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Review of  Translating Humour in Audiovisual Texts

Reviewer: Ulrike Stange-Hundsdörfer
Book Title: Translating Humour in Audiovisual Texts
Book Author: Gian Luigi De Rosa Francesca Bianchi Antonella De Laurentiis Elisa Perego
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 26.3843

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


This book is a collection of 22 papers (plus a foreword, a preface and an introduction) by different authors written in English (14 contributions), Spanish (2 texts) and Italian (9 articles). As the title suggests, the common denominator of all contributions is a concern with the translation of humour in audiovisual texts. In particular, it covers translation issues pertaining to humour in cartoons (section 1), to transcultural humour (section 2), to humour in dubbing (section 3), in subtitling (section 4) and in video-games (section 5). The first three sections comprise between 5 and 6 papers each, while the last two sections are considerably shorter (with 2 and 3 papers, respectively). The individual chapters are briefly summarised below.

“Humour and audiovisual translation: an overview” by Elisa Perego (9-13)

The foreword sketches the development of audiovisual translation as a discipline and its role within translation studies, also drawing attention to the limited scope previous studies on humour in audiovisual translation have due to their concentrating on dubbing and subtitling. Perego introduces the papers to follow, describing their aim as an “attempt to analyze and to describe the strategies used to render specific aspects of [humour] in languages and cultures that are different from the languages and cultures in which the products in question had originally been conceived” (p. 10).

“Laugh and the world laughs with you: tickling people’s (transcultural) fancy” by Delia Chiaro (15-24)

The preface explores the relationship between humour and translation and the particular case of humour in audiovisual texts, identifying visual anchoring of humorous elements as the main problem in translation. Chiaro also discusses culture-specific humour and issues arising from humour based on non-standard varieties. The problems these elements cause in translation could pave the way toward simplification (in the sense of levelling these features) in order to make blockbuster products attractive to a wider audience and, ultimately, increase the gains.

“La combinación de lenguas como mecanismo de humor y problema de traducción audiovisual” by Patrick Zabalbeascoa (25-47)

Zabalbeascoa examines the problems in translation that arise from using a variety of languages in films to achieve comic effects. Drawing on the concept of translation as a “third code” (Frawley 1984), he outlines a number of variables that a play a role in translating humour, which he then illustrates using the British TV series Fawlty Towers and `Allo `Allo as examples.

Chapter 1: “Audiovisual humour transfer strategies in the Italian, German and Hungarian dubbed versions of Shrek the Halls” by Judit Mudriczki (51-65)

The first paper in this section explores how the highly culture-specific references in the Christmas movie Shrek the Halls have been translated into Italian, German and Hungarian. The author uses the (new) labels ‘smooth’, ‘visual clue’ and ‘adaptive humour transfer’ to describe the translation strategies employed in her case study and provides insightful examples for them. In her conclusion, she stresses the importance of combining theory and practice in the field of audio-visual translation.

Chapter 2: “Translation verbally expressed humour in dubbing and subtitling: the Italian versions of Shrek” by Vincenza Minutella (67-87)

This article focuses on the translation of “Verbally Expressed Humour” (VEH, Chiaro 2004) in the Shrek tetralogy, contrasting the Italian dubbed and subtitled versions to determine their (remaining) humorous load. Minutella identifies dubbing as the generally more humorous version but stresses that technical constraints fail to account for the differences. The author summarises similarities and differences in the translation strategies employed in dubbing and subtitling, which need further corroboration through quantitative analyses.

Chapter 3: “Accent and dialect as a source of humour: the case of Rio” by Silvia Bruti (89-103)

Bruti’s paper is concerned with the Italian dubbing of Rio and analyses the translation of humorous effects achieved through code-switching and code-mixing. It also considers sociolinguistic variation and identifies the strategies that have been used to handle both multilingualism and sociolinguistic diversity in the Italian version. In addition, the author contrasts the Italian versions of Rio and The Aristocats, highlighting the most important findings.

Chapter 4: “Back to Brazil: humour and sociolinguistic variation in Rio” by Gian Luigi De Rosa (105-127)

Distinguishing between verbal (linguistic and lingua-cultural) and non-verbal communication (visual, audio, audio-visual; Antonini and Chiaro 2005, Chiaro 2005, Chiaro 2006), this study analyses the transmission of humour in Rio. It presents three translation strategies to cope with multilingualism in films, exemplifying them using the Brazilian and Italian versions of Rio.

Chapter 5: “Humour e giochi di parole in Astérix et Obélix : Mission Cléopâtre. Quali strategie nelle traduzione audiovisiva?” by Alessandro Rollo (129-154)

Drawing on Chiaro (2006, 2010a, 2010b), Rollo analyses the Italian version of Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra distinguishing between five translation strategies (VEH, substitution, adaptation, compensation, omission). He also includes a discussion of the translation of proper nouns and illustrates all of the translation phenomena considered with film scenes (no English translations provided).

Chapter 6: “Culture, language, and humour: adapting wordplay in the Italian version of Wreck-it-Ralph” by Elena Manca and Daesy Aprile (155-169)

Manca’s and Aprile’s study explores the translation of puns in the Italian version of Wreck-it Ralph (Ralph Spoccatutto). As wordplay is based on formal equivalence of two (or more) lexical items (viz. homophony, homonymy, polysemy; Chiaro 2004), it is often difficult to translate. Consequently, translators regularly need to resort to replacing the source language (SL) VEH by a target language (TL) idiomatic expression or a TL VEH somewhere else in the same text. This, of course, affects the humorous load of the translated version both in terms of quantity and distribution throughout the film.


Chapter 7: “A tragicomic Australian film in Italian translation: finding something funny in Muriel’s Wedding” by Brigid Maher (173-188)

Maher’s paper is concerned with the transmission of culture-specific (Australian) humour in the Italian version of Muriel’s Wedding, specifically taking into account to what extent the cultural background of Italian audiences influences their reception of this culture-specific humour and of the film as a whole. Accordingly, the analysis of the instances of linguistic humour in this film also includes an analysis of the cultural backgrounds, setting and context. As a result, the author stresses the important role of translators as cultural mitigators.

Chapter 8: “Commedia in scompiglio: One, Two, Three. Il multilinguismo come veicolo di umorismo” by Giuseppe De Bonis (189-214)

De Bonis investigates multilingualism as a means to achieve humorous effects in the Italian version of One, Two, Three. The author identifies three roles that multilingualism in films may have (realism, conflict, confusion) and discusses the impact these have in translation. In particular, he analyses to what extent the multilingualism is kept in the Italian dubbing and the consequences for the humorous load.

Chapter 9: “La variación en la recepción del humor como elemento cultural en la traducción audiovisual: Un estudio de caso” by Lucía Ruiz Rosendo (215-238)

Chapter 9 comprises a reception study on culture-specific humour in the Spanish film Crimen Ferpecto (play on Crimen Perfecto – ‘Perfect Crime’). The case study includes three groups: (a) Spanish natives working as salesman (as the protagonist in the film), (b) Spanish natives working a different job, (c) English natives (British and US-American) with a medium to low proficiency in Spanish that need English subtitles to understand the film.

Chapter 10: “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis – Giù al nord: lo stesso film? Sull’intraducibilitá dello humour” by Elisa Lupetti (239-256)

Lupetti’s paper discusses the Italian dubbed version of Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis, a film that was a major comedy hit in French cinemas but not so successful in Italian ones. Drawing on the notions of cultural background and linguistic humour and illustrating them with relevant film scenes, Lupetti explains why the Italian version fails to leave its audience in tears of laughter.

Chapter 11: “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” by Beatrice Garzelli (257-277)

Garzelli analyses the Italian versions of three Spanish films directed by Almodóvar. As these films depict different types of humour (viz. black humour in ¡Átame!, humour between ridicule and wit in La flor de mi secreto, and self-ironic, therapeutic and liberating humour in Todo sobre mi madre), the aim of the present study is to determine to what extent and by what means the rich, verbal and non-verbal humour is transmitted and maintained in the Italian dubbing and subtitling.

Chapter 12: “Humour partenopeo e varietà linguistiche nel doppiaggio spagnolo di Benvenuti al Sud” by Antonella De Laurentiis (279-308)

Laurentiis’ paper explores how the use of dialects to achieve humorous effects and the historical and cultural aspects of Benvenuti al Sud, an Italian remake of Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis, have been dealt with in the Spanish dubbing. Following Romero Ramos (2010), the author identifies three major problems in the translation of geographical and social dialects, which are linguistic, extra-linguistic and pragmatic in nature. These issues are central to her analysis of the film and its dubbed version.


Chapter 13: “Dubbing or subtitling humour: does it really make any difference?” by Juan José Martínez Sierra (311-332)

Martínez Sierra introduces eight elements which are potentially humorous and which serve to illustrate the translation strategies used in the Spanish dubbing and subtitling of a selected episode of The Simpsons. He systematically compares the jokes in the source text and in the translated versions, drawing particular attention to those jokes that have been totally or partially lost in translation.

Chapter 14: “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” by Giovanna Di Pietro (333-358)

This study is concerned with the effects that kinesic synchrony, word order and comic timing have on the translation strategies used. Attardo’s “Knowledge Resources” (2002: 175) provides the theoretical background to illustrate the phenomena investigated. The first five seasons of How I Met Your Mother and the Italian dubbed versions constitute the corpus for a very fine-grained analysis of how these phenomena are rendered in translation and the reasons and consequences of the translation strategies selected for the humorous load in the Italian dubbing.

Chapter 15: “Tradurre lo humor nei sottotitoli per ipoudenti: la “Kiez-Komödie” Die Friseuse di Doris Dörrie (2010)” by Claudia Buffagni (359-387)

Buffagni’s paper discusses the film Die Friseuse (a tragicomic German film whose humour has not really been appreciated outside Germany) and the corresponding German subtitles for the Deaf and the Hard-of-Hearing. The author distinguishes between three types of humour in the film (wordplay, culture-specific allusions and verbal irony) and illustrates them using film scenes. She also comments on the significant loss of the Berlin dialect features in the subtitles and explains the reasons for it.

Chapter 16: “Il comico verbale della Canção de Lisboa (1933): traducibilità e reinvenzione” by Valeria Tocco (389-399)

The Portuguese film Canção de Lisboa contains many interesting linguistic and extra-linguistic mechanisms to achieve humorous effects, which are studied both in the source text and the English and French subtitles. Drawing on Bergson (1990), Tocco adopts the concepts of situational humour (“comico di situazione”) and linguistic humour (“comico di parola”) in her analysis of the humorous elements in this film.

Chapter 17: “Diversità culturale e umorismo nel film Maria, ihm schmeckt’s nicht!” by Laura A. Colaci (401-421)

Colaci’s paper analyses the humorous content of Maria, ihm schmeckt’s nicht! and the translation strategies adopted in the Italian dubbed version. Given that the film heavily exploits German and Italian clichés and stereotypes for humorous purposes, the focus is on culture-specific humour. The translation strategies considered include substitution, explication and neutralisation (Ulrych 2000), but also simplification. Intra- and extra-linguistic references to culture as well as cultural adaptations are discussed using relevant film scenes.


Chapter 18: “The Switch: an analysis of the film’s conversational humour in terms of Grice’s Cooperative Principle – and of its transfer into Swedish subtitles” by Thorsten Schröter (425-448)

Schröter’s paper first introduces the Cooperative Principle, the Gricean Maxims, politeness and breaking the maxims as the theoretical background for his analysis of the conversational humour in The Switch and its Swedish subtitles. Accordingly, the study zooms in on verbal humour and on humour as a result of breaking the Gricean Maxims. A small number of film scenes serve to illustrate that any maxim (quantity, quality, relation, manner) broken and any way in which it is broken (violation, clash, flouting, infringement) may lead to a humorous effect.

Chapter 19: ““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!” by Marco Cipolloni (449-475)

Cipolloni’s essay is concerned with the songs sung in Mamma mia! and their Spanish and Italian versions (in the subtitles or as sung by ABBA). In a highly introspective approach, he interprets the meanings of the songs to fit the plot. Issues related to translation are of no central concern in this paper. Instead, the author covers a completely different ground: from Greek drama (incl. the Oedipus complex), to ABBA, the Beatles, and the current economic situation in Greece.

Chapter 20: “Fostering creativity in the translation of humour. The Stable Hyper-Islands Procedure” by Francesca Bianchi (477-495)

In her paper, Bianchi presents a practical approach called “The Stable Hyper-Islands Procedure” (SHIP) which can serve as a powerful tool to increase the creative potential when translating humour. This procedure is a four-stage-model (preparation, illumination, evaluation, verification) that includes six steps. The author shows how translators can benefit both from a conscious analysis of the linguistic features present in a text and from redefining the problems identified using abstract categories. SHIP is explained step by step with applied examples from her own case study to illustrate how this tool works.


Chapter 21: “Playing with humor: the translation of humor in video games” by Ornella Lepre (499-516)

Lepre’s paper presents an overview of the methods used to achieve humorous effects in videogames in general, zooming in on videogame-specific humour and on how the players themselves can influence the humorous experience when playing videogames. These aspects are then discussed in the context of translation, especially as regards problems and sometimes even insurmountable (because untranslatable) difficulties.

Chapter 22: “Transcreating humor in video games: the use of Italian diatopic varieties and their effects on target audiences” by Pietro Luigi Iaia (517-533)

Drawing on the notion of “transcreation” (“a translation strategy mainly based on the translator’s top-down cognitive processes”, p. 517), Iaia’s paper analyses three extracts from three video games and their Italian translations (backtranslations of Italian texts given). He also applies theories of humour production to the videogames selected for analysis and includes a short study on audience reception (data from threads in relevant online forums).


A very important thing to note first is that the English title and the English information on the book cover are misleading: a reader who expects a book written in English will be in for a surprise. Given the multitude of non-English papers and the very strong focus on translations into Italian, this otherwise excellent book will probably (and rather unfortunately) only be fully appreciated by readers who are fluent not only in English but also in Italian, Spanish and French. The contributions frequently lack (back)translations of film scenes (and quotes) into English, which would have aided understanding the translation matter raised for those with restricted knowledge of the Romance languages.

Nonetheless, this book provides a high-quality contribution to the literature already existing on the translation of humour in audiovisual texts. Especially for novices, it offers a brilliant introduction to the topic and also provides a comprehensive but diverting overview of the studies that have been conducted to date and of the existing theories that are central to discussing humour and its translation in audiovisual texts. The admittedly very strong focus on translations from English into Romance languages and into Italian in particular does not attenuate this impression. Other languages that find consideration in the source or target texts include German, Hungarian and Swedish.

Readers who read the papers one after the other as opposed to picking them according to their interests will very soon notice that some aspects recur in almost every contribution. This concerns in particular the discussion of why the translation of humour in audiovisual texts is often challenging, which strategies are commonly employed to solve the problem in question (or not), how humour can be defined, etc. Mentioning all this just once in a separate paper and then using cross-referencing would have been a more reader-friendly option.

In terms of coherence, there is one paper that sticks out because it only mentions the central topic of this book in passing and focuses instead on a rather philosophical discussion of Greek drama, ABBA and The Beatles, and entirely lacks references (Cipolloni). The rest of the book fits together very well, both as regards its sections and the chapters these contain (although some papers would have fit better in a different section).

Most contributions are qualitative in nature, using a limited number of film scenes to show the translation strategies applied both in their studies and in the paper itself. A prominent exception to this is Di Pietro’s paper, which investigates all punchlines occurring in complex phrases in the first five seasons of How I Met Your Mother, thus adding a quantitative dimension. Bianchi’s paper then constitutes an excellent practical approach to solving translation issues. All in all, the individual papers offer substantial input for further research, both theoretically (humour, translation processes) and empirically (translation strategies).

In the foreword, Perego summarises the aims of the individual papers as an “attempt to analyze and to describe the strategies used to render specific aspects of [humour] in languages and cultures that are different from the languages and cultures in which the products in question had originally been conceived” (p. 10). Virtually without exception, the papers in this edited volume have achieved this goal.

In sum, the book Translating Humour in Audiovisual Texts is highly recommendable – given that the reader is a polyglot.


Antonini, R. and Chiaro, D. (2005) The Quality of Dubbed Television Programmes in Italy: the experimental design of an empirical study. In M. Bondi and N. Maxwell (Eds.), Cross-Cultural Encounters: Linguistic Perspectives (pp. 35-44). Roma: Officina Edizioni.

Attardo, S. (2002) Translation and Humour. An Approach Based on the General Theory of Verbal Humour (GTVTH). Translating Humour, Vandeale, J. (Ed.). Special Issue of The Translator, 8, 2, 173-194.

Bergson, H. (1900) Le rire. Essai sur la signification du comique. Paris: Éditions Alcan.

Frawley, W. (1984) Translation: Literary, Linguistics and Philosophical Perspectives. Newark: University of Delaware Press.

Chiaro, D. (2004) Investigating the perception of translated Verbally Expressed Humour on Italian TV. ESP Across Cultures, 1, 35-52.

-- (2005) Verbally Expressed Humour and translation: an overview of a neglected field. Humor, International Journal of Humor Research (Special Issue: Humor and Translation), 18, 2, 135-145.

-- (2006) Verbally Expressed Humour on Screen: Reflections on Translation and Reception. JoSTrans, J. Díaz-Cintas, P. Orero and A. Ramael (Eds.), 6, 1 (July 2006), 198-208.

-- (2010a) Translation and Humour, Humour and Translation. In D. Chiaro (Ed.) Translation, Humour, Literature, vol. 1. London: Continuum International Publishing Group.

-- (2010b) Translating Humour in the Media. In D. Chiaro (Ed.) Translation, Humour, and The Media, vol. 2. London: Continuum International Publishing Group.

Romero Ramos, M. G. (2010) Un studio descriptivo sobre la traducción de la variación lingüística en el doblaje y la subtitulación: las traducciones de Il Postino. Tesis doctoral presentada en la Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

Ulrych, M. (2000) Locating Universal Feautres of Translation Behaviour through Multimedia Translation Studies. In R. M. Bollettieri Bosinelli, C. Heiss, M. Soffritti and S. Bernardini (Ed.), La traduzione multimediale: quale traduzione per quale testo? (pp. 407-429). Bologna: CLUEB.
Ulrike Stange holds an M.A. in English Linguistics and is a research assistant at the Department of English and Linguistics at Mainz University in Germany. Her research interests include emotive interjections (PhD thesis to be published soon), translation studies and dialectal variation in British English.

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