when translators have to handle humour, and a dynamic (vs. formal) equivalence (Nida, 1964) is typically opted for to overcome the hurdles. Handling the infinite humour-making resources that different languages use is challenging. However, losses can be mitigated, humourous instances can be relocated, and further layers of meaning can be added in the target texts. However, if it is true, as most papers highlight, that the role and the skills of the translator as creative problem-solver and adapter is central, and if it is true that granting him/her more working time and better working conditions might improve the quality of the end-product, it is also true that the audience need to be active and collaborative: interpretative creativity is a prerequisite, and a responsibility, for both translators and audiences. But in the final analysis it is the audience’s ability to (re)interpret the translated product that plays a major role in its final appreciation and enjoyment, especially as regards the humorous nuances of the film he or she has decided to watch.
Bruti, S. & Perego, E. (2008). Vocatives in subtitles: A survey across genre. In C. Taylor (Ed.), Ecolingua. The role of e-corpora in translation, language learning and testing (pp. 11–51). Trieste: EUT.
Chaume, F. (2004). Cine y traducción. Madrid: Cátedra.
Díaz Cintas, J. (2009). Introduction – Audiovisual translation: An overview of its potentials. In J. Díaz Cintas (Ed.), New trends in audiovisual translation (pp. 1–18). Bristol: Multilingual Matters. ← 12 | 13 →
Gambier, Y. (2003). Introduction. Screen transadaptation: Perception and reception. Screen translation, Y. Gambier (Ed.), [Special issue] The translator, 9, 2, 171–189.
Gottlieb, H. (1992). Subtitling – A new university discipline. In C. Dollerup & A. Loddegaard (Eds.), Teaching Translation and Interpreting: Training, Talent and Experience (pp. 161–170). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Kozloff, S. (2000). Overhearing film dialogue, Berkeley: University of California Press.
Dirks, T. (2006). Film genres. Retrieved July, 29, 2014, from <http://www.filmsite.org/genres.html>.
Brancato, S., Denunzio, F. & Frezza, G. (2001). Comico e commedia. Corpi e mutamenti. In G. Frezza (Ed.), Fino all’ultimo film. L’evoluzione dei generi nel cinema (pp. 65–109). Roma: Editori Riuniti.
Martínez-Sierra, J. J. (2009). The relevance of humour in audio description. Intralinea, 11. Retrieved July, 29, 2014, from <http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/The_Relevance_of_Humour_in_Audio_Description>.
— (2010). Approaching the audio description of humour. Entreculturas, 2, 87–103.
Nida, E. (1964). Toward a science of translating. Leiden: Brill.
Orero, P. (2009). Voice-over in audiovisual translation. In J. Díaz Cintas & G. Anderman (Eds.), Audiovisual translation: Language transfer on screen (pp. 130–139). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Perego, E. & Taylor, C. (2012). Tradurre l’audiovisivo. Roma: Carocci.
Pardo, B. S. (2013). Translation studies: An introduction to the history and development of (audiovisual) translation. Linguax. Revista de Lenguas Aplicadas. Retrieved July, 29, 2014, from <http://www.uax.es/publicacion/translation-studies-an-introduction-to-the-history-and-development-of.pdf>. ← 13 | 14 → ← 14 | 15 →
Laugh and the world laughs with you: tickling people’s (transcultural) fancy
At the turn of the twenty-first century the subject of humour and matters that relate to it such as smiling, laughter and positive well-being in general, have become a popular topic in the media. Naturally, such interests spring from research in academia disseminated in scientific journals – technical papers the contents of which slowly filter down to the press, TV and other media and thereby made accessible to the general public. Yet, it is not only departments of medicine, psychology, philosophy, anthropology and linguistics, traditionally occupied with Humour Studies that are attracting public interest. Today even the more mathematical social sciences such as economics have discovered the importance of humour, with scholars such as Bruno Frey applying economic methods to explore the concept of happiness (Frey, 2002).
Nonetheless, leaving aside the trend in public interest for all that is positive in terms of health and wellbeing that urges people to adopt a lifestyle which includes a series of positive actions and much laughter/smiling/joking etc. it is worth bearing in mind that verbal humour is no longer restricted to the gags of comedians, naturally occurring conversation, literature and printed collections of jokes. Verbally expressed humour travels across the planet in real time not only by means of traditional media such as film, television and video-games, but possibly, and above all, through e-mail, social media, blogs and all that is transmitted via smart technology. And somehow all this gleeful material must be made accessible to speakers of all languages, which is where the issue of translation comes in.
Although humour and translation have never been on friendly terms with one another, in the sense that humour is generally considered to be restricted in lingua-cultural terms, together they appear to be a well favoured benchmark in philological erudition. If we take puns, commonly ← 15 | 16 → considered to be one of the ‘lowest’ forms of humour, the eighteenth century essayist Joseph Addison went as far as defining them in terms of their untranslatability:
[The pun]…A Conceit arising from the use of two Words that agree in the Sound, but differ in the Sense. The only way to try a Piece of Wit, is to translate it into a different Language: If it bears the Test you may pronounce it true; but if it vanishes in the Experiment you may conclude it to have been a Punn. (1982 : 343, my emphasis)
In other words, according to Addison, the true test of a pun lies in the impossibility of its being conveyed in another language. The same idea was also upheld over two centuries later by structural linguist Charles Hockett who famously divided wordplay into two categories adopting terminology traditionally attached to literature, namely ‘prosaic’ and ‘poetic’. According to Hockett, prosaic wordplay hinges on world knowledge while poetic repartee restricts itself to playing on language alone. This dichotomy allows Hockett to argue that poetic jokes face the same problems in translation as poetry (1977: 257–289). Traditional poetry is heavily based on features such as rhyme scheme, rhythm, metre and graphic layout-effects which are indeed hard to emulate in a similar fashion across languages. Yet, just as poetry is indeed translated, so is humour. And while the resulting poem/joke may not be identical, hopefully, the effect will be as a translational compromise is reached. At the time of writing, translation has never been so significant. At the beginnings of a truly global society that is swiftly developing hand in hand with technologies that allow its members to communicate in real time regardless of distance, translation has become an indispensable tool. We live in a world in which everything is translated, something which is especially true for those whose mother tongue is not English (Chiaro, 2009). The various media and in particular the Web can give us a good idea of the quantity of translation to which non-native speakers of English are exposed. Some of this translated matter will inevitably be humorous in intent. Leaving aside any potential disagreement with Hockett’s oversimplification of verbal humour (see Chiaro, 2011), undeniably the combination of wordplay and translation will inevitably lead us down a cul-de-sac. Yet how translation does deal with humour and to what degree of success it does so in a variety of multimedia contexts, is the topic of this volume. ← 16 | 17 →
1. Humour and Translation
When it comes to humour, there appears to be much preoccupation with words, as indeed there should be, and translation undoubtedly involves words, yet humour involves a lot more than simply words, especially when it is audiovisual in nature. Over the past two millennia, a number of great thinkers have attempted to define humour. Yet, the sheer complexity of the phenomenon has left us with as many definitions as there have been thinkers. Nonetheless, to put (verbal) humour down to linguistic dexterity and culture-specificity is over-simplifying matters. In fact, if we try to pare the concept of humour down to its skeleton, to its quintessential soul, we find ourselves faced with a form of mental play comprising cognitive, emotional, social, and expressive components. Expressive components which may well be verbal, but by no means exclusively so. And hence lies a cautionary tale for researchers. All too often there is a tendency to limit analyses to purely verbal content. There have been numerous attempts at constructing taxonomies (e.g., Alexander, 1983; Chiaro, 1992; etc.), yet, in the same way as the 1970s saw an upheaval in the area of linguistics as ethno-methodologists such a Del Hymes argued in favour of an approach to research in language which took into account its communicative features thus leading to the birth and academic recognition of conversation analysis, pragmatics, discourse analysis and so on; the time has come to take a similar stance towards the study of verbal humour. An analysis of a humorous utterance should no more be limited to the words that comprise it any more than a serious utterance be reduced to a tree diagram of its component parts. As well as being part of a social exchange, verbal humour occurs in a special cognitive frame that should not be overlooked, best described by what Bateson (1972) called the “play frame”.
Cognitively, humour involves the perception of non-serious incongruity, a mental process that Koestler (1964) labelled “bisociation” or, according to Apter (1982), “synergy.” This mental process occurs when two contradictory images or notions of the same object or situation are held in one’s mind at the same time. However, not all incongruity is humorous, of course: it must be accompanied by a non-serious, playful attitude, in which things are viewed as relatively unimportant or trivial – within a “play frame”. Emotionally, the perception of humour activates ← 17 | 18 → the specific positive affective response of what Martin (2007) labels “mirth” and Ruch (1998) “exhilaration,” in other words, at the onset of a humorous stimulus, a series of feel good factors come into play. Thus, humour is inherently an emotional as well as a cognitive process. Furthermore, humour is fundamentally a social phenomenon, most frequently occurring spontaneously during interactions between people. Importantly, the kind of punning wordplay examined by linguists (including myself) is likely to be the least frequent type of instance of verbally expressed humour. Jokes, for example, are easily available and thus a simple source of collectable and subsequently analysable materials. Finally, we need to consider what McGhee (1971) labelled the “humour response”. Laughter, the most evident display that a person has been exposed to an instance of humour which he/she has appreciated, is a type of nonverbal facial and vocal communication that expresses the positive emotion of mirth. Laughter tells the world that you are feeling good because something has just tickled your fancy. As such, laughter, like humour in general, is inherently social in nature. And laughter is a physical phenomenon that is no more culture specific than sneezing or coughing. Laugh and the world laughs with you. The problem is, of course, that thousands of languages are spoken around the world thus making the world laugh with you an arduous task. Which is where translation steps in.
2. Humour and Audiovisuals
Humour found in audiovisual products is, of course, performative in nature. If we consider instances of humour – any droll moment occurring in today’s fare of mixed-genre products as a composite of cognition, emotion, interaction and expression, we see that the verbal code becomes just one component of four equally significant elements. And, as ‘expression’ is not limited to verbal output alone, humour may of course be created in absence of a verbal code. Most of the works of Charlie Chaplin, Ben Turpin and Buster Keaton were pre-code. No words. No translation. No problem. Our fancies are tickled and our emotions aroused by a series of visual incongruities. Rowan Atkinson’s persona of Mr Bean ← 18 | 19 → provides a present day example. His comicality is successful cross-culturally because he creates a series of incongruities which do not include words. Of course, not everyone will find the Keystone Cops or Mr Bean funny, but this is due to an individual’s personality rather than the performances in question. Whether we find something funny or not only depends on personality traits – but it also depends on our state of mind (Ruch, 1998).
As the authors in this volume emphasise, translating verbal humour is particularly problematic. Typically it will hinge on the peculiarities and duplicities of the source language in which it is couched. Otherwise humour may pivot on specific sociocultural elements pertaining to its locale. Or, as Cicero succinctly put it: “There are two types of wit, one employed on facts, the other upon words” (De Oratore II LIX and LXI).
However, at the end of the day, translating humour for audiovisuals is not too different from translating verbal humour tout court. What makes humour occurring within audiovisual texts more problematic is the fact that it may be visually anchored; in other words a gag or a joke may pivot on verbal content directed at a specific element that is present within the graphic system of the same text. As the term itself suggests, audiovisuals contain two overlying structures: a visual and an auditory channel each of which contain a series of both verbal and non-verbal elements which inextricably cross-cut one another (see Chiaro, 2013a and b). The contributors in this collection of essays present a series of case studies from films and video-games exemplifying problems and solutions to audiovisual humour in the dubs and subs in a variety of language combinations. If we were to conceive a cline of problems ranging from the most easily solvable to the most difficult, we could argue that ‘straight’ word-play, i.e., of the type(s) Hockett discusses would be at the ‘easy’ end of the scale whereas verbal humour that is visually anchored would be further up the scale, towards the ‘difficult’ pole of the axis.
John Denton’s (1994) analysis of the Italian dubbed version of the comedy A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton, UK, 1984) provides an example of the type of occurrence of visually anchored verbal humour that severely restricts translational options. The film contains a scene in which Otto (Kevin Klein), Wanda’s (Jamie Lee Curtis) unintelligent American lover who is continually criticizing the British, is loudly condemning them: “[the British]…counting the seconds to the…weekend, ← 19 | 20 → so they can dress up as ballerinas and whip themselves into a frenzy at the …” when he suddenly finds a note addressed to Wanda. Extremely jealous of Wanda, he begins to read the note out loud. As he reads, the camera pans in on the note so that both he and the audience can clearly see what it says: “So see you at Flat 4. It’s 2B St. Trevor’s Wharf E.1. All my love, Archie”.
Wanda is off camera in another room. As Otto does not want her to know that he is aware of her relationship with Archie he begins reading the message but changes what he is saying mid-stream. The audience can see the note while he ‘reads’ it as follows:
…counting the seconds to the…weekend, so they can dress up as ballerinas and whip themselves into a frenzy at the (READS NOTE THAT AUDIENCE CAN SEE) flat at 4, 2B st…to be honest I er…hate them
Thus we have an instance of a visual/verbal/oral/verbal pun that translators need to address. The problem is that whatever the substitution, it needs to retain something of the ambiguity of the item “2B” which has to look and sound like “2B” in the target version because the audience can actually see the address. The Italian solution, however is successful as it hinges on the first syllable of the Italian term for ‘glasses’ – bicchieri:
…contano i secondi che mancano all’arrivo del fine settimana per potersi vestire come delle ballerine e andarsi ad ubriacare…(READS NOTE THAT AUDIENCE CAN SEE) nell’appartamento 4 al 2B…due bi…cchieri e poi crollano.” [back-translation: they count the seconds till the weekend so they can dress up like ballerinas and get drunk… in apartment 2B…two gl…glasses and they drop] Fortunately, glasses belong to the same semantic field as (over-indulging in) alcohol. This allows translators to endow Otto with a nervous stutter that results in due  bi-bicchieri (literally ‘two glasses’) – a phrase that (luckily) starts with the same sound as the flat number the audience can see.
This example illustrates when the translational going gets tough. The translator cannot manipulate the visuals thus the solution has to be found in the target verbal code. Nowadays, verbal humour anchored in the visual code of a filmic product is quite uncommon, whereas in the past it was almost the norm. The Marx Brothers’ films, for example, were packed with visually anchored gags (see Chiaro, 2008a for examples). It may be that today our tastes have become more sophisticated ← 20 | 21 → and we prefer less obvious, more refined humour that is purely verbal and makes us think. On the other hand, the avoidance of visual anchoring may be a deliberate ploy when screenwriting. Presumably, the less contrived the humour, the easier the translation and consequently the higher global box-office takings (Chiaro, 2008b).
However, verbal/visual anchoring is not the only thorny issue at stake. Other problems include dealing with language variation which may not simply be limited to regional or non-standard variants, but can also stretch to different languages. Traditionally jokes are frequently performed with strong regional accents (Davies, 2009) and although in essence these jokes may appear to be politically incorrect (but then nolo volo much humour is un-PC) all language communities possess accents and varieties that are considered comical. In fact, within the British tradition, it is difficult to think of comedians who use Standard English rather than Irish, Scottish or Liverpudlian. In audiovisual texts, humour based on non-standard variation is a huge translational obstacle because substitution with a non-standard target variety means conveying very different connotations from those originally intended. For example, New York-Jewish nanny Fran in the US sitcom The Nanny adopts a ‘Ciociara’ accent in the Italian version. Popular as she was in Italy with her use of non-standard Southern-Frosinone Italian, the dialogues clearly jarred when handling references from kosher culture and elements of Yiddish. Similarly, what is to be done if the target language is used as a foreign/comic language in the original? Here too, in the case of dubbing, operators resort to substitution with another language, notably the use of Spanish substitutes to substitute the nonsensical Italian adopted by Otto in the love scenes in A Fish Called Wanda.
Nonetheless, possibly the hardest thing of all is to wrestle with are comic dimensions which are humorous only in and to certain ethnicities. For example, so called “good lines” abound in audiovisuals. Funny, albeit slippery and hard to pinpoint, lines such as Mae West’s “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?” and Robert De Niro’s famous “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?” as he looks at his reflection in the mirror, may be linguistically straightforward and thus easily translatable, but remain awkward to analyse in terms of humour in the source language, let alone in translation. Will these lines be funny cross-culturally? Certainly while Oscar Wilde’s aphorisms are ← 21 | 22 → widely recognized the world over, cinematic good lines tend to remain locked in their language of origin. And it is not only a hegemonic issue of English governing polysystems. Siamo uomini o caporali? wonders Italian comedian Totò in the eponymous film (Camillo Mastrocinque, 1955). A catchphrase that has since entered the Italian language leads us to ask ourselves, why is it funny? Yet say the phrase in Italy and it will raise a smile at the very least. Easily translatable, no punning or visual anchoring involved, it is unlikely to be recognized as humorous elsewhere. Why? Because it is part and parcel of Italy’s comic dimension. An invisible, inexplicable shroud created by habit, repetition and social comity. And every nation has its recognizable comic dimensions – dimensions recognizable to its members alone.
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- Publication date
- 2014 (December)
- cognition emotion interaction expression
- Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 533 pp.