LINGUIST List 24.270

Tue Jan 15 2013

Review: General Linguistics; Pragmatics; Translation: Chiaro (2010)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <>

Date: 15-Jan-2013
From: Win Whelan <>
Subject: Translation, Humour and the Media
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Chiaro, DeliaTITLE: Translation, Humour and the MediaSUBTITLE: Translation and Humour Volume 2SERIES TITLE: Continuum Advances in TranslationPUBLISHER: Bloomsbury Linguistics (formerly Continuum InternationalLinguistics)YEAR: 2010

Dr. Winifred Whelan, St. Bonaventure University NY, emerita.


In her introduction, Delia Chiaro, a professor of English Language andTranslation at the university of Bologna, Italy, explains that the translationof humor from one language to the other is difficult and in fact impossible insome cases. Technology has created a very large market for translation thatrequires quicker translation than ever before. Chiaro has four strategies fortranslation: a) leave the verbally expressed humor (VEH) unchanged, b) replacethe VEH with a different instance of VEH in the target language, c) replacethe source VEH with an idiomatic expression in the target language, or d)ignore the VEH altogether. For example, a question is asked in German, “Whatis your name?” Szpilman, a pianist answers, “My name is Szpilman.” Questioner:“Spielmann? That is a good name for a pianist.” In German, the word‘Spielmann’ means ‘pianist.’ However the connection is entirely lost on thosewho don’t know German.

Chapter 1, “That’s Not Funny Here: Humorous Advertising across Boundaries,” isby Charles Gulas, and Mark G Weinberger. These two professors, coming from thefield of marketing, are concerned that if their humor is not understood andappreciated by the target audience, their products will not be sold. The firstsection of the chapter focuses on the myriad of differences that define us. Itis funny when people we like disparage people we don’t like, but it is notfunny when people we don’t like disparage people we do like. The authorsconclude that humor in advertising is a complex process. They quote one of thejurors at the Cannes Advertising Festival saying, “Humor travels, but it getsa bit carsick” [p. 31].

Chapter 2, “Humor in Translated Cartoons and Comics” is by Federico Zanettin.Zanettin wants to distinguish between the translation of humor in cartoons(usually a single panel drawing), and the translation of humor in comic stripsand comic books, highlighting differences and similarities. In cartoons, humorusually depends on some kind of incongruity which may be resolved by somethingin the joke itself. In other cases, the cartoon may simply be nonsense. Intranslation, the effect depends on the target readers sharing the same set ofcultural resources. Zanettin opines that foreign speaking readers of GaryLarson’s cartoons were amused by the funny pictures, but otherwise missed thepoint. In comic strips and books, humor relies not only on incongruity butalso on a specific narrative structure. Longer narrations use many of the sameincongruities, but humor is more generally an interaction between the text(including puns, jokes, proper names, spoonerisms), and the visual context.

Chapter 3, “And the Oscar goes to…: A study of the Simultaneous Interpretationof Humor at the Academy Awards Ceremony,” is by Rachele Antonini. Antoninihighlights the special difficulties involved in spontaneous translations ofhumor. Interpreting live for television requires great rapidity as well as apleasant, lively voice, regular rhythm and good diction.The author looked at the humor of the American Academy Awards Ceremony to seehow it was received in Italian audiences. Most respondents did not find thegags clear and their subsequent appreciation was low. Another importantfinding was that the number of respondents who did not understand the gagsexceeded those who did understand them. In some cases the audience found aremark funny by making associations different than those on which the languagewas based. The main conclusion of the study was that the simultaneousinterpreting fails to preserve the main purpose and function of the originalshow.

Chapter 4, “Japanese TV Entertainment: Framing Humour with Open CaptionTelop,” is by Minako O’Hagan. In Japan any added text on TV programs otherthan films is broadly referred to as “telop.” Open captions are added in thepicture itself, whereas closed captions would be added only if the viewerwished it. Open captioning started as an assist to minority audiences to helpwith understanding the language, but is also used for the deaf and hard ofhearing. It does not involve translation, but is used to highlight comiccontent, and is now being used more widely. A survey found that 85% of viewersfelt that subtitles are necessary. They are entertaining and assist withcomprehension. The author then gives the example of the game “Hole in theWall.” Captions might indicate the name of the contestant and that of thesupporter. Various images might be inserted to further highlight the messageand the humor.

Chapter 5, “The Importance of Not Being Earnest: Translating Humor in VideoGames,” is by Carmen Mangiron. Given that the videogame industry has become amultibillion dollar industry, and given also the difficulty of translatinghumor, videogame translators have solved the problem of the untranslatabilityof humor by focusing on the function rather than the equivalence of the text.Games have to be geared to local audiences and at the same time they shouldhave the same look and feel as the original. With this way of thinking,videogame translators have a much more creative role to play. They modify andfreely include new elements, and they can actively rewrite the text in orderto adapt it. The use of humor in the Japanese ''Final Fantasy'' series is acase in point. Translators have taken the liberty to modify the original gameand increase the humor content which makes the game less stressful and moreengaging. The translators’ versions might even surpass the original. Mangironstresses that game localization is not about a sacred source text andunavoidable loss. Rather it is a dynamic process of creating a new text forthe target player.

Chapter 6, ''Translating Audiovisual Humour: A Hong Kong Case Study,'' is byYau Wai-Ping. Yau’s concern is with a diglossic society, that is, a societywith high and low varieties of a language. Standard Chinese functions as ahigh variety, whereas Cantonese functions as a low variety, limited toinformal and less serious types of written communication. Cantonese issometimes considered vulgar, even by its own native speakers. The author uses''The Simpsons Movie'' to illustrate that Cantonese can be used in ways thatdo not conform to this stereotype. Dubbing is not necessarily overlydomesticating, but rather has the potential to suggest foreign elements.Subtitling has the potential to use Cantonese to express sophisticated humor,and thus eliminate some of the prejudice against this low variety.

Chapter 7, “Audiences and Translated Humour: An Empirical Study,” is by LindaRossato and Delia Chiaro. In this study, a group of German native speakerswere shown a film - “Goodbye Lenin,” which highlights the stereotypes andprejudices of the old Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) toward the GermanDemocratic Republic (GDR) and its citizens. Germans were further divided intothe ex-GDR and the FRG. A group of Italians were shown the same film which hadbeen translated and adapted for dubbing. The three groups respondeddifferently to four subjects: dress, food, household furnishings, and means oftransportation. The study concluded that the two German groups were moreculturally divided than were the Germans and Italians due to their differenthistories and backgrounds.

Chapter 8, “Language Play, Translation and Quality -- With Examples fromDubbing and Subtitling,” is by Thorsten Schröter. The chapter first delightsin the idea of language play in the form of puns or modified puns, and givesreasons why someone would engage in it. The author claims that language playor word play is not at all untranslatable, provided the idea of translation isbroadened slightly. Various factors must be taken into account such as theprominence and the complexity of the text. Although it is not easy, languageplay is regularly subjected to translation and is thus translatable, sometimeseven in the very narrow sense of ‘directly transferable,’ even under thespecial constraints of dubbing and subtitling [p. 143].

Chapter 9, “Woody Allen’s Themes through his Films, And His Films throughTheir Translation,” is by Patrick Zabalbeascoa. This author dwells on WoodyAllen’s style of creative output, and on how translators deal with it. Heoutlines and gives relevant examples of many of Allen’s humorous subjects:religion; anti-Semitism; New York, Paris, and California; Freud andPsychiatry; sex; the 1940s; antihero; scholars and intellectuals; andwordplay. There seem to be two distinguishable approaches to translating WoodyAllen. On the one hand, the translator can intervene and adapt the film to anew contexts to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. On the other, onecan cater more to Allen’s fans who might relish the possibility of recognizingcultural allusions and name-dropping by a more literal translation. The authorrecommends that there be more than one translation so as to appeal to variousaudiences.

Chapter 10, “On the (Mis/Over/Under) Translation Of the Marx Brothers Humor”is by Adrián Fuentes Luque. The chapter concludes that English speakers definethe humor in the Marx Brothers films as ‘witty,’ ‘intelligent,’ and‘sophisticated,’ whereas Spanish speakers label it as ‘absurd,’ surrealistic’or ‘nonsensical’ [p. 190]. The humor is so full of expressions that are tiedto the culture of the United States, that in many cases, it cannot beunderstood by one who is not familiar with it. Censorship was another problemin Spain during the Franco years, and in Italy any mention of Mussolini wouldhave to be eliminated. Spanish speakers laughed not because they understoodthe jokes, but because of what they represent socially and historically.

Chapter 11, “Language, Comedy and Translation in the BBC Sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo!”is by Dirk Delabastita. In this series, ‘Allo ‘Allo!, many of the charactersspeak varieties of languages. One speaks broken English, one thinks he canspeak French, but actually only knows a few words. One speaks English with anItalian accent, another with a German accent. The article analyzes thelanguage of each one of the speakers and gives examples. In Dutch, mostsubtitles do not carry the accents, but in a few cases, Dutch was rendered asbroken Dutch and as an Italianized Dutch. The French version has less of aproblem because the story takes place in France. The French women speak inFrench with a strong Italian accent. The ‘Allo ‘Allo series has been shown inmany countries and has had a prolific afterlife in VHS and DVD releases amongother outlets.

Chapter 12, “Laughing To Death: Dubbed and Subtitled Humour in Six Feet Under”is by Chiara Bucaria. The Italian version of this series about a family ofundertakers is complicated by the fact that death is a taboo subject in Italy,and may trigger superstitious reactions. This chapter presents a comparisonbetween the dubbed and subtitled versions in order to focus on how twodifferent modes of translation deal with these problematic issues and attemptsto uncover the reasons why either dubbing or subtitling are decided upon.

Chapter 13, “Dynamic Versus Static Discourse: Will & Grace And Its SpanishDubbed Version” is by Roberto A. Valdeón. Will and Grace features gay characters asprotagonists who can laugh at themselves as well as provide entertainment inwhich television audiences can laugh with the gay characters rather than atthem. The Spanish version emphasizes what is traditionally viewed as the gayobsession with sex, sometimes even providing it with innuendo that is not inthe source text. However, in the process of translation, the writers haveweakened existing stereotypes and have limited their use, especially withregard to terms that may be offensive.


The strength of this book lies in its heavy use of examples and charts. Everychapter includes jokes and stories from the source text and then discusses howthese texts are translated along with the difficulties involved. This makesthe chapters easily accessible to the general reader as well as provides moreadvanced information regarding syntax and pronunciation. A problem that ismentioned by many authors is that translators want to be funny, but notoffensive. They may go so far as to omit the humor altogether or they maychange the source text to better accommodate it to the target culture. Anotherstrength of the book is that its authors are from many different countries,illustrating the overall fact that in an electronic age, translation is goingon fast and furiously. As one author notes, as soon as a new movie comes outin the United States, every country in the world expects to see it on theirscreens along with subtitles in their own language. One criticism of the bookmight be that it is somewhat repetitious. However, when there are thirteenchapters on the same subject, this is understandable. Also, the examples andstories in each chapter make each one of them distinct.


Dr. Win Whelan is professor emerita at St. Bonaventure University in westernNew York State. She earned a Ph.D. in religious studies from NorthwesternUniversity, and recently an M.A in linguistics from Northeastern IllinoisUniversity in Chicago. Presently, Dr. Whelan lives in Chicago and is afreelance writer, independent scholar and researcher. Her latest project hasbeen to translate a book from Spanish to English, “The Sufferings,Assassinations and Martyrdom of the Missionary Church in Honduras, 1963-1982,”published by Mellen Press.

Page Updated: 15-Jan-2013