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Humor, Translation, and Bilingual Issues

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1 Humor, Translation, and Bilingual Issues
by Don L. F. Nilsen and Alleen Pace Nilsen

2 Problems in Translating Jokes
“Before the joke can be discharged in all its swiftness there is much to be apprehended about cultural and social facts, about shared beliefs and attitudes, about pragmatic bases of communication.” “We share our humour with those who have shared our history and who understand our ways of interpreting the experience. There is a fund of common knowledge and recollection, upon which all jokes draw with instantaneous effect.” (Nash [1985]: 9; Chiaro [2008]: 585)

3 Translation in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction
VINCENT: You know what they call a Quarter Pounder with cheese in Paris? JULES: They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with cheese? VINCENT: No man; they’ve got the metric system; they don’t know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is! JULES: So what do they call a Quarter Pounder with cheese?

4 VINCENT: They call it a Royale with cheese.
JULES: Royale with cheese. VINCENT: That’s right. JULES: What do they call a Big Mac? VINCENT: A Big Mac’s a Big Mac only they call it Le Big Mac JULES: Le Big Mac. What do they call a Whopper? VINCENT: I don’t know. I never went to a Burger King. You know what they put on French Fries instead of Ketchup? JULES: What? VINCENT: Mayonnaise. (Chiaro [2008]: 586)

5 A Riddle A Personal Computer.
If you are Swedish, you stroke it. If you are Spanish you beat it. If you are German, you cover it in food. If you are British, you use it as an excuse not to have sex. What is it? A Personal Computer. NOTE: PCs in Spain often suffer violence, with 57 percent of owners admitting to hitting them. Germans are unamused by PCs; only one in six has enjoyed a laugh with their PC. (Davis [2008]: 561)

6 Untranslatable Canadian Joke
“Je suis allé dans un magazin ‘Newfie’ et j’ai demandé une robe de chambre. Le ‘Newfie’ m’a demandé: “Quelle grandeur la chambre?” (Davies [2008]: 163)

7 FRENCH What has fifty legs and cannot walk?
Half a centipede. (Laurian & Nilsen 6) TRANSLATION: Qu’est-ce qui a cinq cent pattes et qui ne peut pas marcher? La moitié d’une mille-pattes NOTE: A French centipede is a “mille-pattes” (thousand-feet). (Chiaro [2008]: )

8 Formal Equivalence vs. Connotative Equivalence
Werner Koller would say that translating the English “centipede” into the French “mille-pattes” is apt in terms of reference, but becomes inept when the English and French words are analyzed because “mille-pattes” is more hyperbolic than is “centipede.” (Chiaro [2008]: 576)

9 An English Sick Joke in France
“Mummy, Mummy, is it still a long way to France?” “Shut up and keep swimming!” “Maman, Maman, est-ce que l’Angleterre est loin?” “Tais-toi et continue à nager!”

10 Discussion Notice that in the translation, “England” is substituted for “France.” As one of Delia Chiaro’s French colleagues pointed out to her, “Why would someone French want to go to England?” (Chiaro [2008]: 587)

11 German Humor Between 1931 and 1936 The Jack Pearl Show was on radio. Baron von Munchausen was the central figure in a running skit. The Baron spoke with a strong German accent that contrasted with the ordinary language of Charlie (Sharlie). (Nilsen & Nilsen 102)

12 BARON: Und dere in frundt of me wuz a green elephant.
SHARLIE: Now wait a minute, Baron; do you mean to tell me you actually saw a green elephant? BARON: (with great indignation) Vas you dere, Sharlie? (Nilsen & Nilsen 102)

13 Irish and Jewish Humor “Since Irish humor developed out of the oral tradition (the telling of jokes and stories in Irish pubs), it is very epiphinal in nature.” “Like Jewish humor, Irish humor developed out of pain and tragedy that resulted in a diaspora.” (D. Nilsen Humor in Irish Literature xv)

14 “Irish humor, like Jewish humor, contains much wordplay, and like Jewish humor, much of Irish wordplay is bilingual and/or bicultural, relating to both the Gaelic/Celtic and to the English language and culture.” Many Irish, like many Jews, “are trying to reestablish their roots, and it is the humor in Irish written and oral literature that is helping them to do so.” (D. Nilsen Humor in Irish Literature xv)

15 Italian Humor In the late 1970s, comedian Don Novello spoke with an Italian accent and dressed in clerical garb when doing comedy skits about Farther Guido Sarducci. He was a hit on Saturday Night Live and on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, but when he went to the Vatican to pose for publicity photos he was arrested for impersonating a priest. (Nilsen & Nilsen 115)

16 An Irish Joke in Italy What do they write on the bottom of Guinness bottles in Ireland? Open at other end. TRANSLATION: Che cosa scrivono sul fondo delle lattine di Coca Cola che si trovano nei distributori di bibite nelle caserme dei carabinieri? Aprire dall’altro lato. (Chiaro [2008]: 583)

17 Discussion The Irish are the butt of English stupidity jokes, so a different stupidity group needs to be used in Italian. In Italy, the stupidity group is not ethnic, but is professional—the carabinieri (one of Italy’s police forces). There is no national drink in Italy. Furthermore, Italians consume alcohol usually at meals and from glasses, not bottles. So “Coca Cola” is used instead of Guinness. Finally, Italians see a bottle as having a top and a bottom, so “bottle” had to change to “can.” (Chiaro [2008]: 583)

18 Now reread the joke and the translation!
What do they write on the bottom of Guinness bottles in Ireland? Open at other end. TRANSLATION: Che cosa scrivono sul fondo delle lattine di Coca Cola che si trovano nei distributori di bibite nelle caserme dei carabinieri? Aprire dall’altro lato. (Chiaro [2008]: 583)

19 ITALIAN What’s black and white and red all over? A newspaper.
TRANSLATION: Che cosa è nero, bianco e rossa ovunque? A. L’Unità, or (a Communist newspaper) B. Una zebra con l’abbronzatura (a zebra with a sunburn) NOTE: The first “red” retains the “read” association, while the second “red” does not. (Chiaro [2008]: 580)

20 Neither of these translations encapsulate the semantic ambivalency attached to the words “red/read.” “Nevertheless, solution A does capture the ‘read’ element of the original riddle coupled with the metaphorical value of the colour term ‘red’ attached to a popular left wing newspaper L’Unità.” Since this is a children’s riddle, the first answer is inappropriate because children wouldn’t know about L’Unità. Furthermore the second answer has the kind of silliness that would be found in a children’s riddle. (Chiaro [2008]: 580)

21 JAPANESE JACOB MEY: Is there a toilet around here?
ATTENDANT: You want to use? JACOB MEY: (somewhat astonished): Sure I do. ATTENDANT: Go down the steps. NOTE: In Japan there are Western toilets and Japanese toilets. There are also male toilets and female toilets (Mey )

22 NATIVE AMERICANS In American conversations, when the speaker is ready to relinquish the floor, he usually waits about one and a half seconds. In Athabaskan conversations, silence is used to organize thoughts and develop effective sentence structure.

23 So when an Athabaskan is talking with a non-Indian, the Athabaskan never gets the floor.
“The Athabaskan feels he has been interrupted and the English speaker feels the Athabaskan never makes sense, never says a whole coherent idea.” (Scollon and Scollon 25)

24 Polish Jokes in America
Do you know why they don’t give Poles a coffee break? It takes too long to retrain them. What is stamped at the bottom of Coca Cola bottles in Poland? Please open at the other end. (Dundes (1987): 135)

25 Russian Humor Russian immigrant yakov Smirnoff entertained Americans through the cold war and beyond with such jokes as, “I have a Russian Express Card. It says, ‘Don’t Leave Home!’” and “One of the biggest differences between America and Russia is that in America you can always find a party, but in Russia, the party always finds you.” (Nilsen & Nilsen 115)

26 “The editors of a Soviet newspaper were arrested and possibly executed because they published Stalin’s name as “Sralin,” which in Cyrillic means “shit.” Was this a Freudian slip… Or an accident… Or a slur? (Davies [2008] 171)

27 Scandinavian Humor Garrison Keilor exploits Scandinavian stereotypes in his “Lake Wobegon.” “Swedish flu is the usual flu with chills, fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and achiness…, but it’s accompanied by on overpowering urge to put things in order.” (Nilsen & Nilsen 116)

28 Scottish Humor What’s the difference between a poor Scotsman, a rich Scotsman, and an old Scotsman? A poor Scotsman has a can o pee under his bed. A rich scotsman has a canopy over the bed. And an old Scotsman can na’ pee at all. (A Sandra Nagy Joke)


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