Humor, jokes, and idioms are notoriously difficult to translate. Ask any translation professional about ways to streamline and improve a translated text and one of the pearls of wisdom you are likely to get will be along the lines of "avoid humor in the source text".
That's good and fine for marketing brochures or informed consent forms. But what about materials where humor and jokes are an integral part of the text? An interview in the July 2010 issue of the Journal of Specialised Translation tackles this issue.
The 30 minute interview is with Patrick Zabalbaescoa, professor at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. His argument is that humor absolutely can be translated.
But he also admits that the combination of humor and multimedia can make it extremely challenging to translate jokes. Think Simpsons or Family Guy. In these instances, the translator is essentially a "slave to the image" and must deal with multiple layers of meanings that the director intended. For instance, the language translation will be impacted by lip-syncing issues, color, and even the body language of the characters doing the talking.
Patrick's argument that the translation of humor can be done effectively seems to rest on two pillars. First, the translator needs to have a good bit of "AV literacy". Translation of funny stuff is definitely not a mechanical, one-pass linguist task.
Second, Patrick points out that the quality standard for movie translation, for instance, is relatively low. It needs to be good enough but the most important thing is that the translation not draw any attention to itself (which, usually, would be the in bad kind of attention).
If you want to hear more from Patrick himself, sit back and watch the complete video interview. It's well worth it. And if you want to see truly masterful translations of humor, pick up an Asterix comic in any two languages.
[Thanks to Ruben de la Fuente for the tip!]
And since it's Friday, why don't you take a few more minutes to look at other articles that we've written?
- Can puns be translated?
- Space sperm (funny stuff from the pharma industry)
- The weekly adventures of Mox the translator
For a detailed proposal on your next clinical, regulatory, or marketing medical translation assignment, contact ForeignExchange Translations.