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Academic Paper, 2013, 48 Pages
Chapter 1: Humour and Subtitling
1.1 What is Humour?
1.2 Overview of Theories of Humour
1.2.1 Humour of Little Britain
126.96.36.199 The Schema Theory
1.3 Humour in Spain
1.4 What is Subtitling?
1.4.1 Limitations and Constraints of Subtitling Humour
Chapter 2: Humour, Translation and Culture
2.1 Translating Humour
2.1.1 Target Parameter (TA)
2.1.2 Language Parameter (LA) – Intertextual Features
188.8.131.52 Verbal Allusion
184.108.40.206 Verbal Irony
2.2 Translating Humour Linked to Culture
2.2.1 Translation Loss
2.2.2 Cultural Transposition
220.127.116.11 Cultural Transplantation
18.104.22.168 Communicative Translation
2.3 Audiovisual Aspects of Translating Humour
Chapter 3: Case Study of ‘Little Britain’
3.1 The Deleted Scenes
3.2 Misinterpretations – Translation Loss
3.3 Intertextuality Issues
3.3.1 Verbal Allusion
3.3.2 Verbal Irony
3.4 Cultural Issues
3.4.2 Cultural Transplantation
3.4.3 Communicative Translation
3.5 Visual Humour Issues
The focus of the dissertation will be the discussion of the difficulties that the translator encountered when faced with translating humour using the subtitled comedy sketch show Little Britain as a case study.
For the benefit of the reader, the first part of this dissertation is going to shed led on various theories of humour. Moreover, it will discuss how humour is created in the comedy sketch show Little Britain and by taking a linguistic approach will show thus how humour can be produced. In addition, as subtitles will be used for the analysis of the case study, limitations and constraints will be discussed as the translator cannot merely focus on the linguistic features and possible problems like she/he would do in any other form of translation.
The second part will discuss a theory of translating humour established by Attardo (1994). Using this theory, the dissertation will aim to explore and focus on aspects that raise a certain degree of difficulty, if not the highest, always in relation to humour that is seen in a comedy sketch show. Furthermore, translating humour linked to culture will be discussed, as one of the major difficulties for the translator was to overcome the vast amount of culture-specific terms and expressions.
The last part will concentrate on the case study of Little Britain and examples will be drawn on each aspect of translating humour that was discussed in the previous chapter. The reader will understand how this particular aspect of translation poses difficulty for the translator and he/she will be shown, where necessary, possible alternative solutions that the translator could have chosen when tackling a particular situation.
Concluding, the dissertation is set to confirm the high degree of difficulty the translator faces when dealing with translating the humour that is seen in this particular comedy sketch show.
Humour is apparent in every culture and its function and meaning are difficult to define due to its vastness and sense of humour will differ from person to person. It can be produced through the use of language, sounds, visual aids and body gestures. Humour is found in many means of communication and those that contain the most humorous content are in a comedy sketch show, comedy programmes and comedy stand-up acts. With the introduction of the Digital Versatile Disk, (DVD), the ability to watch a comedy programme with subtitles is possible, whether it is in the same language in which it is originally produced or a translation into another language.
A challenge which every translator aims to overcome is when they are faced with cultural aspects of the TL (target language). Each culture contains its unique form of humour. Therefore, understanding the humour within a culture and all its cultural elements, is essential to produce a good translation. In recent years, more attention has been focused on the translability of humour as the complexity can make it unequivocally untranslatable.
Little Britain is a TV programme that has achieved huge success in Britain and as it is steeped in British culture, proved to be highly constructive for the purposes of this dissertation as the humour in many cases was very culture-specific and difficult to translate. The show, in general, deals with the social, political and economical situations in Great Britain. These situations are seen under the scope of extreme humour and in order to achieve humour, parody is employed which creates familiarity for the viewers.
The study aims to focus on the translation of the British comedy-sketch show known as Little Britain and find out how it has been translated from the SL (source language) which is English, to the TL which in this case will be Spanish .
Chapter 1 introduces some background information in relation to the topic of humour and the humour of Little Britain will be discussed in order to understand how it is produced. Although humour is not easily generalised, chapter 1 includes an overview about the Spanish sense of humour which becomes relevant in the final chapter. This dissertation does not attempt to discuss the subtitling or the subtitling, however there are certain subtitling limitations that need to be mentioned as the case study is a subtitled TV programme thus difficulties of translating humour extend beyond lexical and grammatical issues.
Chapter 2 explores the translation of humour, examining potential problems that translators need to overcome. It expands on this by investigating the difficulties that arise when translating culture-specific issues. In addition, as this is an audiovisual translation, potential problems will be highlighted that will become relevant in the case study.
In order to support all the different issues that will be raised in the dissertation a DVD of the programme has been provided with the subtitles in Spanish of the British comedy show. The deleted scenes taken from second series has been selected, lasting approximately fifty-two minutes. The deleted scenes is compiled of many different sketches which focus on many aspects of the British culture. Therefore, the third and final chapter will discuss all the different aspects of British culture that are implemented into the sketches which have been used for the translation of the humorous elements into Spanish and the potential problems that were raised in chapter 2 will be discussed.
This chapter will first discuss how humour can be described, the main theories connected with it and also the humour which is used in the sketch show Little Britain.
Humour is one of the characteristics associated within each culture and many academics argue that having a sense a humour is healthy. They also argue that humour previously referred to those who were ignorant and foolish but that is far from the case and nowadays it is a form of entertainment within each culture and society (Chapman & Foot, 1976: Morreall, 1983: Ross, 1988). Jokes have evidently changed in the form of how they were worded a hundred years ago, but the subject matters have still remained the same; based on such issues like the weather, the mysterious class system, politicians, celebrities, ourselves and our bizarre habits.(Duguid, n.d.)
Humour is “something that makes you laugh or smile” (Ross, 1988, p.1). Academics highlight that this is the case when referring to humour. However is there an absolute theory as to why we laugh? Morreal (1983, p.1) argues that there is no general theory for laughter and that “we laugh in such diverse situations that it seems difficult, if not impossible, to come up with a single formula that will cover all cases of laughter”.
There is no general theory; however, there are diverse theories that discuss the different aspects of humour.
The first theory is known as the superiority theory, proposed by Plato and then later strengthened by Hobbes. This theory focuses on the suddenness of when we laugh and the reason why we laugh, which, according to Morreall (1983) is because we feel we are superior to others. Morreall (1983, p.10) disagrees with the notion that superiority is a theory as he claims that a baby’s laughter when playing the game peek-a-boo cannot be categorised with the superiority theory because the baby is too young and incapable to compare itself with others. La Fave, Haddad & Maesen (1976, p.64) also disagree with the suddenness aspect claiming that Hobbes refers to the suddenness element when talking about surprise however this is not a necessary element to create humour because jokes heard before would then prove not to be as funny told again. If modern theorists now disagree with this theory and all agree that humour is now viewed as an overall positive impact on society, is it right to assume that this theory can now be disregarded?
The second theory is known as the incongruity theory which originates from Aristotle.
This theory concentrates on the ambiguity which “misleads the audience, followed by the punchline” (Ross,1988, p.20). Rothbart (1976, p.52) agrees with this theory however claims that the incongruities in a joke should not be problematic but should be used for entertainment, play or fun. Morreall (1983, p.19) believes that this theory does not cover all areas of laughter and cannot be categorized as a theory which is able to determine and explain each case of humour i.e. Incongruities can also trigger fear and not always laughter
The last theory to consider is the relief theory which is associated greatly with Sigmund Freud and Herbert Spencer who focused on humour as a way to “release or save energy generated by repression”(Smutts, 2009). This theory discusses the aspect of humour which doesn’t necessarily involve laughter, but rather a smile. Smutts (2009) and Morreall (1983) both disagree with this theory as it does not account for all cases of laughter and Chapman (1976, p.134) makes a contrast with this theory claiming that “arousal increases with the intensity of humour response and is necessary for humour”.
Humour is a complex concept which tends to use the ambiguity of language. Unintentional humour occurs when there is a lapse in expression thus resulting in a conflict between what is expected and what actually occurs in the joke (Ross, 1988, p.7). This type of humour is apparent in everyday life; however, the humour which is created is not using any form of cultural element. Unintentional humour therefore is seen to be used when manipulating the language in order to create humour, however, in a sketch show how is humour achieved?
Little Britain was produced in the UK and first aired by the BBC in 2003. It could be said as being form of a satirical comedy as all the shows sketches use characters to exaggerate on many situations familiar to British people within British society. The humour was so successful with the target audience that it won comedy awards three years in-a-row from 2003-2006 (The British Comedy Awards, 2011). It also appears in the 2008 Guinness World Records as the highest-selling comedy DVD in the world (Dugan, 2007).
In this particular sketch show which is under study, parody is employed to satirise everyday life of British society. Satirical humour can be seen as a success by some and by others not, therefore when translating it into the TL, this could create more of a difficulty for those to accept this form of humour
Research into the field of humour has shown that there is no terminological consensus for the term, thus resulting in many authors discussing different aspects such as the laughter, a smile, fear, etc. Oxford dictionary defines it as “ the quality of being amusing or comic, especially as expressed in literature or speech”(Oxford Dictionary,2012). With this in mind, if we take into account the different theories put forward by different authors, can the comedy sketch show be categorized into any of them?
Each theory contains elements of humour which have been incorporated into the programme; however there is not one theory which could be considered as the primary focus to make the target audience laugh. In Little Britain, there is no humour theory which can define exactly how humour is constructed in the show to illustrate how it has become such a success. A linguistic approach is required to give more of an understanding into the topic of how humour is produced from a general perspective in the comedy sketch show.
The schema theory has been described by Simpson (2004,p.89) as:
“…an umbrella term covering a range of individual cognitive models at the heart of which are situated the core concept schema and the attendant concepts frame, scenario and script”.
Cook (1994, p.11) states that schemata are “organised packages of knowledge based on previous experience of objects, events and situations, which are stored in memory; they may be defined as mental representations of typical instances”.
The schema theory focuses on the interpreter’s background knowledge of a text. Like the case of Little Britain, the programme creates sketches of situations very familiar to British people. These situations contain cultural elements in which background knowledge is required to understand the humour. However, when the ST (source text) is translated into the TT (target text), difficulties will arise in order to convey a similar humorous message if the target audience do not have a cultural awareness of the country in which the humorous messages are being implemented. Even though this linguistic approach is not described as a theory of humour as it does not cover all aspects, it could be used to describe how humour is created in this form of comedy focusing its full attention on the country’s culture and the audiences’ background knowledge in order to understand the joke. Thus, once activated, schemata generate expectations by the audience and these expectations may be incongruous which gives rise to humour (Snell, 2010, p.54) The case study will discuss latter in more detail specific instances where incongruities are based on verbal humour and also visual humour.
In order to connect cultural issues with the case study, this sub-chapter will provide an overview about the humour in Spain.
The humour in Spain differs to that of Britain and of other nations due to the difference in culture and language. Although it can be argued that humour is individualistic and a sense of humour differs from one person to the next, it can be said that there are certain aspects of the Spanish humour that are different to that of the British humour.
According to Kettle-Williams (n.a) “they’ve got a very strong sense of humour. Not like ours, not understated, not culture-bound, but a little bit brash, sometimes a little bit common. They’re not afraid of sexual topics as we are in northern Europe. They’re not so put off by political correctness; they don’t see that as such a barrier. And of course that brings up the whole idea of sexuality- we’ve been built differently, we’ve got sexuality, that’s fine. But their humour is more direct, more open, more frank”.
Living in Spain for four years as a teenager, my experience and understanding corresponds to that of Kettle-Williams (n.d), who has described the difference between both countries’ sense of humour. Political correctness aims to reduce the amount of offense towards social aspects such as gender, culture and race, however, in the comedy sketch show Little Britain, it incorporates this into the sketches by means of characters or situations which are considered politically incorrect. The British audience can relate to this aspect of modern society (previously discussed incorporating the Schema theory) thus producing humour. Firstly, if the Spanish sense of humour is not concerned with political correctness will this result in a reduced amount of humour for the Spanish audience when watching a British Sketch show?
Political correctness contains taboo matters and the results of the case study will discuss whether this has affected the humorous elements for the target audience.
Spanish comedy contains a lot of slapstick humour with only two British Comedy programmes that made it on screen which were ‘The Benny Hill Show’ and also ‘George and Mildred’ (Spanish Magazine,n.d). Pedalino (2006) also confirms the amount of slapstick humour shown on Spanish television stating “unconvincing transvestites with balloons for boobs are still very much in vogue as slapstick humour”.
It can be said that the Spanish audience seek more visual humour than verbal humour; however there is a vast assortment of dubbed American sitcoms and animated comedies shown on screen. Therefore, visual aspects of the sketches from Little Britain may appear funny to the Spanish audience as there many characters that are men dressed up as women, however, as the show is subtitled, how is the same humorous message conveyed in Spanish?
Subtitling may be defined as :
“…a translation practice that consists of presenting a written text, generally on the lower part of the screen, that endeavours to recount the original dialogue of the speakers, as well as the discursive elements that appear in the image (letters, inserts, graffiti, inscriptions, placards, and the like), and the information that is contained on the soundtrack (songs, voices off)” (Diaz-Cintas & Remael, 2007, p.8).
Subtitling and dubbing are the most common methods of language transfer; however, subtitling is not as expensive and time consuming as dubbing. Countries will use subtitling as opposed to dubbing due to the costs but another key factor is that the target audience will be able to become more familiar with the language of the original and it also shows the viewer that the show has a completely different cultural setting to that of their own country.
It is important to discuss what difficulties the translator will encounter before he/she has even begun analyzing the different linguistic and cultural aspects of the audiovisual aspects as these could have had an impact in the translators’ decision in the translation.
According to Gottlieb (1992) and De Linde (1995) the translator is faced with technical (which refers to space and time) and textual constraints of subtitling. Gottlieb (1992, p.164) explains that the number of characters must be kept to about 35 per row, with maximum of two rows. If the translator attempts to fit over 40 characters per line, this reduces the legibility of the subtitles because the font size is also reduced (Karamitroglou, 2000, p.4). Combining space and time constraints can create problems for the subtitler as he/she has to aim to minimize the loss of image and at the same time ensure that the reading time is adequate for the subtitle (De Linde, 1995, p.9)
Smith (1998, p.140) claims that “subtitles should comprise simple sentences with no excessive use of complex interlocking structures and subordinate clause, while they should on every occasion constitute a self-contained independent unit of meaning.” Therefore, the primary aim of the subtitler is to render the original meaning of the ST.
Concerning the ‘textual’ constraints, De Linde (1995,p.11) states that a film:
“…is made up of a visual story-line plus an oral text. Unlike ordinary translation, the subtitler has an extra constraint of having to fit the new text into the unaltered visual components of the original film”.
In addition to these constraints that subtitling poses for the subtitler, “subtitles have to tackle the impossible task of rendering the informative value of suprasegmental phonetic features, such as intonation, in writing” (De Linde, 1995, p.12). This is an important aspect to consider when translating humour, as a joke at times, can rely on the intonation of a certain word or phrase to create a joke.
In the case of subtitling, the use of a footnote is not an option a translator can use if a particular word or concept needs to be explained more in order to render the humorous context. It is therefore seen that subtitling is not an easy task and for the translation of humour, the subtitler needs to use the limited space and time to convey the same meaning effect in the subtitle translation.
In addition to the aforementioned cases of limitations that subtitling poses to the subtitler/translator, it is important to mention from a cultural perspective how this form of translation may affect the transfer of humour from the SL to the TL. According to Nedergaard-Larsen (1993,p.207), language and culture:
“…are closely linked. In subtitling, as in all forms of interlingual transfer, this may cause problems in rendering culture-specific or language-specific elements.”
The next chapter will discuss in detail how humour can be translated and as humour is very culture-based, various techniques will also be discussed in order to overcome any potential difficulty in the translation.
Humour, as discussed in chapter 1, is a form of entertainment which plays an important role for the success of a comedy sketch show. Humour can be produced spontaneously; however, this dissertation mainly focuses on humour that is prepared for a given audience.
This chapter will show the main theories and issues of translating humour. It will then discuss areas of translation which are important to consider for the comedy sketch show Little Britain.
These areas focus on cultural and intertextual features such as stereotypes, verbal allusion and verbal irony. In addition, all cultural-specific elements associated with the comedy sketch show Little Britain that prove problematic for the translator will be highlighted, which include exoticism, cultural transplantation and communicative translation.
Verbal humour is considered a very difficult task for a translator. Humour can be produced solely by manipulating the language or by combining both verbal elements and visual elements in order to create a humorous effect. Humour is experienced on a daily basis and plays a vital role in the context of intercultural communication. Not only has it been a success on television and film, but through other mediums such as cartoons, comics and journalism.
Humour is created in a specific cultural and linguistic context thus posing a challenge for translators. When translating humour the aim for the translator is not to only to decide whether the target audience understand the humour but also that the translator has been able to render the same humorous effect in the TL. According to Chiaro (2010, p.1), as humour crosses geographical boundaries it has to:
“…come to terms with linguistic and cultural elements which are often typical of the source culture from which it was produced thereby losing its power to amuse in the new location.”
In addition to the linguistic and cultural elements of the SL, humour can be affected by the audiovisual aspects; nevertheless, for the purposes of this dissertation, the intention is to focus on the difficulties of linguistic and cultural construction of humorous interaction detected in comedy sketch shows.
There has been no theory of translation which focuses on comedy sketch shows based on parody and satire, however, in order to overcome these obstacles that humour poses for the translator, Attardo, S, (1994) established the General Theory of Verbal Humour (GVTH) which breaks down a joke into six parameters. The different knowledge resources are hierarchically organized:
illustration not visible in this excerpt
Figure 1 Hierarchical Organisation of the Knowledge Resources
Script Opposition (SO) is a theory that focuses on three concepts: script, which is a semantic object but in Raskin’s theory it is viewed as pragmatic/contextual information; overlapping, whereby the semantic theory will occasionally encounter stretches of text that are compatible with more than one; and oppositeness, which is required to fulfil as humour is not necessarily produced solely on overlapping (Attardo, S,2002, pp.181-182).
Logical Mechanism (LO), according to Attardo, S. (2002, p. 179), is by far the most problematic parameter and the Logical Mechanism embodies the resolution of the incongruity in the incongruity- resolution model. This Knowledge Resource has yielded more than twenty types of Logical Mechanisms, which presuppose and embody a distorted, playful logic that does not necessarily hold outside the world of the joke (Attardo, S, 2002, p.180).
Situation (SI) focuses on the ‘props’ of the joke : the objects, participants, instruments, activities, etc. This Knowledge Resource has not been researched considerably as it can be used for both humorous and non-humourous texts ( Attardo, 2002,p.179). According to Attardo, S. (2002, p.187-188), if the situation is either non-existent in the TL or unavailable for humour, a good solution for the translator is to replace the offending SI with another one, while respecting all other Knowledge Resources. In a comedy sketch show, this solution presented by Attardo (2002) could not be implemented in translation process as the humour can be produced based on solely the visual dimensions of the SI thus resulting impossible to alter for the TL.
Narrative Strategy (NS) has had little work done regarding this Knowledge Resource as it consists merely of a taxonomy of Narrative Strategies, such as a simple narrative, a dialogue, a riddle and so on. (Attardo, 2002,p.178). In the case of visual humour, this would not be narrative which therefore would mean than this Knowledge Resources proves to be irrelevant. However, in the case of Little Britain, each series never features exactly the same characters although there are some characterisations that are more favoured by the authors and producer (Mowatt, 2010,p.30) Narrative Strategy is linked to the target parameter as this can be very culture-specific which would prove problematic for the translator. In other words, the narrative strategy could be universal and understood when translated into the TL or it could be unique to a countrys culture which is when problems would arise, such as ‘knock-knock jokes’ that are very common to hear in the British humour but not in the Spanish humour.
For the purposes of the case study, in order to highlight specific cultural and linguistic challenges, I will now discuss more in detail the other Knowledge Resources proposed by Attardo (2002) which are the Target (TA) and the Language (LA) Knowledge Resources.
This Knowledge Resource contains the names of groups or individuals with who stereotypes are attached and focuses on who is the ‘butt’ of the joke (Attardo, 2002, p.178).
Attardo (2002) cites Karman (1998), who broadened the term with the inclusion of ideological targets, such as groups or institutions that do not have a clear constituency but can be made the subject of ridicule. Examples include love, marriage and so on.
The translator must be aware of the cultural stereotypes of the target country. In Great Britain, Irish people are the ‘butt’ of every joke that starts with “an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman…”. The jokes are incongruous containing ambiguous elements which result in the stupidity of the Irishman, thus producing the humour. It can be said that the TA parameter is based on the cultural aspects of the country which can prove difficult to render the humour from the SL to the TL when based on verbal language. However, if the stereotype is presented visually in a comedy sketch, then the humour may be lost for the target audience if they do not recognize the stereotype which is being shown.
Every sketch in Little Britain contains a stereotype and each stereotype is targeted within the British society. The humorous element will be reduced for the Spanish audience as they will be unfamiliar with some of these stereotypes; however, there will be some stereotypes that they are familiar with as the same stereotype exists in the Spanish society. If the stereotype is familiar to the Spanish audience either verbally or visually this will lead to any reference or joke to these stereotypes achieved.
Language (LA) is the Knowledge Resource that focuses on all the information necessary for the verbalization of a text and paraphrasing is essential as any sentence can be recast in a different wording, any joke can be worded in a number of ways without changing the semantic content (Attardo, 2002, p.177). Intertextual features of the SL need to be studied in order to show possible difficulties that are apparent in a comedy sketch show.
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