Humour in Translation: How to translate a foreign joke?

Humour in Translation: How to translate a foreign joke?

To laugh or not to laugh ? That is the question

We all love to hear a good joke and laugh every once in a while. It makes us feel good and helps us leave our troubles behind. You know what they say, “Laughter is the best medicine!”. But, even if laughter has no boundaries, humour in translation does.

Different types of humour

As we all know, humour has many faces. Ideally, some instances of humour are unrestricted in that they can easily be translated into another language system without major difficulties.  However, sometimes humour carries cultural, political and social references which can have an impact on the source audience but mean nothing in a different language. In addition, it can play with the meaning or sound of words, adding extra difficulty to the translation task as the translator may have to rack his or her brain to come up with a creative solution.

In some cases, and to make matters worse during a translation, humour can be bound to a private or in-group joke, meaning that if you are an outsider to this group, you cannot understand what the joke implies. Or the translation of a humour instance cannot exceed a certain amount of characters and must forcibly be reformulated to fit the given space, as in the case of subtitles. So, bearing these situations in mind, how can a translator achieve the original intention of a humour instance?

Different techniques for translating humour

The challenges of translating humour are numerous. Translators must have a sound knowledge of the language and culture and, above all, a lot of creativity. Nevertheless, there are some techniques that translators may make use of when tackling translation tasks containing humour. Some of them are:

  • To leave the original humour instance and go for a clarification technique – a footnote, for example.
  • To resort to a different kind of joke in the target language which is not exactly the same but has a similar effect as that of the source language.
  • To make use of rhetorical devices such as repetition, alliteration or rhyme, to try to convey the same effect.
  • To omit the humour instance (in other words, to give up).

Is it possible?

Well, as you may already know, translation is an exciting but challenging world, especially when it comes to dealing with humour. But, is it an impossible task? Well, it is hard to say. Sometimes the barriers imposed by language are difficult to cross and sometimes they are a piece of cake. In some cases, the techniques applied by the translator won’t work and he or she may have to turn to his or her imagination and creativity to make the best of it. But, one thing is for sure, translating humour can be fun!

We can help you!

Do you need any services regarding humour in translation? We can help you with that! At LingoStar, we provide a range of language services in all kinds of language varieties like translation and typesetting, interpreting services, subtitling and more! For more information, contact us by calling 604-629-8420 or emailing to discuss your next language-related project. You can also request a free quote via our website. We are here to help!

Furthermore, check out our blog post on how to handle multilingual subtitles in YouTube >>